Sunday, March 06, 2011


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Rifles for Watie, Harold Keith, Thomas Y Crowell, 1957, 332

 This book won the Newbury Award in 1958. It tells the story of Jeff Bussey, a young man from Kansas, who joined the Union Army and served in what was then the far west: Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and the Indian territories of the Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw nations, which are now Oklahoma. Thus the book covers some lesser known aspects of the Civil War, especially concerning the Native American issues.

  Stand Watie was the leader of the Cherokee nation who fought on the Rebel side because his interest was in preserving their rights to live in that territory. Understandably, he was an enemy to the government in Washington after their pernicious dealings with the Indians of Tennessee and Kentucky leading to the Trail of Tears debacle.

 Though Jeff Bussey was a Union soldier, he was captured as a spy by the rebels and spent over half the war amongst them. That plot point gave the author the opportunity to show both sides, making the book a great piece of historical fiction for young readers. Jeff is a fine hero in the upstanding tradition of the Newbury Awards.

 I was captivated throughout the story. The writing is top notch with plenty of action and great characters. I would recommend it to any middle school students studying the Civil War, but also to boys who are what they call "reluctant readers."

(Rifles for Watie is available in paperback on the children's shelves for readers 8-12 at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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