This Wild West saga follows the life of a young man who leaves home to fight in the Civil War, then survives myriad trials to become a successful rancher and proud family man.
In the prologue, Linda Riddle describes how her husband Ted woke up at 4 a.m. one Sunday morning and began speaking in a different voice and dialect. “The hairs on my arms stood on end and chills continued as he told in detail events that happened over one hundred years ago.” These recollections form the basis of the story.
In 1862, Tom Summers is 16 years old when he and his brother, John, leave their Tennessee home to join the 34th Illinois Infantry. The brothers are soon separated, and Tom is wounded and in danger of losing a leg. A kind nurse helps him recover, and Tom, having seen enough violence, deserts, heading west, where he’s told he’ll find neutral Indian territory 300 to 400 miles away.
Dodging military scouts in search of deserters and backwoods thieves, surviving snake bites and experiencing his first time with a woman, Summers reaches Camp Supply, Oklahoma, where he finds work as a blacksmith and begins learning skills to survive in the west. He establishes a ranch; marries and has children; faces all manner of unsavory characters, including a murderous banker; leads adventuresome cattle drives, and occasionally takes the law into his own hands.
This is an engaging read, rich in historical detail, color and description (“All Tom heard was a whizzing sound, and Jimmy’s head was gone,” the authors write of wartime.) The pacing is varied, with plenty of action and drama throughout, but slowing when the narrative veers into descriptions of family life, such as planning a wedding, furnishing a home, etc.
The use of dialect, with words such as “goin’, lookin’, killin’ lettin’,” grows tiresome, and the tale is not necessarily fresh. Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing escape that Western fans will enjoy.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.