Cover image for Wildwood boys : a novel
Wildwood boys : a novel
Blake, James Carlos.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2000]

Physical Description:
369 pages ; 25 cm
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American history is a complex weave of heroism and courage, conquest and carnage -- and no novelist today better understands the checkered character of our past than Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner James Carlos Blake. In prose as richly colored as an artist's palette, he again proves himself one of our most accomplished authors in this epic story set amid the Civil War's guerrilla conflict along the Kansas-Missouri borderland.

Wildwood Boys

Like his free-spirited father, William T. Anderson was never meant for the farming life. Born in Missouri on the coldest day of 1840, he is raised in a fiercely independent family given to the pleasures of poetry and music -- yet ever ready to defend itself. The family resettles in Kansas, where Bill and his brother Jim are tutored by their father in the rustling trade. They revel in the thrill of horse thieving -- until the imminence of the Civil War turns their adopted homeland into "Bleeding Kansas." Despite the family's efforts to stay clear of hostilities, the first Anderson casualty soon follows, and the rest of the family is banished back to Missouri.

Now the entire border region is aflame with violence Kansas "redlegs" spreading terror under the Union banner, Missouri "bushwhackers" flying the black flag of no quarter. Its loyalties torn between North and South, Missouri becomes the bloodiest ground of the Civil War, its major centers under Yankee control, its wildwood country ruled by rebel guerrillas. Before long the Anderson brothers are riding with Quantrill's raiders, the most notorious of the bushwhacker bands, though most of them are barely more than boys. Then Bill Anderson suffers a catastrophic loss -- and an implacable fury is unleashed in his anguished soul. He becomes the most fearsome guerrilla captain of them all and earns a name some whisper with reverence, some with terror: Bloody Bill.

From the raw clay of historical fact, Blake has sculpted a powerful novel of a man and an America at war with themselves. It is a poignant and brutally honest work about relentless passions -- including Bill's abiding devotion to a pair of unforgettable women with wills as indomitable as his own. The heroic and unsettling saga of "Bloody Bill" Anderson is as American as a Missouri country ballad of violence, honor, and ill-fated love. It is a story only James Carlos Blake could tell so splendidly.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once again Blake (Red Grass River) takes on a notorious historical figure and attempts to humanize a man whose reputation is synonymous with murder. William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson emerged along the Kansas-Missouri border in the early years of the Civil War. A horse thief turned "bushwacker"Äthe nom de guerre of irregular Southern forces in the regionÄAnderson is driven from Kansas and persecuted by Union militia and "jayhawkers"ÄUnion irregularsÄuntil he forms a company and joins forces loosely led by the infamous Charles Quantrill, who, along with Anderson, George Todd and Arch Campbell, terrorized the Sni-a-Bar region of southern Missouri for nearly four years. Blake's depiction of Anderson is kinder than in other recently published novels (Desmond Barry's The Chivalry of Crime; Kevin McColley's The Other Side), which characterize him as one of the most feral and conscienceless men ever to ride across history. Here, Anderson is a Shakespeare-loving, poetry-spouting gentleman, sensitive to nature, kind to women and children. Only in the heat of battle does he exhibit sociopathic expertise in heinous and horrifying ways. The accidental death of his sister, Josephine, with whom Anderson is incestuously obsessed, spurs him to even more brutal acts of malice in the name of Southern glory. Blake's highly readable style is tempered by some gratuitously fustian vocabulary and literary insertions, catalogues of historical detail and somewhat overdone eloquence; thankfully, he eschews the more graphic depictions of violence that he has indulged in elsewhere. With slow, repetitive passages and historical license liberally taken, this epic is not as taut as In the Rogue Blood, but it is still a gritty, gripping adventure. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Wildwood Boys A Novel Chapter One The Clan 1839-1862 Saint Louis Days Will Anderson had always felt that life should own more excitement than a farm could ever afford. He'd begun to resent farming from the time he was old enough to be charged with the morning milking, and by the time he was steering a plow he abhorred the yeoman's life. His brothers laughed whenever they heard him cursing in his struggles to harness a recalcitrant mule, and they told him he'd best get used to it. It was not that he was averse to hard work but that he was possessed of a romantic disposition. As he grew toward early manhood he labored the days long and then lay awake nights and pondered possibilities until he fell asleep with fatigue. He thought the city might be the thing, though he knew little of cities except that they were not farms. He was not yet eighteen the night he forsook his Kentucky home. He made directly for the neighboring farm of the prosperous Kiner family and sneaked through shadows blinking with fireflies and up to the house past dogs that knew his scent. At Martha's window he hissed her awake and asked her to go with him and be married and live in Saint Louis. She was a shy but comely girl who generally preferred the company of books to social entertainments, but one day she'd accompanied her sisters to a county fair and was introduced toWill Anderson, and they'd neither one had eyes for any other since. Her father had repeatedly told her she was pretty enough to make an advantageous marriage and that the Andersons were hardly removed from hardscrabble, but like Will himself she was of a nature more fanciful than practical, and she knew in her heart that no greater excitement would ever come her way than this young man at her window. They made off in the bright haze of a gibbous April moon, giggling like children, mounted double on the big mule he'd stolen from his father, though he did not see it as stealing but as compensation due him for all the young years of labor he'd given to the farm. He would not, however, take any of her father's animals without permission. They carried few clothes and one blanket, a coffeepot, a fry pan, a small bag of books, and the zither she would not abandon and bore slung upon her back. "Damn, girl," he whispered as they made away, "I guess I ought've took Daddy's wagon too, just to tote all your goods. This poor mule ain't never carried such a load." She hit him on the' back with her fist and said, "It's not that much. " They took as well the small dowry her father had been putting aside toward the gainful marriage he envisioned for her, and which money she knew to be cached under a flat stone in the springhouse. Will had yielded to her reasoning that it was their proper due. "You're the husband I choose," she'd whispered. "It's yours by all justice of the heart." She was a reader of poetry, this Martha Kiner. He'd had to grin as he said, "All right, then." They were wed in Hickman, then ferried over the Mississippi and followed the river road to Saint Louis. They took lodging in a boardinghouse. She wrote to her parents to explain how deeply she loved this young Anderson who set her heart to dancing every time she looked on him. In return came a brief note from her father: "You ever come back here I'll whip you to the assbone. He comes back I'll feed him to the hogs." Though Martha assured him her father would not come looking for her, he thought it prudent for them to change addresses and take another name for a time -- Jackson, like Old Hickory, whom he'd long admired. She nevermore wrote to nor heard from any bloodkin but her elder sister Sally, who also lived in Missouri but far off on its western border. Sally had married a stage driver named Angus Parchman six years earlier and gone with him to work a farm he'd inherited in Jackson County. But not even her sister would Martha ever see again. He thought he should learn a city man's trade and so took a position as apprentice in a hatter's shop. But he soon came to detest Saint Louis for its crowded sidewalks and bullying policemen, its ceaseless clamor of wagon traffic and steamboat whistles and bellowing humanity, its multitude of alien stinks. Even the smell of horseshit seemed somehow foul to him when it came off Saint Louis streets. But most of all he hated the city's incipient population of foreigners, in particular its Germans. "There wasn't near as many Dutchmen yet in that town as you got today," he would later tell his sons, "but there was already enough so you couldn't help but run into some of them every time you stepped out in the street. Couldn't help but hear them neither. It was 'Dutchland this' and 'Dutchland that' everywhere you turned your ear. What galled me the most was them all the time saying the US of A is a backward country because some of the states got slavery, saying Missouri ought be ashamed of itself for being one of them. Bunch of damn foreigners -- squareheads -- calling us backward and right in our own country! I tell ye, boys, a man can get his fill of such talk pretty damn quick. Goddam Dutchmen. It was in Saint Louis I first heard it said the Dutch are like farts because they most of them loud, they ain't about to go back where they came from, and loud or quiet they every one of them stinks to high heaven. Gateway to the West, my sorry ass! -- Saint Louis is the Gateway from Dutchland is what it is. I seen it happening way back then..." Wildwood Boys A Novel . Copyright © by James Blake. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Wildwood Boys: A Novel by James Carlos Blake All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.