Book Review: Keowee Valley by Katherine Scott Crawford
Reviewed by Mary Ickes
For Keowee Valley, her first novel, Ms. Crawford chose a relatively unexplored area of pre-Revolutionary War history: the Cherokee Nation’s Appalachian frontier. Categorized as historical adventure and romance, fans of both genres will find plenty to keep them reading.
Raised by her adoring Grandfather Campbell MacFadden, beautiful and feisty Quincy, age 25, detests Charlestown’s (Charleston, SC) stifling society that judges her an uncultured spinster. Despite her grandfather’s demands that she marry a proper young man, Quincy refuses. Instead, she flees to the Appalachian wilderness to rescue her cousin Owen from Shawnee captivity and to request a land grant from the Cherokee. She hires Jackson Wolf to rescue Owen, the only frontiersman skillful enough for the dangerous commission. Jack is mysterious (Cherokee father and Irish mother), handsome, noble, brave, and relentless enough to romantically pursue Quincy until they are married and living happily ever after—for two years. The political and frontier factions eventually leading to the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) agitate throughout their love story, set from Spring 1768 to January 1770. As Quincy travels from Charlestown to the Keowee Valley, via the Cherokee Trail, she encounters the major contenders.
Charlestown, the Colonies’ fourth largest port city (after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia), the Southern states’ trade center, and the point of entry for English, French, Scottish, Irish, and German immigrants seeking free and uninhabited land, seethes with underground Patriot endeavors. In the wilderness, she encounters Colonial Patriots and British Loyalists homesteading on land well beyond the Cherokee Boundary Line. At Fort Prince George, Quincy learns that the British military protects Cherokee land rights, not illegal homesteaders. The Cherokee Nation of Quincy’s era was divided into: 1) the Lower Towns (South Carolina), Keowee the capital; 2) the Middle Towns (North Carolina), Kituhwa the capital; and 3) the Overhill Towns (stretching westward to the current Tennessee border), and Chota the capital.
Cherokee men canoe Quincy to Keowee where she asks Little Carpenter (based on a historical Cherokee leader) for land. Knowing, as we do, the ultimate fate of the Cherokee Nation renders his lament to Quincy even more poignant: “Your people are coming, will keep coming —proclamation or no, with or without treaty. Perhaps if I show friendship to you they will see there is opportunity to live together in peace.” By 1768, the Cherokee Wars have weakened his nation, treaties have diminished his lands, and, like his peer leaders, Little Carpenter wonders if the British or the Colonists will make the best war ally.
Despite their increasingly precarious state of rule, the Cherokee Nation, as portrayed by Jack and his brother Ridge Runner (full Cherokee) remains steadfast. Whether among their own people, countering the arrogant commands of British soldiers, or defending Cherokee sovereignty at a formal dinner in Charlestown, Jack and Ridge Runner personify Cherokee wisdom and strength, courage and fierceness.
Quincy writes of the land that Little Carpenter granted her: I looked out over the dividing mountain creek and green hills rolling to rest at the foot of blue mountains, and I felt like a hawk who had instinctively flown her way home. Thanks to her grandfather’s library and their discussions, in which he treated her equal to a man, Quincy intends her settlement to incarnate the great thinkers’ ideas and ideals. She divides her land among six people willing to cooperate for the best productivity. She informs each applicant that they will keep her promise to Little Carpenter that the Cherokee are free to hunt and pass without harm. As time passes, bonds grow between the settlement and the generous Cherokee: whenever a hunting party or scout traveled through the Valley, they always came with gifts of meat, fruits, or grain. Surrounded by political turmoil growing more vehement each day, Quincy’s settlement emerges as a small utopia from which the antagonists could learn valuable lessons.
Ms. Crawford’s writing, from Charlestown to the Blue Ridge Mountains, creates a definite sense of place, and her characters, from Grandfather McFadden to individual settlers and Cherokees, spring from the page, but her descriptions of nature are beyond poetic. I was initially more eager for her next description than concerned about the fates of Jack, Quincy, and the Colonies. The Keowee River, … in these blue hills, with purple mountains guarding the distance, . . . became something else . . . something wild, pure, and Cherokee. Spring . . . had burst upon the Blue Ridge like a verdant autumn; instead of the warm hues of Fall, every shade of green imaginable filled the forests and valleys in a testament of new life. The trees seemed to beam with the palest, purest of the color. And sometimes, but only in direct sunlight, the mountains shed their mystical blue coat, opting instead for patchworked [sic] shades of emerald. Winter’s wind . . . wailed like an old woman as it rushed down from the Blue Ridge, whipping through the settlement. . . . In the orchard the apple trees stood in rows like old men, gnarled and bare, limbs curled inward, arthritic. Rotted fruit lay on the ground, white as an apple offered from the fist of a witch.
The only distracting aspect of an otherwise straightforward plot is Quincy’s Sight (visions of future circumstances). Childhood visions often proved useful, but are incongruous with the harsh realities of frontier life. Grandfather MacFadden writes to her: I have long been wary of the way that the two of you [Owen] see Ahead – it goes against all. . . the Reason that I raised you both with, for I do believe in Man’s Reason. Quincy in the throes of vision fits or blacking out at crucial moments detracts from Quincy the Woman of Reason.
As Keowee Valley ends, Reading Friends, three years before the Revolutionary War, Patriotism runs rampant in Charlestown, the British overtly bribe the Cherokee for their loyalty, and increasing numbers of Patriots and Loyalists homestead Cherokee Land. And, as with all utopias, outside forces, as though offended by people proving what simple generosity and cooperation rather than war can accomplish, invade Quincy’s settlement, tossing her once again into an unsettled world.
Katherine Scott Crawford was born and raised in the blue hills of the South Carolina upcountry. A former newspaper reporter and outdoor educator, she has a master’s degree in English. Winner of the 2007-08 North Carolina Arts Awards in fiction by the N.C. Arts Council, her work has appeared in national and regional literary journals, newspapers, and magazines. Keowee Valley was a Quarter-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Ms. Crawford will promote her book at local events including the Transylvania County Library’s Bag Lunch Series on Tuesday, October 16 at 12:00 noon and with a reading and book signing at City Lights in Sylva on Saturday, October 27 at 2:00 p.m.
She welcomes invitations to speak at book groups.
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August’s most interesting view was watching Mary hit the big 65. Would you believe that she accumulated 3 pounds of paper work in the Medicare/Insurance Supplement process! No wonder there are so many homeless birds peering into our windows! Friends and fans, please note my new e-mail address above.