Rifles for Watie

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Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Crowell, 1957. In print: New York: HarperTrophy, 1987.

Keith's Newbery-Medal-winning novel (1958) features Jeff Bussey, a 16-year-old Free Soil sodbuster in easter Kansas who quickly joins the Union Army in 1861 to avenge Border Ruffian attacks on his family. Jeff escapes participation in the major battles of the Kansas/Arkansas/Indian Territory campaign, but a strange twist of events land him in the Confederate cavalry. Jeff acts for a time as a double agent before decisively coming back to the Union in a final episode that gives the novel its title.

Keith's extensive collection of oral histories among veterans of this little-known Western campaign led to this picaresque novel, somewhat desultory in construction but interesting as a source of stories about fighting on (and over) the frontier.

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