ATWOOD: A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance charts the evolution of America, focusing specifically on the development of the Buffalo plains of Kansas Territory - an area the Native American tribes who hunted the area thought of as a "soulless zone". It would be transformed from a hostile environment that would support only the hardest forms of life, to become America's bread-basket. And the culture that developed there - an amalgam of displaced souls - became a key element of the American profile, and of American culture. And what a strange and wild culture it is.
ATWOOD is a story so complex and convoluted that it takes a series of books to tell the story. It is the story of America as depicted through the lives of a collection of brave souls who bought into America's promise and took a chance at building a new world in a space where a vibrant world - a world rich with spirits and esoteric influences - already existed. They were America's homesteaders, mostly European immigrants who took advantage of the homestead and desert reclamation acts to get a foothold in a new land, where they could have something of their own, a stake in their own future.
It was the railroad magnates who expanded and built America. Empowered by the findings of the Lewis & Clark expedition - that there was no waterway providing access to the great northwest - the railroad companies began plotting an agricultural empire on the plains that had been known as Kansas Territory until the buffer state of Kansas was rushed into creation in 1861 to stop the spread of slave states. Bleeding Kansas. This place where the young American government had arrived to subjugate the native population was to become a symbol of civil rights and individual freedom.
The only real Americans living in the middle part of the continent were herded off to reservations, while waves of European immigrants, bringing extraordinarily varigated cultural influences from throughout old Europe, would become the "new Americans", a people who would come to represent "the salt of the earth" in America's new culture.
ATWOOD: A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance tells the stories of these new Americans - new in the 1870s, when land on the plains was being given away to anyone who could survive and thrive in that difficult environment. Their experience forged a new kind of American, one that a glance at the red and blue political map of 2020 will tell you has fused with an earlier strain of southern immigrants that they were ostensibly recruited to counter-balance.
It is a strange country, the United States of America, and the ATWOOD books explores each of its odd nooks and crannies.
Theme #1: The American Soul
The dedication is a warning to the American people that there is something flawed about the fabric of the nation, and left unrecognized as a threat, it is catching up with us, and leading to calamity.
Theme #2: Plagues of Egypt
Preceding the Prologue is a quote from an agricultural report that likened the 1875 swarm of locusts that turned Northwest Kansas to dust to another historical/Biblical event, almost supernatural in its scale and its suddenness. This sets the stage for the story, in which an undeveloped area in Kansas is depicted as a spiritual battleground, and the location of a war between forces ephemeral and physical.
Theme #3: A Light on the Plains
The Prologue introduces the reader to U.S. Cavalry Officer Colonel Leonard Atwood, and his 1878 duty to rid Northwest Kansas of the last remnants of the Native American population that remained in the area. He was clearing the way for the settlement of an area that had long been hunting grounds for the Sioux, who made annual migrations through the plains of Kansas before retreating to winter in the foothills of the eastern Rocky Mountains. On April Fool’s Day, 1878, Atwood and five platoons of the 7th U.S. Cavalry respond to reports of violent events in Rawlins County, Kansas, which are assumed to be the work of renegade Sioux, small bands of which have escaped from reservations in Oklahoma Territory. Atwood begins chasing a light across the plains. Seen at night, Atwood assumes that it is the light from the campfires of the renegades that he is pursuing. In the final scene of the book, Atwood and his riders are seen as ghostly apparitions themselves, chasing a light across the plains, a spirit force that will never be caught or captured.
Theme #4: European Predation
The Prologue delves into the history of Colonial and British military encroachment into the Ohio Valley, which had been the barrier between the Native American population and the newcomers to the continent. It paints a different picture of the “Father of Our Nation”, George Washington, who was known to the Indians as “Town Destroyer” for the tactic he used against them, and which would become the template for future Indian engagements, which was to attack their women and children in their camps while their warriors and providers were away.
Theme #5: Public Relations
The Prologue delves into the way that publications of the 1800s were used to portray the Native American population in ways that would justify their imprisonment and eradication. Creative types, like George Armstrong Custer, make their names through heroic accounts of fights against savages.
Theme #6: Democratic Nations
The Prologue discusses the intricate arrangements that otherwise competing Native American tribes had made among themselves to share the resources of that Kansas territory west of Topeka, which was known as the “soulless zone”, where bison roamed.
Theme #7: Spirit Forces
The Prologue details the origins of the Dog Men, a warrior sect from the Sioux nation that waged a 40-year long war against U.S. government forces and their attempts to remove them from their lands. And it also introduces the idea that a bond existed between Native Americans and the land on which they lived that was supernatural in its many manifestations. These included: shape-shifting Sioux warriors; supernatural overlords who watched over the land and provided for its people through abundant herds of bison and magical waters; and dark forces with whom the Indians maintained peaceful relations by agreeing to ground rules on their stewardship of nature.
Theme #8: Community Policing
The Prologue explains that, beyond simply chasing some ethereal light on the plains, Col. Atwood was an evolved thinker, with progressive views toward communications with disenfranchised people. He promotes the idea of a “trading center” to serve as a community hub to provide a destination point for those few brave trappers, hunters, farmers and traders who dared to live in these still-hostile lands. His trading center – to be developed by a hermit Jew, with the supernatural assistance of a mythical figure from Freemasonry, and a Muslim construction boss – would become the original location of the town of Atwood, Kansas.
Theme #9: The Redeeming Power of Love
Part One begins with a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that will voice the hope of the rest of the book: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Theme #10: Vulnerability
The first chapter depicts the death of a young girl playing along the Beaver Creek, which becomes a metaphor for the mystical in the book. The incident reveals that the new settlers on the Kansas plains are there without backup and support, left to survive using their own best resources. This will become the genesis of an attitude that exists to this day within the rural communities of Kansas, with out-sized impacts on the nation as a whole.
Theme #11: The Toiler
The second chapter introduces the reader to circuit-riding Presbyterian Reverend A.S. Thorne, whose poem “The Toiler” provides the structure for the chapters in the book. The Toiler is a cryptic work, open to interpretation, that implies a birth, life and death cycle for all things, hints at an order to the universe, however difficult to comprehend, and suggests that it is all on the path to self-discovery. Rev. Thorne challenges us to determine the identity of “the Toiler”. To “toil”, of course, means to work incessantly in unrewarding slavery. The idea of toiling away in slavery is a key theme in this book, posited as the best example of America’s corrupted soul: our willingness to exploit the precious lives of others for our own gains.
Theme #12: Extremism
The second chapter uses the story of abolitionist John Brown as the personification of how a corrupt system can corrupt a well-intentioned soul, fracturing it into a weaponized artifact of its original form.
Theme #13: Flagging Operations
The third chapter discusses the way that Thomas Jefferson mounted the Lewis and Clark expedition to show a presence and a claim to land that had been acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The explorers passed out coins, to the Indians they encountered, that bore the image of Thomas Jefferson, an authority figure they had likely never heard of who was now announcing, regarding their land, that this is now mine!
Theme #14: Corporate Power
The third chapter describes the rise in power of the railroad barons, once Lewis and Clark determined that there was no waterway that would serve as a western passage to the Pacific Ocean. This meant that railroads would become the primary means of industrial expansion and commerce. It would empower the railroads to create the cities and towns that we have in the U.S. today. It would also further cement the relationship that industrialists, and capitalists in general, have to their workers, expressed through slavery and extreme forms of taxation.
Theme #15: Government Giveaways
The third chapter describes the series of “homestead” and “dessert reclamation” acts that lured pioneers onto the plains through the promise of inexpensive, and eventually free land, if homesteaders would commit to establishing self-sustaining operations for an initial five-year period. Kansas lands were so hostile to life that most Americans wouldn’t even move there for free land, which meant that most of those who took the government up on their offer were newly-arrived immigrants from Europe, often unwelcome on the East Coast. The land giveaways created an odd dynamic in Kansas, for future generations of Kansans would vigorously protest against any role in government for social programs, though many owed their livelihoods to having received such very same benefits.
Theme #16: The Kansas Buffer
Kansas has always been contested ground, first between Native Americans, and later, when Kansas was rushed to statehood in 1861, as a buffer against the further expansion of slavery. Liberal, anti-slavery forces, developed Lawrence, Kansas as their hub, while pro-slavery forces developed towns like Leavenworth, and so the state became locked in a violent tug-of-war among its citizenry: a mini-battle for the soul of man. Note that today Lawrence is a center of education, home to the University of Kansas. Leavenworth is home to a federal penitentiary.
Theme #17: Unleashed Spirits
Chapter Three tells the story of Hardy Webster Campbell, who developed the disk implement that allowed crops like wheat to be raised in soils receiving less than 19 inches of rainfall in an average year, classifying it as desert land. Campbell allowed sodbusters to turn soil that had never before been turned before, which released a variety of spirits from the ground, mostly resulting in bountiful sorghum crops, but also including energies released into an already supernaturally-charged environment.
Theme #18: Cleaving Humans
Chapter Three discusses the personality differences in eaters of meats and eaters of vegetables, and considers the difference between takers and stewards of the land.
Theme #19: Blind Law
Chapter Four details the retribution exacted against a likely innocent Native American youth for the death of the young girl detailed in Chapter One. It is vigilante justice, an unauthorized execution of authority with connections to the Civil War activities that brought certain types of attitudes to the state, including aggressive and dominant male figures like R.F. Crooch, who would eventually become one of the area’s first elected law officers.
Theme #20: Pale Lightning
Chapter Five details the Indian legend of Pale Lightning, a white spirit woman, mostly associated with Superstition Mountain in Arizona, but with a supernatural authority over the entire western United States, and points south. She is depicted as a manager, whose duties include controlling the activities of other supernatural entities, including a race of dwarves who live under and within the mountains of the continent, from where they control natural forces, like geothermal and volcanic activity. Pale Lightning is akin to Mother Nature: a benevolent spirit who provides living things for the benefit of other living things, but who can also be aggravated and who can summon the forces of nature to do her sometimes vengeful bidding. Pale Lightning, the force of nature, will be exploited as a marketing tool by real estate interests who give the name to a prominent Rawlins County settler, who is mythologized as a frontier women and used to lure other pioneers onto the plains.
Theme #21: Ghoulish Behavior
Chapter Five delves into an odd obsession that flowered in the mining towns of western Kansas Territory, which would become the State of Colorado. The boomtown of Denver became festooned with saloons, brothels, and theaters that displayed freakish exhibits, ranging from the decaying bodies of settlers killed by Indians, to mysterious freaks of nature, including a creature the Indians feared as “Tiny People Eaters”. The rest of the book will be filled with examples of Americans weird obsession with grotesque exhibition.
Theme #22: Immigrant Religion and Superstition
Chapter Five depicts the impact of the homestead acts, which opened a door to people from a wide and growing range of religious and cultural backgrounds. New to a country that was developing new religious denominations, and even new belief systems, on an unprecedented scale, the immigrants contributed mythologies brought with them from regions ranging from the Carpathian Mountains to the glens of Ireland. Many of these immigrants, engaged with spirit entities dating far back into their family histories, brought these energies into the new lands of Kansas, where they exploded into a cultural landscape that was already existing as an amalgam of Native American mythology. Kansas is depicted as an infestation of supernatural forces coming together in the geographical center of the United States, to give the entire country a strange, surreal foundation, partly filled with truth, and partly filled with mysticism.
Theme #23: The Elements
Literally running through the entire book is the Beaver Creek, which serves as a metaphor for life, or life-giving properties. Water is the primary requirement for life, as we know it, and every aspect of survival is tied to the acquisition of this life-giving substance. Humans will meet other forces of nature where they find the water. For most pioneers on the Kansas plains, their search will take them deep underground, into dangerous hand-dug shafts, as they endeavor to pull life-sustaining hydration from the Ogallala Aquifer.
Theme #24: The Orphan Train
The story of Charlene Steele, the girl murdered is Chapter One, is detailed. She had been selected from among children riding through Kansas an “an orphan train”, sent by a Christian group to provide further population for the plains. Kansas is depicted, for all of its influx of people not native to the region, initially including even the Sioux, who were an Algonquin people chased decades earlier out of the Great Lakes area, as a place of people orphaned from their natural homes.
Theme #25: Cave Systems
The cave systems that are found in Limestone-rich Kansas are explored by newcomers to the area, many of whom rely on them for shelter until their sod houses can be constructed. Many of the new immigrants to Kansas are miners from Europe, who come to work in mining operations in southeast Kansas, which will eventually become the focus of Superfund environmental recovery activities. There is extensive limestone quarrying activity as well, and the miners who come to work these places bring their own legends, like that of the Kobold. The caves naturally lead to interactions between humans and supernatural entities.
Theme #26: Territorial Disputes
The advent of wire fencing, which over time brought an end to the earlier practice of cowboys grazing herds across the plains as they shepherded cattle to rail heads, is depicted as the root cause of violent clashes between large ranching operations. The subject explores the development of ranching, and the rail spurs that developed to support beef operations. It also surfaces the tensions between farmers, who erected fencing to protect their crop lands from grazing cattle, and cattlemen who felt they had a right to graze their animals wherever they pleased. The tensions arising from these conflicts finds a supernatural manifestation: a predator beast that attacks the cowboys as they tend their herds in the night.
Theme #27: Violent Deception
A crew of competing cowboys burn the property of a prominent Rawlins County rancher, dressed up as an Indian raiding party in an attempt to pin the act on renegades.
Theme #28: Lost Souls
Chapter Nine depicts the Smokey Hills of Kansas as a graveyard for optimistic ambitions, with gold seekers setting off an a suicidal trek across hostile lands despite repeated warnings from news agencies reporting on the death toll of travelers who died along the way toward their fields of gold. Kansas legends the Blue Brothers are introduced, who died despite resorting to cannibalism, and whose souls became sentenced to eternal suffering on the Kansas plains.
Theme #29: Industrial Disconnect
Chapter Ten depicts the change that was coming, even to nascent Kansas, in the form of the philosophies of economics being developed by German intellectual Max Weber. In attempting to adapt the factory management concept to the Kansas ranching industry, Weber’s brother traces the beginnings of errors in comprehension of basic human motivational patterns that will come to typify one of the principal maladies of industrial civilization, which is the disconnect of workers from any satisfaction they might feel in doing their jobs.
Theme #30: Lost Souls
Chapter Nine depicts the Smokey Hills of Kansas as a graveyard for optimistic ambitions, with gold seekers setting off an a suicidal trek across hostile lands despite repeated warnings from news agencies reporting on the death toll of travelers who died along the way toward their fields of gold. Kansas legends the Blue Brothers are introduced, who died despite resorting to cannibalism, and whose souls became sentenced to eternal suffering on the Kansas plains.
Theme #31: Corporate Hucksters
Chapter Ten delves into the railroad’s attempts to dictate the futures of the communities situated along their lines by influencing local elections, and selling real estate for future rail-related developments. The hucksters are depicted as oblivious to community interests, focused only on the agendas of their masters.
Theme #32: Religious Mercenaries
Chapter Eleven uses Methodist Preacher John Chivington as a metaphor for evil disguised as a saint. Chivington comes to the area to minister to disposed Indians, and ends up leading the Sand Creek Massacre, using George Washington’s “Town Destroyer” tactics to massacre a group of Cheyenne women and children, in 1864, to discourage further Indian uprisings. That only encouraged further Indian retaliations, resulting in General Phil Sheridan, of Civil War fame, being activated to lead a war against the native populations.
Theme #33: Government Lies
The U.S. government entered into numerous treaties and agreements with the Native American populations, and then broke those agreements repeatedly when it suited their purposes.
Theme #34: Savage Behaviors
The 1878 rampage of Little Wolf and Dull Knife are detailed to represent the spiraling consequences of inhumane behaviors, as renegades from the Darlington Agency reservation in Oklahoma attempt to return to their homelands in Wyoming and South Dakota. Attacking settlers, and being attacked by government soldiers all along the way, the two old chiefs find it impossible to control their young warriors, who commit atrocities across Kansas, and particularly in Rawlins County, where are finally killed or apprehended. There the maliciousness infects the terrified local population, who hunt down the Darlington Agency runaways, some of whom were old people, others hardly more than children, and shoot them dead. Some of the Indians are scalped, and these adornments are on display in local businesses in Oberlin, Kansas, totems to the depravity so easily summoned from the human soul.
Theme #35: Powerful Symbols
The power of the Cheyenne Nation’s Sacred Buffalo Hat is explored as a metaphor for the explosive power, for good and otherwise, that can be vested in symbolic things. A vessel of renewal for the Cheyenne people, it tears the Northern and Southern Cheyenne apart as competing factions quarrel over its rightful possession, and the future of their people. Some will opt to cease their resistance, to accept the White Man’s religion, and accept a new life on the reservations. Others vow to fight on, and the authority of the Sacred Buffalo Hat will mean everything in that decision.
Theme #36: Effete Intellectuals
Part Two of the book, opening with Chapter 15, uses an account of New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley’s encounter with Indians in Rawlins County in 1859. Greeley had been associated with the term “Go West, Young Man”, based on his admonitions for people to brave up and populate the very dangerous western plains. When the Pikes Peak Express stage coach he is riding in, on his way from Leavenworth, Kansas to Denver, is attacked by Indians and wrecked, killing its driver, Greeley is cared for by the two Station 12 proprietors who are the only people living in the area at the time. They nurse the effete Greeley back to health, but are stuck with the dead body of a stage company employee when the stage line refuses to transport the corpse back to its place of origin. Greeley is depicted as a discourteous fop.
Theme #37: The Devil/Complex Interests
No sooner has Horace Greeley been spirited away in a new stage coach, then the Station 12 proprietors are visited by a strange individual named Moritz Black. He is being pursued by Indians, who seem to feel that he is evil, though it is unclear what he has done. Black is a wild man, who seems dangerous. He will re-emerge in the story from time-to-time, always representing complex interests.
Theme #38: Synergy
In 1969 we are introduced to a man named Dobby Leitner, an unmarried Jew who has come to the area through a homestead opportunity. He has property on the location of the now defunct Leavenworth to Pikes Peak Express Station 12 site, where he has agreed to plant crops. Colonel Atwood, on the other hand, encourages Leitner to build a trading post on that site, telling Leitner that he feels that he can be of man of “synergy” in creating a new community. This theme – of a catalyst individual bringing change to situation – will be repeated in various figures throughout the trilogy. Another such is the Rev. A.S. Thorne.
Theme #39: Impacts of Corporate Irresponsibility
The consequences of irresponsible behavior on the part of the railroads is personified through the story of a man whose life is changed as a passenger aboard the New York Express railway, which in 1867 had derailed, plunging forty-nine passengers to their deaths, along with many other seriously injured. Riding aboard a “compromise car” – so-called because it had an axle-length somewhere between the different specifications used for the New York Central and Lake Shore Railroad lines – it floated back and forth, until it plummeted off the Big Sister Creek Bridge near Angola, New York. Over time, the injured man’s condition deteriorates, until finally he could no longer work, and the family relocates to Kansas to take advantage of homestead opportunities that their adult children can help with. Over time, the father’s condition deteriorates to the point that he seems to channel some of the area’s darker forces.
Theme #40: Business and Government
In Chapter 16, real estate sales representatives, sent on behalf of the railroad, offer to build a courthouse for a community called Blakeman, situated directly along their proposed rail spur to Denver; a development that would claim the seat of county government before it could be grabbed by real estate developers in the burgeoning tract called Attwood.
Theme #41: What’s in a Name?
This part of the book goes into the founding of the community of Attwood, located on the site of present-day Atwood, Kansas, two miles south of where the Atwood Trading Post had become the center of a small community called “Atwood” after the cavalry officer who had promoted the creation of the post there. Attwood was named after the young son of one of the city’s founders, who accompanied his engineering father on their initial visit to the area, when there was no settlement there. The final naming convention will be settled through local politics and the imposition of the U.S. Postal Service.
Theme #42: Elemental Spirits and the Protection of Bells
Chapter 17 tells the story of the Vlček family of Czechoslovakian farmers, who receive bountiful harvests from a small tract of land due to the assistance they receive from two supernatural entities brought with them from their homeland: a Žalik Žena and a gardening White Sylph. Unfortunately, their arrival attracted the attention of another supernatural entity, a predatory Krivopeta. This all becomes known to another resident of the area, whose family have had its own brush with an entity from a native folklore, the Glaistig. In the company of such creatures, the Vlček family protects themselves from harm through the ringing of bells, which mean quite different things to quite different people.
Theme #43: Sophisticated Design
Chapter 18 tells more about the founding of Attwood, which is created as a design project by a team of engineers from Baltimore, Maryland. The town was created as an investment scheme not owned by the railroad, but well positioned to take advantage of its proximity. Every aspect of the civil works, such as they existed in Kansas in 1879, was “modern”, state-of-the-art. A trio of business men had conspired to attract well-heeled entrepreneurs to the area, including members of prominent families from Chicago, New York, and Boston. The little town was expected to prosper from real estate, legal, and agricultural services, and it aimed high, using sophisticated marketing to bring “the right” people into the community. Beyond people with deep pockets, there were Freemasons, alternative religious denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a small pocket of sexually liberated women (lesbians) who had come to the county on the strength of the Pale Lightning real estate promotion. Pale Lightning was the name the marketers had given to pioneering settler Dena Stermer, whose survival on the plains had inspired a legion of mostly-female followers.
Theme #44: Importance of Community Leaders
Among the many morality-plays going on within the story is that exercised between community leaders, good and bad. However exploited as a symbol of commerce, Dena Stermer stands out as an exemplar role model, as do a few other characters, while there are an equal or greater number of not-so-noble types, notably city co-founder H.W. Robertson. A scheming character, Robertson became aware of the location of the “magical” Beaver Valley through a chance meeting with a strange character in a saloon in Kansas City. There is an implication that this un-named stranger may have been a minion of Satan, if not the Devil himself. Whatever the influence, the SGR Group developed their location at the expense of those associated with the Atwood Trading Post, creating a David and Goliath dynamic that pitted new money interests against struggling facility operators who were only hoping that the railroad was going to keep its promises to them.
Theme #45: A Sense of Place
Atwood Trading Post founder Dobby Leitner epitomizes a holistic appreciation for the music presented b the geography of the land – a naturalist, otherwise – versus the SGR Group, which is invested in a creation that could be described as “hand-of-man” in its nature. What energies arise from these different manifestations of human connection to the land is a key theme in the book, which produces part of its cast of characters.
Theme #46: Media Manipulation and Supremacy
The struggle between Atwood and Attwood is, in part, played out through its competing news organs, with one controlled by “corporate” and the other controlled by “religious” interests. Either way, bias in the news space.
Theme #47: History is Just a Story
One overriding theme that surfaces throughout the book is the notion that history, as it is accepted and taught in schools, is nothing more than an interpretation of events filtered through the biases of its authors. The accepted version of events typically comes from the winners of conflicts, and so they create narratives that support their ascension and supremacy. Time always eats holes in early accounts, and eventually the later ones, too, because history ever is never more than a point of view. The landmarks and boundaries will be generally agreed to, but how they came to be will always just be the work of storytellers.
Theme #48: Driving Transgression Underground
Kansas was one of the first to pass prohibition against liquor laws, and one of the last to give up on them, but during the entire prohibition period the state accepted an underground trade in liquor distribution and consumption. The effect was to encourage a culture that accepted transgression provided that it was out of sight.
Theme #49: Freemasonry as a Positive
Dobby Leitner, the principal symbol of goodness in the first book, is a Jew and a Freemason, and he is a devout believer in sacred geometries. Freemasonry was an important influence on the development of communities across the country, as witnessed by the Masonic buildings that exist in virtually every town, always marked with the Masonic symbol. ATWOOD tends to treat Freemasons as knights of virtue.
Theme #50: The Royal Secret
Another nod to Freemasonry, this term is referenced at several points in the book as a tempting mystery to understand, but not explained. It is a concept, or a mystery, that has particular impact on two related characters, Elizabeth Newberg and the Rev. A.S. Thorne, who have something of a secret between themselves.
Theme #51: The Frozen Priest
Pastors, Bishops, Reverends, and the like, do not fare well in the book. Their depictions range from exploitive deceiver to murderous cutthroat, and they are hopeless in the face of supernatural forces.
Theme #52: Unseen World - Trilogy
The book depicts a reality in which supernatural entities exist with the undead and the living, a trilogy not at all unlike that of the commonly held concept of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The book directly implies that everyone and everything we know, or have ever known, plus those things we will allow ourselves to believe, come together to give each of us our own individual realities. Parts will overlap with those of others in that trilogy. Note that ATWOOD, itself, is a trilogy.
Theme #53: Protestants versus Catholics
America was essentially established, as a European colonial system, by Protestants who were escaping the oppression of the Catholic Church. The book delves into that history, including how this contention manifested itself once Catholics began arriving in America in larger numbers. It plays out locally through the character R.W. MacDonald, who wages a vigilante campaign against the Catholic incursion. MacDonald’s allegiance to Freemasonry and the Orange Order bring his anti-Catholic biases into historical perspective.
Theme #54: Champion Underdog
The book loves an over-matched hero, which it has to some degree in Dobby Leitner, but to a much greater degree in the character of Stephen Lloyd, the first elected official from Rawlins, the county in which the story is mostly set, to the Kansas statehouse.
Theme #55: Planned Economic Cycles
A great deal of time is spent examining the historical cycles of bust-and-boom in the U.S. economy since the establishment of a federal reserve banking system. The book implies that these cycles are predictable and probably even planned to ensure a regular redistribution of wealth back to the wealthiest class.
Theme #56: Oppression of Labor Unions
At several points in the book, historical events depicting the oppression of the forces of organized labor are supported by conflicts between characters who represent differing points of view regarding the management-employee relationship.
Theme #57: Lingering Spirits
Among the most interesting character in the book is the timeless Johnny Crowlo, who remains a character in all three books, implying that he is not mortal; in fact, is a living memory of the people who once roamed the Kansas plains hunting bison.
Theme #58: Female Liberation
There are numerous female central characters, almost all strong and willful and leaders in the community. They are associated, in many cases, with female auxiliaries of Freemasonry, ranging from the Eastern Star to the far-more esoteric Order of the Amaranth. It is Elizabeth Newberg’s reaction to the destruction of her circle that sets into motion events that become central to Book Two, beginning with the rape of Rev. Thorne. It seems, in fact, to separate her from her own mortal form.
Theme #59: Tabula Rosa
The notion that things new to us are the equivalent of a blank slate is challenged.
Theme #60: Irony and Dark Humor
The book is peppered with wry, ironic humor, most notably in the story of the shooting death of Dena Stermer’s husband – an arc that surfaces more than half way into the story and has a surprise resolution near the end. This tendency toward sneaky humor is apparent throughout the book in terms of the juxtaposition of parts of The Toiler poem with their following sections.
Theme #61: Class Distinctions
These are very clearly on display in the depiction of the fact-basded Dewey-Berry feud, and subsequent shootings and legal wranglings.
Theme #62: Baseball as Community
The book traces the beginning of “town-team baseball”, which was hugely popular beginning in the late 1880s and beyond, after the establishment of the professional National Baseball League in 1884. Baseball represents people sharing an activity together, putting aside their differences, and it is a theme that spans all three books.
Theme #63: Hallucinogenic Writing
The modern history of pharmacology is depicted through the story of pharmacist James D. Greason, who becomes adept at the distillation of absinthe, and under its influence writes extraordinary accounts in the local newspaper. Were they true, or was he just tripping? This could, conceivably, be another embedded joke on the author himself.
Theme #64: Progressive Politics
The Grange organization gets appreciative treatment, along with the Montgomery Ward catalog. On the flip side, dark political forces send thugs against Dobby Leitner, who is defended by an entity whose resting place has been defiled by evil (read commercial) interests.
Theme #65: Infrastructure is King
This mantra is hidden in virtually every chapter of this book, and is perhaps most dramatically depicted through the construction of R.L. MacDonald’s enormous water well, through which he expects to control the future. The scaffolding around which we build our conceptions is the most critical aspect of our lives.
Theme #66: A Church for Everyone
The book is really hard on religion, in general, and champions the attitude of Uncle Dick Stevens, who built the historic “Stevens Chapel” as a place where people of all faiths could come to worship.
Theme #67: Ordinary Heroes
The depiction of a Diphtheria outbreak, and the heroic efforts of the character Kate Cochran to defend a family against its ravages, are noble, implying that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary gestures and sacrifices when their spirits are called upon to do so.
ATWOOD - A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance is now available in eBook form from Amazon.com and soon from other eBook outlets.
The 900-plus page novel depicts the development of a special hybrid American culture – a “Jayhawker” strain that evolved through an infusion of Europeans into the realm of Native American mystics at a time before U.S. immigration laws. The setting is an isolated county in the new state of Kansas. Developed as part of a 19th Century federal government plan to populate the Great Plains – a plan with roots going back to Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery and encouraged through a series of land giveaways (homestead acts) – Rawlins evolves as an amalgamation of political, economic, religious and cultural interests. One could say that it was part of an “intelligent design” that represents a socio-political force that will have a profound impact on the long-term direction of the United States.
Into the void left by a vanquished native population pour the expectations, fears and histories of a wave of foreigners who would become the new American people. They are toilers attempting to survive a hostile alien plane, to build a new world from nothing in a place where their arrival has upset a delicate balance with nature; the fragile agreement that separates the practical world from the ethereal. To the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne, it was in the sacred protection of Maheo that they fought fiercely to maintain; the force that kept them safe at night, now gone. The new people develop their own mechanisms for coping in “the soulless zone” – the buffalo hunting grounds north of the Arkansas and south of the Platte rivers. They will have to because dynamic forces have been released that will give rise to mega agricultural corporations (Archer Daniels Midland), agronomics, cooperative farm organizations, and the Grange movement, not to mention the weird stuff; the creatures that surface from the nightmarish fears of these humans in transition through this shifting plane.
Book One of the ATWOOD trilogy takes the reader from 1859, when New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley lands unceremoniously at “No. 12 Station” along the Leavenworth to Pikes Peak Express stage route, to the 1903 gunfight between wealthy ranching heir Chauncey Dewey and his Oak Ranch cowboys and the wild Berry family of hair-triggered farmers. It is filled with interpretations of historical events that put in context the accounts of pioneers, surviving in “Bleeding Kansas”, that are alternately fascinating, thought provoking, touching, horrifying, and funny. One will never look at Kansas the same way again after reading ATWOOD - A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance. It is a book for all cultures that may even impact the way that readers view life in the 21st Century.
USE THIS LINK TO DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY FROM AMAZON.COM (http://www.amazon.com/ATWOOD.../dp/B00G12YUV6/ref=sr_1_1... ATWOOD - A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance can be read from any Kindle device or iPad, or on the Kindle for PC and Mac that can be downloaded for free from Amazon, but it looks better in wide screen mode.
Rick A. Rice’s epic novel "ATWOOD: A Toiler’s Weird Odyssey of Deliverance", revolves around the founding of the town of Atwood, Kansas situated in Rawlins County in the northwest corner of the state.
The book weaves together multiple stories that meander like a twisting stream through historical fact, fictionalized events, Native American beliefs, and the folklore and legends brought to this country by European emigrants who homesteaded Kansas in the late 1800s. "ATWOOD" is an entertaining, easily readable and incredibly informative book. You’ll find it enjoyable, whether or not you have Kansas roots.
It is the first book in a trilogy the author is currently working on. "ATWOOD: A Toiler’s Weird Odyssey of Deliverance" opens in the post-Civil War years, an age of massive European immigration to America when western territories such as Kansas were rapidly being explored and exploited by people bent on trapping, hunting, mining, grazing and farming. At this time the high plains of northwestern Kansas were being advertised as a veritable “Garden of Eden” by various moneyed interests: bankers, chamber of commerce, state publicity departments, railroads and real estate brokers. But the German and Czechoslovakian farmers who arrived in 1875 by wagon train to Rawlins County to establish homesteads soon discovered things to be quite different. Barely enough rain fell annually to grow a profitable crop of any kind. The homesteads had to be defended from Indian raiding parties and from vast herds of bawling cattle driven by cowboys who didn’t know the meaning of property lines.
In this atmosphere of ever present danger and uncertainty, an event occurred in 1878 near Atwood that rattled the sparsely inhabited community. A little girl named Charlene Steele living on a remote farm on the Beaver Creek wandered into the nearby woods and disappeared. “Nothing gripped the scattered community of homesteaders with greater fear than the possibility of losing a child to any of the predators that roamed the area. There were eagles that surveyed the potential for poaching from great heights, and there had been incidences where the giant birds had swept from the sky to pick up a baby left momentarily unattended in an exposed area. And then the child would be gone forever, spirited away to a bloody aerie that man would never find, to be flayed live and devoured by rapturous hunters, with wing spans six feet across and more, who ruled the lands with such utter contempt that they had been crowned our national bird." "J.B. Talbot, whose homestead was set atop a tall hill above the creek two miles west of the Steele’s, had erected a tower there for the purpose of alerting the community to emergencies. If help was needed, he burned a salt-injected pile of wood that produced a noticeably yellow cloud of smoke, and the seeing of it encouraged settlers from around the area to quickly gather to help with the emergency. Within a couple hours there were seven families gathered at the Steele homestead.”
Assuming the child had been murdered by Indians, the settlers embarked on a shocking act of violence.
European immigration to the plains was rapidly stripping Native Americans of their means of existence as well as their methods of retaliation. With each new wave of settlers and government soldiers the Indians were becoming increasingly desperate and murderous. Rice describes the savage acts that occurred in and around Rawlins County on both sides. Indian raiding parties were targeting wagon trains moving along the Santa Fe Trail and shooting settlers in cold blood. East of Atwood a group of Cheyenne slaughtered a herd of cattle numbering about one hundred in an area that came to be known as “Hundred Head Draw”. The brutal Sand Creek Massacre in Kansas Territory in 1864 and the massacre of Cheyenne Hole in 1874 marked the government’s systematic eradication of Native Americans over the course of fifteen years.
The Indian Wars were only one example of how contentious Kansas territory was during this time. As Rice explains, throughout the mid to late 1800s different groups spilled blood for a variety of passionate causes: the right to own slaves (or not), drink alcohol (or not), allow women the vote (or not), tolerate Catholics, Jews and other faiths (or not), and welcome ex-slaves after the Civil War (or not). The towns of Atwood, Blakeman and McDonald locked horns a heated battle about which would become the county seat. (Atwood eventually won this distinction and gained its courthouse by physically removing it from another town.)
Along with descriptions of day to day struggles, tragedies and accomplishments of the Kansas farmers and ranchers, the novel depicts larger historic events impacting the territory during this turbulent era. These include the Homestead Act of 1862, orphan trains, the gold and silver rush, abolition wars, the advent of statehood, railroad operations, innovations in farming technology, land marketing schemes, Prohibition, the post-Civil War influx of African Americans to the midwest, and the economic collapse of 1873.
One of the many unforgettable characters in ATWOOD is a loner named Dobby Leitner who takes up residence in the Beaver Valley in 1869, long before the other homesteaders arrive. One day a friend named Col. Atwood passing through the region pays Dobby a visit and plants an idea in his head: “My belief is that if someone were to establish some basic services here, like a warehouse, icehouse, meat house, and maybe a blacksmith and carpenter shop, you’d have a pretty reliable start on something,” said Atwood. “You would become a hub and settlers would come here for supplies, which would be delivered right off the tracks through here. There’s a thing called synergy, Mr. Leitner, where all the forces swirling around a situation miraculously join together in unison to make something more than might have otherwise existed. You could be the synergist.”
Dobby Leitner becomes the operator and manager of the first Atwood Trading Post as around him the town begins to grow. Sensitive to the spirit of place, Leitner recognizes something profound about this particular location: “A place out of the weather would be what people would mostly need, and here it was, the Beaver Valley. Fertile lands stretched out from the cup along the creek, providing ample room for the layout of a town, even a lake were a man of a mind to make one, before the elevations rose two hundred feet at the valley’s perimeters to meet the high plains.”
The town of Atwood takes shape, starting with a grid-shaped blueprint. After the courthouse is acquired construction begins on a municipal water well, drainage system, post office, newspaper, depot, school, ice storage, sewer, sceptic, and eventually, a railroad spur. Atwood’s founding father, James Matheney supervised its road construction with unusual skill and forethought: “Matheney oversaw the construction of a surface roadway system built using the macadam method . This used compacted layers of small stones that were then cemented into a hard surface by stone dust – macadam – and water. To produce a durable and sustainable surface, the roadways were excavated and then backfilled with stone. In the east, this had often required compaction of the subsoil, but in the clay soils of western Kansas compaction was hardly necessary. These hard soils at the base of the construction would stand the weight of loads, while the rock surface would drain water away from the roadway and provide a uniform surface on which to ride. This was immensely expensive, which is why it was limited to a few important streets, selected to give a sense of place to the new community; a sense, as one left the dirt trail and began traveling upon this higher level surface, that here (Attwood) [alternative spelling of the town's name] was a place where things were better.” As Atwood grew so did competition for business . . . especially concerning what the railroads could provide. Expectations for a railroad spur to Atwood is one of the ongoing themes of the novel.
An infuriated Scots cattleman named R.L. McDonald who had a nearby town named after him decided to even the score: After Atwood wrested the county seat . . . He [McDonald] decided to dig Rawlins County’s largest well right in the heart of the McDonald settlement. It was going to be his play for the place that bore his name, the effort he had never made, and it was going to encourage the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad to invest there as they had done in a big way over in Herndon. . . . he figured that there was no resource in all of Rawlins County more precious than water, which existed in great volume in the Ogallala Aquifer, the giant lake locked in the earth’s crust, that had been sealed over by geomorphic processes millions of years ago. Left above it were the limestone rock formations and the fossil remains of the world that once was, whose legacy has moved underground into that vast alternative reservoir.“
Rice delves into the cultural roots and psychologies of the diverse emigrants families flooding into the area. People from so many different regions of Europe were moving to northwestern Kansas that a family’s language and religious beliefs were often completely different from those of their next door neighbors. Getting along was often challenging, and the impulse was to stick to one’s own kind. But sometimes the better side of human nature rose to the occasion, as when a heroic woman named Kate Cochran came to the aid of a standoffish neighbor family stricken with diphtheria.
“The bacteria may also live on objects, like cups and saucers, and may be spread by sharing contaminated objects. In the early days of the American west there developed a practice of hanging metal cups from well handles, for the convenience of anyone who wished to pump fresh water out of the ground and have a drink. The cup would then be left for the next person, and these sorts of practical pioneering habits had the unfortunate effect of generating disease paths. . . . But Kate wasn’t accepting the grim awfulness of the whole thing or willing to allow their aloof neighbors from across the street to suffer without benefit of assistance and aid. She had heard that the spice Asafetida had qualities that would prevent the transmission of airborne disease and so began to fashion tiny pouches of the spice to be worn around the neck , with the bag to be covering its hollow, and that could also be placed inside the cheeks of one’s mouth.”
Running parallel to the prosaic lives of the novel’s characters are stories of their inner worlds where dwell imaginative beings, dreams, desires and fantasies that range from profound to ridiculous. The working class people who settled in Rawlins County were steeped in European mythologies and their imaginations were rife with cantankerous kobolds, friendly house spirits, water sprites and fertile sylphs. Rice portrays these nature spirits as being just as real as the sodbusters, store keepers and cowboys whom they aided or hindered or sometimes flat out seduced. In these chapters we encounter some very strange beings, indeed.
“The krivopeta, who lived in the caves near the old dinosaur boneyard in Burntwood Township, had been attracted by the presence of the newly arrived sylph at the Vlček property, and incidentally had wiped out all of their few farm animals in the course of her investigations. She was an awful creature whose presence typically portended the arrival of storms, but she also had an insatiable desire for blood feasts so she represented something of a storm in her own right. It was unclear if she had arrived in the area with the wave of Slovakian immigrants, or if she was simply an entity of the cave systems, which branched and networked everywhere, beyond what any human had ever known or explored; likely from Kansas to Slovenia. The krivopeta could transit realms probably too hostile for humankind, so some suspected that they simply moved throught the world, surfacing here and there as storms were called and need arose.”
The Indians relied on a supernatural being named Pale Lightning whom they conceived of as a long haired woman who ruled over the mountain territories, controlled the movement of the buffalo and sometimes dispatched avalanches. Pale Lightning had connections to a race of small, brown-skinned people with canine-sharp teeth, who lived beneath the mountains and who routinely surfaced from their caves in hunting groups to attack all living things, including humans.
The caves in Rawlins County, we learn, were not only an entrance into a deadly underworld, but also a convenient place to store bootleg whiskey during prohibition. As Rice splices fact with fantasy conventional notions about life on the frontier fly out the window. Did a group of incredibly strong, mostly unmarried, seriously independent women from the nearby town of Ludell actually cavort naked in the pale moonlight?
The settlement around Ludell, Kansas, Rice tells us, began to be populated by an odd assortment of literal bohemians – which is to say, emigrants from Bohemia in Europe – and emigrants from several regions of Germany, some of whom were of Jewish heritage. Then imagination grabs the reins.
The leader of these women, the stunning Elizabeth Newberg who is attuned to arcane mysteries, tells her followers: “There are waypoints in life that orient us to the earth’s natural energies, which are closely aligned with our inherent sense of positive and negative. And those polar opposites align closely with the impulses we feel to do right and wrong. Truth, faith, wisdom and charity – all of those ideas that Amaranth is about – are the result of aligning ourselves perfectly with the earth’s energies, and our landmarks are there to help us do that.”
Deep in the wilderness Elizabeth invites her group to participate in an activity that is part ritual, part catharsis. “There were a dozen of them, all white as alabaster and tall and slender, moving like reeds swaying in a circular motion around a blazing campfire, with flames shooting eight feet into the night . And they were stark naked, a fact that hadn’t been perceived by him immediately as the light of the flames seem to lick their bright skins with changing hues that seemed at times to flash, as if some mysterious climax of light had reached a crescendo movement and exploded in a burst among the group, who laughed joyously and sang as they moved like forest nymphs.”
No one spins a good western spook story better than Rice who infests the plains and creek bottoms with dangerous, unnatural creatures that give the cowpokes hell. Even in the darkest moments, however, these tough Kansas cowboys never entirely lose their acerbic sense of humor: “. . . Buck Lindsey was snapped from his dreams in the black of night at the sound of a ruckus that he figured to be a hundred or more yards off to his right. He quickly jolted in his saddle, which immediately reminded him that he had tied himself in, just in case. It was hard on these warm summer nights to keep his eyes open, and this night he had lost the fight, until he heard that sound: a horse’s nay, a rider’s shout, and a hissing snarl. . . . Moving so as not to make a sound, consoling his nervous horse as they picked their way through trees and underbrush, Buck suddenly found himself in a small open area and his attentions were drawn to the source of the light, suddenly close at hand. He froze at what he saw. Crouching over his friend, prostrate on the ground, gravely wounded but not dead, his legs jerking spasmodically in reaction to his pain and agony, was what appeared to be a man, and yet not. He wore dark clothes and yet seemed feral, like an animal, with long hair, dripping with blood, and he was using his teeth to tear into the flesh of the neck of Sparky Hibbits.” “Hurley, the foreman, could not quite take in what he was seeing , and he had seen a lot. The victim was so brutalized that the corpse appeared almost not to be real, so that Hurley and the others had a hard time comprehending what they were seeing and what was happening. “How would you know a thing like that?” asked Hurley. “From amputating limbs and whatever at Antietam and Sharpsburg, I reckon that’s where it started,” said Hawks, staring at his estimate. “I got right good at summing up loss.” Hurley continued to stare at the grisly scene with bewilderment, too knocked off his usual capable stride to fashion a quick plan for what to do next. All he could think to say was - “Well, this young man isn’t going to need anything anymore.”
Rice’s novel ends in the 1890s as John D. Rockefeller’s younger brother Frank Rockefeller is teaching a young ranch owner named Chauncey Dewey how to drive a brand new Oldsmobile ‘Model N’ Touring Runabout. An era is ending and a new one is about to unfold, but to read about that we will impatiently have to wait for the next book in the "ATWOOD" trilogy. “It wasn’t long before the sun was down and the sky turned dark. “Here’s another thing your horse doesn’t have,” said Frank, reaching to turn a switch that activated two brass lanterns situated on each side of the front of the car, so that the way ahead was lighted. “You can drive at night.” The beam of the lights made a beautiful picture of the fading daylight before them, the silhouetted plains giving way to a deep blue sky changing to azure by minute degrees with each passing moment. The light of the brave little lamps reached out only so far, creating a shallow zone of marginal safety surrounded by fast-encroaching mysterious night, so that the road before them came to seem like a portal. “There is a flask under the seat,” said Frank, as they bounced along, stars above coming out for the night as they drove.” ~E. A. Kay
Reviewed by E. A. Kay, November 2014
The author of ATWOOD: A TOILER'S WEIRD ODYSSEY OF DELIVERANCE is Rick Alan Rice, a California-based writer whose work is available on Amazon and many other outlets. Rick offers novels, screenplays, and a huge portfolio of original music compositions.