One of the hundred books a year I read:

One of the hundred books a year I read:

Ron Rash The World Made Straight

The World Made Straight

Ron Rash

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A poor son of a tobacco farmer, seventeen-year-old Travis Shelton is fishing North Carolina mountain streams for trout he can sell when he stumbles upon a crop of marijuana. Sensing a big payday, he steals a plant and sells it to a local drug dealer. Unable to resist the easy money, he returns to steal more plants only to discover the grower has left a trap for him. A bear trap.

Recovering from his injuries and estranged from his father, Travis finds shelter with Leonard Shuler, a former high school teacher. Seeing potential in Travis, Leonard mentors him to take his GED and begins teaching him about the history of the mountains. The focal point of those lessons is the Shelton Laurel Massacre, the slaughtering of 13 people during the Civil War—most related to the present-day Travis.

The story bounces between the present day challenges Travis and his friends have with family, poverty, and drugs and the connections to the massacre.

As a background note, few people in the North Carolina mountains owned slaves in the 1800s, so when the Civil War broke out, allegiance to the South was not a given. Many who fought for the Confederates were conscripted and often deserted at the first opportunity and hid among Union sympathizers and those who tried to remain neutral. The Confederates hunting those deserters were often neighbors.

The Shelton Laurel Massacre is one of the bloodiest examples. The Confederate 64th North Carolina Regiment, made up mostly of men from Madison County, viciously hunted down a group of boys and men, also residents of Madison. Their orders were to march the prisoners to Knoxville, but, instead, they executed them. The youngest victim, thirteen-year-old David Shelton, was forced to witness the murder of his father and three brothers and shot in both arms. He begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot him eight more times and killed him.

Despite an outcry, little discipline was ever carried out against the perpetrators. This neighbor on neighbor crime continues to reverberate in the area to the present day (part of what this book is about).

The Shelton Laurel Massacre has been included in a number of novels, most famously Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. Ron Rash brings it into focus using the journal of a doctor who treated the citizens of Madison County, both soldiers of the 64th and victims of the massacre.

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