Review: Ride with the Devil

Ride with the DevilRide with the Devil by Daniel Woodrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

how I love a book that not only entertains, but also educates and enlightens. My knowledge of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri was limited to what I was taught in high school US history, that is, that Congress didn't want to settle the volatile issue of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, so they passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and a few people from Missouri disagreed, kicked up a fuss because they were pro-slavery, and were then relocated away from the border. That's just sad, isn't it?

Woodrell takes on the incredibly violent confrontations between the Jawhawkers and the Border Ruffians from the side of the to show how the issue of states rights affected Southern homesteaders and immigrants that didn't own slaves. Jake Roedel, if first generation American born to German parents narrates his story of joining up with a group of Missouri irregulars. His motivation for joining goes beyond fighting against the Unionists who want Kansas to be a free state, he's also there because his best friend, near brother, and center of his world, Jack Bull Chiles has joined up after Chiles' father is killed by a band of Jayhawkers. Like any group that operates on the fringe, there are some men of varying degrees of quality and sanity in the unit they join. The fever to rebel reaches its peak when the group Roedel is with joins up with the (real) William Quantrill for what will be known as the Lawrence Massacre. Roedel takes an outsider's pov to that battle, which allows Woodrell to describe the atrocities that really happened without turning his flawed hero into an unredeamable villain.

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