Cloudsplitter, by Russel Banks (Fiction)

I’ve read a number of accounts concerning Old John Brown, the abolitionist, but this is the first one I’ve read from a Brown point of view.

It begins with a middle son who escaped from Harper’s Ferry and traveled to California where he lived an obscure life into old age. Like Mark Twain, only the author really knows where the facts stop and the fiction begins.

Many years ago, when I was sixteen, my grandmother asked me to drive her to visit her sister who lived on the Missouri-Kansas border. On the way we detoured to a place some fifteen miles west of Butler, Missouri where several men were shot and where the grave markers still stood, and where an old three-story house stood. The house was fast against a bluff with two escape routes for each story. This had been one of John Brown’s headquarters while he was in Kansas.

Fifty years later I returned to the same place. The house was gone and the story on the bronze plaques varied from that which my grandmother had told to me. I wonder who, my grandmother or the State of Kansas, changed the historical facts?

In closing, I think Cloudsplitter is a good read, perhaps a 671 word profile of the old man, as it were.  

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