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By TRINA SEVERSON
Most novelists are familiar with the advice, “write what you know.” If there is one thing that Hawesville author Eddie Price knows, it’s history. A retired teacher, Price taught high-school history for 36 years – 31 of those years at Hancock County High School – and presents historical programs at schools, libraries and special events throughout the country.
Several years ago, Price embarked on a writing adventure. The result is a 568-page historical-fiction novel that earned the 2013 Readers Favorite Book Award from the International Book Fair in Miami.
Set in the early 1800s, “Widder’s Landing” brings to life the struggles and events, most notably the War of 1812, as experienced by Kentuckians living along the Ohio River.
The story follows Craig Ridgeway, a young gunsmith from Pennsylvania who travels by flatboat down the Ohio River. The U.S. faces tough economic times. Jobs are scarce, the Bank of America has closed its doors, and a war with Britain looms large on the horizon. Arriving in Kentucky, Ridgeway inherits a parcel of rich bottomland and begins to carve out a new life. He farms corn, tobacco and hemp. He finds love.
He and his wife, Mary, begin manufacturing bourbon whiskey.
The steamboat era dawns, bringing fresh economic opportunities. The War of 1812 rages on, and Ridgeway ultimately leaves his home and loved ones to join his fellow Kentuckians at the Battle of New Orleans.
Talking to Price, it’s clear that he’s a storyteller – and he teaches
through his characters and their adventures. “I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘I didn’t know that was how they did tobacco, hooked up a mule or built a cabin,’ or, ‘I didn’t know they made shingles with a mallet and froe.’”
He said he wanted people to know that this was how things were done, that this was how they lived. “I didn’t want it to be encyclopedic,” he explained. “You can look it up in a history book, but if you put the reader in it – then they can experience it. When I start writing, the characters develop lives of their own and become real. When they begin speaking, things seem to crop up, just like in real conversation.”
Price is quick to point out that religion, romance and love were certainly a part of life on the frontier, as were several extraordinary events he has woven into the lives of his characters.
In fact, he says, his inspiration for the book was sparked by his fascination with the large-scale Midwest earthquakes of the early 1800s.
“There were three giant quakes in 1811 and 1812 that happened across the river in Missouri, but it cracked sidewalks in Washington, D.C., it rang church bells, there were hundreds of aftershocks, thousands of tremors,” he said. “So I thought, what would it have been like to have lived back then? That’s where it all came about.”
He talks about the New Madrid earthquake, the big comet of 1811, passenger pigeon flights of one billion birds. “We don’t even have passenger pigeons today. The bank of the U.S. closed its doors. The first steamboat came right through here on the Ohio River in 1811. All of that is in there.”
When planning and researching, Price traveled to most of the places mentioned in the book.
He visited archives and libraries and interviewed historians and park rangers. “I worked at pioneer villages, poked around in old museums, shot and worked on black powder rifles,” he said. “I even plowed with a team of mules – all to give the story authenticity.”
Price is currently writing the book’s sequel, “Mary’s Landing,” in which he says most of the characters from the first book return. As in “Widder’s Landing,” Price reveals that the sequel will also unfold against the backdrop of important historical events.
“Things are changing on the Ohio River,” he said of “Mary’s Landing. “Steamboats appear in increasing numbers, the population is growing rapidly, Indiana and Illinois become states. The issue of slavery becomes much more pronounced,” Price said. “Some very bad people are coming to Cottonwood Bend – all the way from New Orleans – and it all ties in with “Widder's Landing.”
If you want a copy
“Widder’s Landing” is available for purchase at The Tell City Depot. For information about Price’s historical programs, contact (270) 922-1326.