From Kansas to the Oregon Trail, a determined youngster has
his work cut out just staying alive. This young adult book
begins in Great Bend, Kansas, in 1822, which has been
struck by a cholera epidemic. Distraught townsfolks are
burning the houses of those who died, in case of a spread
of infection. Young Caleb is searching for his little
sister Tilly. Their father has died and their mother is
ill - will their home be burned next?
THE LAST RIDE OF CALEB O'TOOLE shows some lawless men
taking advantage of the chaos to loot. The twelve-year-old
and his sister are witnesses to murders as the sheriff
tries to control the other end of town. Their mother sends
them and older sister Julie to the Oregon Trail, to their
aunt in Montana. All they have is a horse, wagon and dog.
Wolves and weather are the first dangers they meet, then
they find the train line isn't built yet and they will have
to join a wagon train. Fort Kearney has been closed down
but the Sioux are still attacking travellers. Trading work
for food and barn space, the trio wait in Dobytown. Caleb
hasn't realised that the villainous murderers are also on
This is an exciting read which is reminiscent of Clint
Eastwood films like The Outlaw Josey Wales. Small
communities are wary of strangers but need the money they
bring. Echoes of the Civil War still resonate and some
native tribes are peaceful but others resentful. To keep
marauders at bay, the Pawnees stay in cover and fire Sioux
arrows near them. "Nothing scares folks like the Sioux,"
explains a scout who doesn't want to draw the ire of the
army. Plenty of bullets fly, arrest warrants are
telegraphed across the land, buffalo herds can still be
found and wounds cannot easily be treated. I was
interested to see that although one doctor still wanted to
bleed a cholera victim, a modern notion of drinking only
boiled water and rehydrating sick people was already in
use. A woman doctor teaches the youngsters about removing
bullets and setting broken bones. Caleb and his sisters
have to grow up fast and do the work of adults. And in
Montana, will they be welcomed?
Boys or girls will equally enjoy this fast-paced read and
if you know a young person who'd like an unusual book for
Christmas, THE LAST RIDE OF CALEB O'TOOLE by Eric
Pierpoint, who retraced the journey himself, might fill
that stocking very nicely.
Caleb O'Toole could hear his mother's last words as clearly
as if she was sitting right next to him. He promised her
he'd keep his sisters safe. But safety is over a thousand
miles away in the rugged Bitteroot Mountainsópast dust-
choked deserts and thorny tumbleweeds and as sun so hot,
it's hard to breathe. Tornadoes and hungry wolves wait for
them on the path ahead. But with the infamous Blackstone
Gang hot on their trail, Caleb has no choice but to keep
going. There's no telling how far the gang will go to keep
their latest murder a secret. And Caleb is the number one
witness to their crime.
Caleb O'Toole can hear his mother's last words: "I need you
to be strong." and he can't let her down.