(John Newman Edwards, from Noted Guerrillas)

Read by Michael Cochran.

John Newman EdwardsThis passage is taken from the beginning of the book Noted Guerrillas published in 1877 by John Newman Edwards, Gen. Shelby's adjutant during the Civil War. After the war he was a journalist and an ardent defender of those who served the lost Southern cause in Missouri, especially his friend Shelby and the guerrillas. It was Edwards who popularized the image of Jesse James as a kind of Missouri Robin Hood in the years after the Civil War. The passage read here by our friend Michael Cochran is typical of Edwards' florid prose style.

They had passwords that only the initiated understood, and signals which meant everything or nothing. A night bird was a messenger; a day bird a courier.... They knew the names or the numbers of the pursuing regiments from the shoes of their horses, and told the nationality of troops by the manner in which twigs were broken along the line of march. They could see in the night like other beasts of prey, and hunted most when it was darkest. No matter for a road so only there was a trail, and no matter for a trail so only there was a direction. When there was no wind, and when the clouds hid the sun or the stars, they traveled by the moss on the trees. In the day time they looked for this moss with their eyes, in the night time with their hands. Living much in fastnesses, they were rarely surprised, while solitude developed and made more acute every instinct of self-preservation. By degrees a caste began to be established.... Free to come and go; bound by no enlistment and dependent upon no bounty; hunted by one nation and apologized for by the other;... merciful rarely and merciless often; loving liberty in a blind, idolatrous fashion, half reality and half superstition; holding no crime as bad as that of cowardice; courteous to women amid all the wild license of pillage and slaughter; steadfast as faith to comradeship or friend; too serious for boastfulness and too near the unknown to deceive themselves with vanity;...starved to-day and feasted tomorrow; victorious in this combat or decimated in that; receiving no quarter and giving none; astonishing pursuers by the swiftness of a retreat, or shocking humanity by the completeness of a massacre; a sable fringe on the blood-red garments of civil war, or a perpetual cut-throat in ambush in the midst of contending Christians, is it any wonder that in time the Guerrilla organization came to have captains, and leaders, and discipline and a language, and fastnesses, and hiding places, and a terrible banner unknown to the winds?

© Big Canoe Records, 1993