A blend of fact and fiction, THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN describes two turbulent decades in the life of Anna Margaretha Mallow, an extraordinary woman caught up in events she cannot understand or control. Moved by her husband to the frontier of Virginia at the beginning of the French and Indian War, she and her five children are forced to seek safety at Fort Seybert from the notorious Chief Killbuck, who is on a death march to save his people and culture. Surviving what becomes a deadly massacre, Anna and her children are taken captive and marched to the Ohio River Valley where she endures indescribable losses and change. Only courage and perseverance sustain her during his dark period in American history.
Once in a while, you come across a book that feels as if it’s been written just for you. For me, THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN was one of those books. It had me attached to my Kindle for two solid days.
I am fascinated by pre-Revolution America, the first frontier. Five feet to my right, my “porn collection” sits in a neat row inside a china closet. I can see the titles from here: Count Zinzendorf and the Indians, 1742; George Croghan and the Western Movement, 1741-1782; Simon Girty, the Outlaw, Captured by the Indians, Along the Braddock Road, and Diplomacy and Indian Gifts. There are a few fictional titles, too. Of course, Last of the Mohicans has a place in there, and so will The Dark Side of the Mountain by Bonnie Johnston.
Since I write fiction that’s “plaid to the bone,” it should be no surprise that my own Colonial tale features Ulster Scots. But the Ulster Scots were only a portion of the folk who came to this great land in the early 18th century. The Germans came, too, and those are the people Ms. Johnston features in her novel, THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. She nailed it, man. The Germans were all about farming, all about improving the land, and this often meant hauling women and children into a savage wilderness with little or no protection. And the babies, oh my word, the babies, they just keep coming in this cold and lonely land. And yet, this fate was better than what they left in their homeland. Tugs on the heartstrings, doesn’t it?
So will this novel.
Here is just a short excerpt from a scene where the main character, Anna Margaretha Mallow, has sought refuge with her children and others at a settler-built blockhouse. Since the British government has failed to garrison the fort, the local settlers are in dire straits. Anna’s husband has gone with other men to obtain badly needed supplies when the Indians attack:
Anna watched, stunned until the dust, smoke and angry warriors began to obscure her view. But through the haze Anna could see poor Maria Heavener, lagging behind her mother and sister, caught by a lone warrior who tripped her as she passed. Maria was unable to elude his grasp as she screamed for her mother and sister, but her voice was absorbed by the war cries of the warriors and the cries of the victims still within the fort.
I won’t spoil what happens from here, but it will have you on the edge of your seat.
Ms. Johnston joins us today to answer a few questions.
Where did you get the idea for THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN?
When I retired, I wanted to do something with all of the genealogical information I had amassed over the years. No one seemed to be interested in charts and graphs. I was particularly interested in the Fort Seybert massacre in 1758 because an ancestor of mine had been captured there with her son who later settled Fayette County OH where my father’s family had lived for generations. I began to research the event and the families involved and discovered very little had been written about it, and the second hand accounts were often inaccurate.
How long did it take you to write THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN?
It took me over a year to research the event, the history of the time and the Indian involved, the War Chief Killbuck. It took me another year to write the story that I had outlined and written in bits and pieces, not in chronological order ( a mistake I found out later). Since I was retired from teaching English at the University of Cincinnati, I had the time necessary.
What was your writing process for this novel?
The most difficult part of the writing process for me was eliminating large narrative portions and telling the story through dialogue. It took many revisions to accomplish that part of novel writing. It was also necessary to try to imagine how the characters felt, especially the woman who endured the tragedy. Perhaps the most interesting and shocking fact about her life was that, after losing three children and being held captive for several years, she returned to her husband and regularly gave birth to at least three more children and died around the age of forty. In the novel I described her death at childbirth. No one knows how she died but it seemed a likely cause during the time period. I found it difficult to imagine how she could return and live a normal life after her great losses. I wondered, too, what her husband was like.
I cried several times while reading your novel. Did you cry while writing those cathartic scenes?
Life for women was terribly difficult under normal circumstances. I shed tears for this woman and her tragic life.
While researching THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, what was the most fascinating or surprising thing you learned?
I discovered that the Delaware war chief Killbuck was fluent in several languages and was a remarkable man who was pragmatic when the Revolutionary War began and aligned with the Americans. He was brutally murdered, however, by the notorious frontiersman and Indian hater, Lewis Wetzel, who blamed him for an attack on his father earlier.
What’s up next for you?
I have more stories to tell and have finished a second novel about Margaret Ward Riffle who helped settle Dayton OH in 1798 and was a victim of an Indian attack in 1772 where she lost her daughter and saved four children from a massacre. She was also a survivor under horrible circumstances. We all have these stories in our past, but I have been fortunate to have accumulated tales of these unsung women who were so important in the founding of this country.
I shall look forward to that! Thank you for joining us today.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/BhyZaAyB5I0