Home School Treasures

Joseph A. Altsheler

(1862-1919)
We carry originals when available and Books on CDROM. See bio below written by an Altsheler historian.

NEW!Altsheler on CDrom. Your Easy Accessibly Library! Formatted in txt files allows the reader to print or view and adjust accordingly. The CD includes a Free software that reads aloud the books, a free software that adjusts margins, creates booklets and much more to save ink and paper. No need to be online, to waste memory or use hard-drive disk space. This Anthology contains 22 Books by Joseph Altsheler and 65 Books by G.A. Henty, both historical fiction writers.
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Author Bio
Persons traveling south from Louisville, KY may eventually come to Horse Cave. It's a small town, with only one main street. If one continues through Horse Cave, there is a small roadside marker near an area known as "Three Springs" which denotes the ( approximate) birthplace of one of Kentucky's most successful authors of the 1900s--Joseph Alexander Altsheler.

Mr. Altsheler's family, which immigrated from Germany and anglicized its name from Altschuler, operated a store in Three Springs and he was raised above the store. His birth in 1862, in a state that was mixed in its loyalties during the War Between the States, placed him in a time of real turmoil in American history. The War was only recently concluded and the American west was being settled. He was surrounded by Civil War veterans from both sides, and heard numerous stories of battles, campaigns, and political intrigue.

It was from this milieu that he acquired his combined love of storytelling and history. He did not pursue his family's mercantile efforts but instead took up journalism, after spending one year at Vanderbilt University.

He eventually ended up in New York City, and became the editor of the New York World, a newspaper in that city. He had, by then, married his wife Sarah, "Sallie" Boles, and had their only child, Sydney. One of the things that plagued Mr. Altsheler was his perception that children and young adults had no place to turn that would interest them in history, beyond their rote lessons in school. Although his profession was that of a journalist, he always considered himself a historian and used fiction to teach history. Because he was a historian, and his focus was on the history of events in America, his books and magazine-short stories were about the creation and growth of this country. His wrote serially as well as stand alone works--beginning with the French-Indian War Series and ending with World War I. His "characters" participated in every major conflict in American history up through WWI except the Spanish-American War. There is no evidence or research available as to why that omission.

He turned to writing in the late 1800s, first publishing magazine stories which were converted to books ("Soldier of Manhattan" and "Sun of Saratoga"). He eventually devoted the majority of his literary efforts to books, but continued to write for magazines such as Harper's, Lippincotts, and Munsey's World. His serial works cover the French-Indian War, the American Revolution (on the western border of the colonies), the Texan War for Independence, the Civil War, the settlement of the west, and World War I. The "stand alone" works covered the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the conflict with the Northwestern tribes (as in Ohio, Michigan, etc) the Civil War, settling the west, and two political/journalist works. In all, he wrote nearly fifty books and countless short stories for magazines.

Altsheler's most famous, and successful, series is called The Young Trailers. An eight book effort, it was enormously popular with boys and girls from its initial printing in the early 1900s. It is set, naturally enough, in Kentucky and environs during the American Revolution. It features a youth (Henry Ware) and his comrades (Paul Cotter, Solomon Hyde, Tom Ross, and Jim Hart) who emigrate to Kentucky from Virginia just as the war breaks out. The series tells the relatively unknown story of what happened on the western border during that war and is a very accurate portrayal of the struggle to keep both the British and the tribes at bay while the main battles were fought in the east.

Altsheler's southern heritage is never far from his work. One of his major characters in the independent works as well as many of his short stories is a man named "Grayson"--an obvious reference to a person from the south during the Civil War. His Civil War Series has two, as opposed to the customary one, central figures. One is a Union soldier, the other a Confederate officer. They are cousins, illustrating the family divisions in border states such as Kentucky.

Like many later 20th century southern authors, he struggles with what the south is and what it could or should be. His treatment of the slavery issue reflects his discomfort with it. Indeed, in the Civil War Series the southern character does not own slaves and is uncomfortable with attempts to take Kentucky out of the Union to join an effort to invade Mexico and establish a slaveholding empire. Many of his independent books (Before the Dawn, Last Rebel, In Circling Camps,) reflect the ambiguity southerners may have felt over the struggle.

One other thing that is clearly present in all of his works is the spiritual connection that his heroes, and even some of their adversaries, feel exists between themselves and God. In The French Indian War Series, there is a three person group who fight for the colonists against the French. One of them, Tayoga, is a member of the Iroquois Confederation. Robert Lennox, another member, was raised with Tayoga in upper New York. It is clear throughout this series that they hold a mutual reverence for God. Neither holds his own view as superior to the other's. They simply have different names for the same concept and are equally grateful for the presence and power of the spirit. The hand and power of God is seen and felt often in Altsheler's writings.

Altsheler is very sympathetic toward the plight of the tribes as they are forced to confront the probable loss of their land and, by extension, their way of life. They are not portrayed as unremitting savages--but rather persons whose existence is threatened by a new and constantly expanding group of people.

Altsheler's works are divisible by the age of his intended audience. His most financially successful works were juvenile fiction. He also wrote several books in which love between a man and a woman was interwoven into the adventure. Altsheler believed in the strength of women, particularly as a civilizing and moral force--and as a partner in adventure. These books were successful and reflect his relationship with Sallie, according to many of the interviews and stories about him during his later years.

As mentioned, his family came from Germany. He and Sallie were in Europe when World War I broke out. He was unable to return immediately and there is some belief that his trip destroyed his health. When he returned to New York, he was ill and does not appear to have ever fully recovered. During his last interview, conducted at his office at the World, the interviewer noted that Altsheler probably knew his life was ending but spent several hours with the person anyway. When he asked how he wanted to be known, he replied " ... as a person who gave young people a reason to read and learn history."

I believe it likely that the closest thing to an autobiography he wrote was the book, The Candidate, in which the hero is a newspaper reporter whose employer (in the style of those days) identifies with the political candidate being covered. Eventually, the reporter is drafted at the political convention and becomes the candidate. It is clear that Altsheler was fascinated by politics (even his juvenile works contain political references) and it is not unlikely that he harbored political ambitions himself

Joseph Altsheler died in 1919, leaving an estate estimated at a quarter of a million dollars, a very tidy sum for that time. Sallie lived nearly thirty years longer but never remarried. Sydney did not marry and the Joseph Altsheler line ended with Sydney's death. All three are buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, where many prominent Kentuckians are at rest.

If I were asked to pick one book to review, I would have to decline because he wrote two separate types--juvenile fiction and adult romance/adventure stories. So I select two rather than one.

For juveniles, I select, Hunters of the Hills, the first book in the French-Indian War Series. This is a part of North American history that is seldom told any longer but which was vital to the decision of the colonies to break from Great Britain. It is a wonderful adventure story, with Robert Lennox, Tayoga (both mentioned above) and their older partner Dave Willet, a guide and hunter. It also reflects the struggle between the Europeans and tribes which is neither condescending toward the Europeans, nor does it shy from the nature of the fighting and intrigue. The plot involves several levels. Lennox, the central hero is an American who we learn does not know anything about his parents or his past. He only knows he was raised with Tayoga, and people of many different nationalities (the Dutch in upstate New York, a Native American, the English of New York City, and the third and fourth generation Americans in the colonies) are working together to see that he becomes strong and skilled so that he might survive in a very dangerous and hostile world. He must, in effect, create himself and must do so while simultaneously engaged in political, cultural, and military events. That this is a metaphor for the developing adventurousness and independence of the colonies seems obvious. Willet, the hunter guide, is a sort of guardian who is teaching Lennox, and has a European background in addition to being an expert at woodcraft and survival. In effect, he is the transition and facilitator between the Old and New worlds. Tayoga provides the lesson that Lennox/America must learn--appreciate your natural world, learn from it, use it wisely, and you will prosper. The story is the last ditch effort by some of the colonies to avoid a conflict with the French for control of North America. Lennox, despite his youth, is an ambassador from New York sent to Quebec to make a last minute plea for peace on behalf of the colony. His second mission is to assure the neutrality of the Iroquois Confederation if there is war. There are some skirmishes with hostile forces--both French and tribes from the west who are historical enemies of the Iroquois and are siding with the French. In the end, war comes and it is at that point that the book concludes. The lives of the three, their interaction with the tribes, and the description of life in the forests of upstate New York are told with detail and a historical accuracy that makes it easy to understand how this conflict set the stage for America's decision to strike out on its own independent course.

The second book I offer to readers is one of Altsheler's adult works, The Wilderness Road. Every American knows George Washington was the general in charge of the army during the Revolution--but almost none know the names of many of the others. Two of them--Arthur St. Clair (pronounced Sinclair, despite the spelling) and "Mad" Anthony Wayne--are involved in this story of the conflict on the northwestern border of the new country following its independence. And, again, there is a strong flavor of Altsheler's southern heritage because the hero and villain of the story are cousins whose last name is Lee, as in Robert E. Lee and Lighthorse Harry Lee, an ancestor of Robert. This is a wonderful story of adventure, love, and the redeeming power of love. John Lee, the hero, was court-martialled out of the Revolutionary Army for cowardice and treason. Jasper Lee, his cousin, is a hero of the Revolution. The two of them find themselves at the Kentucky (again) border during the struggle to subdue the tribes. John Lee's reputation still accompanies him and he is forced to fend off accusations and innuendo through much of the book, mostly from those who would otherwise exploit his skills as a scout and guide during the campaign and who seek to acquire lands from the government. Both Lees are introduced to Rose Carew, the daughter of one of the speculators who accompanies St. Clair and who remain in Kentucky after the disaster at Blue Licks when St. Clair's army is destroyed.

Rose is captured by one of the chiefs during a journey and John Lee is forced to exchange himself for her. Lee escapes, and eventually it is learned that his life was offered as the price for her freedom. This does not, by itself, rehabilitate him from his past but does begin the process of raising doubts about whether the charges were true.

Many of the people seeking to profit from the newly opening territory are involved in a plot to link themselves with the Spanish crown and disassociate from the American government. Jasper Lee is a part of that, as is Rose's father. The attempt is linked to the inability of the nation to protect the border from the tribal raids and, at first, the borderers appear sympathetic to the solicitations but it eventually fails because of their inherent distrust of foreign governments. In fact, these intrigues went on all the time during the early years and, though none were successful, they are reminiscent of the fact that even the Revolutionary War did not enjoy undiluted support in the colonies.

Two years later, "Mad" Anthony Wayne is sent on a campaign to crush the tribal resistance. Wayne was one of George Washington's more trusted officers and knew the importance of securing the border. In the book, John Lee had been an officer with Wayne before his disgrace and the two are reunited for a final time. Lee is restored to his officer status, given command of a fort (including command of his cousin, Jasper) and the rehabilitation of his reputation on the frontier begins.

Altsheler takes the reader through the Fallen Timbers battle in which the tribes are defeated and their power crushed. Jasper is captured and John sets out to free him, despite their differences and the fact that Jasper had taken a very public position that John was a coward and traitor. Unfortunately for Jasper, John arrives at the moment of the impending execution of Jasper by his captors. Rather than permit the suffering, John kills Jasper with a long range rifle shot. Jasper's death is a symbol of John's past being destroyed, clearing the way for the final and complete redemption to come.

John returns to his previous home in Philadelphia (still the center of political power at that time) at the urging of Wayne. Instead of facing vilification, we learn that Rose, who had disappeared from the book for several chapters and who had repeatedly urged John to return to Philadelphia and try to clear his name, had discovered that the records on which the court martial were held were forged documents signed "J Lee" to look as though it were John Lee's signature when actually the "J" had meant Jasper. Although these details are never fully explained, and are probably not necessary to the story, the redemption is complete. The final chapter in the book, which chapter is only two pages long, is the reunion between Rose and John after he has learned that it is Rose's love that drove her to pursue his redemption on her own when he refused to undergo the possibility of yet another wrongful humiliation. It is Altsheler's most moving moment in his adult works.
— Bernard Ryan,
Altsheler Historian
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We do buy and offer Altsheler books when possible. They are very hard to find and very expensive.
Please click here —> Books in Print by J. Altsheler to view and purchase titles that are in print and available at the best prices we can find.

Partial Title Listing Any others not in Series or not known:

1897 The Soldier of Manhattan & His Adventures at Ticonderoga & Quebec.
1897 The Knights of Philadelphia
1898 The Herald of the West; An American Story of 1811-1815
1903 Before the Dawn; The Fall of Richmond
1904 Guthrie of the Times; A Story of Success.
1909 The Last of the Chiefs; Story of the Great Sioux War
1910 The Horseman of the Plains; Story of the Great Cheyenne War
1911 The Quest of the Four; Story of Comanches & Buena Vista
The Sun of Saratoga
Apache Gold
The Last Rebel
In Circling Camps
My Captive
The Candidate

The World War Series
1915 Guns of Europe
The Forest of Swords
The Hosts of the Air

The Civil War Series
1914 The Guns of Shiloh; Story of the Great Western Campaign
1914 The Scouts of Stonewall; Story of the Great Valley Campaign
1914 The Sword of Antietam; Story of the Nation's Crisis
1915 The Rock of Chickamauga; Story of Western Crisis
The Star of Gettysburg
The Shades of the Wilderness
1916 Tree of Appomattox; Story of the Civil War's Close

The French & Indian War Series
1916 Hunters of the Hills
The Rulers of the Lakes
The Lords of the Wild
The Shadow of the North
The Masters of the Peaks

The Young Trailer Series
The Young Trailers
The Free Rangers
The Forest Runners
The Riflemen of the Ohio
The Keepers of the Trail
The Scouts of the Valley
1912 The Border Watch; The Great Chief's Last Stand
1917 The Eyes of the Woods; Story of the Ancient Wilderness

The Texas Series
The Texan Star
The Texan Scouts
The Texan Triumph

The Great West Series
The Lost Hunters
The Great Sioux Trail (1918)

Titles Available on CDROM - Before the Dawn, A Story of the Fall of Richmond The Forest of Swords, A Story of Paris and the Marne The Forest Runners, A Story of the Great War Trail in Kentucky The Free Rangers, A Story of Early Days Along the Mississippi The Guns of Bull Run, A Story of the Civil War's Eve The Guns of Shiloh, A Story of the Great Western Campaign The Hosts of the Air, A Story of a Quest in the Great War The Hunters of the Hills, A Story of the Great French and Indian War The Lords of the Wild, A Story of the Old New York Border The Masters of the Peaks, A Story of the Great North Woods The Rock of Chickamauga, A Story of the Western Crisis The Rulers of the Lakes, A Story of George and Champlain The Scouts of Stonewall, A Story of the Great Valley Campaign The Scouts of the Valley The Shades of the Wilderness, A Story of Lee's Great Stand The Shadow of the North, A Story of Old New York and a Lost Campaign The Star of Gettysburg, A Story of Southern High Tide The Sun of Quebec, A Story of a Great Crisis The Sword of Antietam, A Story of the Nation's Crisis The Texan Scouts, A Story of the Alamo and Goliad The Texan Star, The Story of a Great Fight for Liberty The Tree of Appomattox, A Story of the Civil War's Close The Young Trailers, A Story of Early Kentucky
See G.A. Henty for a list of Henty titles included.

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