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Authors: Joseph Bruchac

March Toward the Thunder

BOOK: March Toward the Thunder
Table of Contents
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Copyright © 2008 by Joseph Bruchac
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The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for
author or third-party websites or their content.
The map of Virginia (on page v) originally appeared in the May 4, 1861
edition of
Harper's Weekly
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bruchac, Joseph, date.
March toward the thunder / by Joseph Bruchac.
p. cm.
Summary: Louis Nolette, a fifteen-year-old Abenaki Indian, joins the Irish Brigade in 1864
to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Based on the author's great-grandfather; includes
author's note.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-4406-3324-9
1. Abenaki Indians—Juvenile fiction. [1. Abenaki Indians—Fiction.
2. Indians of North America—Fiction. 3. United States—History—Civil War,
1861-1865—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B82816Mar 2008

For our grandchildren; may they live to see a world in which there is no war
Old Virginia, the Heartland of the Civil War
As he lay in the stinking mud of the trench outside Petersburg, Louis thought about what had brought him there.
The money?
More greenbacks than a boy of his age could ever hope to earn— especially one who was just an Indian. Cash enough to buy good clothing for his mother, even a horse to carry her loads so that her feet might not ache so much at the end of a long day of walking the road into town. A thick enough stack of the new paper dollars to buy a little piece of land that would be their own, so that no one again could order them to leave their camp like common vagrants. On such land he could even one day raise a family. And as he thought of that, the image of Azonis's sweet face briefly came to him and made him smile.
Yes, the money made such a future possible. But it wasn't just the money that brought him to this killing field. No more than it was just the trail that brought the deer within range of the hunters' guns.
The insults?
He thought back on the gang of boys who'd met M'mere and him as the two of them tried to slip into town, loaded down with sacks full of baskets.
“Gypsies, dirty Indian gypsies!” the tallest boy yelled at them, his face twisted with contempt.
“Go back where yuh come from, yuh blamed tramps,” shouted a fat-faced redhead. He bent, picked up a potato-sized cobble and threw it. It would have struck his mother if Louis hadn't shielded her with his body and felt the stone bounce off his own broad back. He clenched a fist.
Marie Nolette, his gentle mother, grasped his sleeve with her healing hands, palms rough and scarred from many seasons of weaving ash withes into baskets. “Patience.
Nous aller.
They will grow tired of this game.”
Although she was trying to hold him back, even though there were six or seven in the mob, he was about to take his mother's walking stick and wade into them. They were likely about his age, fourteen, fifteen, but none of them as big as he.
But before Louis could get hold of that stick, something else caught the eyes and ears of the boys. The flash of blue cloth and the glint of oiled metal. The thump of a drum and the measured tramp of feet.
“It's our boys in blue!”
And, just like that, the gang of boys turned and ran off after the squad of marching men who'd just turned the corner a block away. By the time they reached the soldiers, the boys had dropped their stones and replaced them with sticks held up to their shoulders in imitation of the .58-caliber Model 1861 Rifle Muskets carried by the new recruits. Each and every man was dressed in a blue flannel thigh-length sack coat and blue wool trousers, a slouch cap perched on his head, chin held high and proud.
“Kill some Rebs for us, sir.”
“Take it to them Sessesh snakes!”
As those neatly uniformed marching men and the boys who copied them went around the corner and out of sight, they all began to sing.
“We'll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree!
We'll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree!”
It was a stirring song. But what Louis remembered most were those fine, clean uniforms.
In a uniform like theirs
Louis thought,
I would not look like either a ragged gypsy or a dirty Indian
Saturday, April 2, 1864

Marie Nolette said, her head lifted like a deer sniffing the air. “Hear that?”
Her voice was soft. Most people wouldn't have heard her speak, since hooves and wagon wheels clattered on the cobblestones of Broadway. Dozens of people were talking as they passed along the sidewalk. It was a busy Saturday morning in front of the hotel where she and Louis were carefully placing their ash splint baskets on display.
Louis Nolette, though, was used to paying attention to his mother's quiet voice.
“Ayup,” he replied.
How could he not have heard that deep rumble? It was a hundred times louder than the wheels of a heavy wagon over the plank road that led out of town toward their camp north of the village. It came not from nearby nor from the earth, but from above. It was the distant voice of Bedagi, the ancient thunder being. In the stories of long ago, before the coming of the white men, Bedagi's arrows of lightning destroyed the monsters that threatened his people.
But Louis knew that what his mother had said was not just about hearing the thunder. It was about its meaning. Far-off thunder might mean danger was near.
The deep rumble came again. It touched something inside the broad-shouldered boy as he stood there, muscular arms full of the baskets they'd made. Old Bedagi was walking the sky somewhere above the Kaydeross Range to the north of the town. Maybe he was looking down now from the clouds over the swamps by Ireland Vly where Louis had found the black ash trees for these baskets.
Louis thought,
you taught me well. I have not forgotten one bit. I know how to find the right trees, how to thank them properly before cutting them. I remember how to use the heavy club to pound along the peeled ash trunk as it is on the ground. Tunk-tunk tunk, tunk-tunk tunk. Two strikes forward, then one back. My arms have grown stronger doing this work.
To do it right you had to move slowly down the length of the peeled log, breaking the fibers in between the seasonal ring so that the withes would lift up to be pulled free. Thin rings were laid down in times of drought, thicker ones in seasons when the rains were good and steady.
Louis nodded.
Spring thunder is also a good sound
Rains coming. Soon everything will turn green and grow in the moons of planting and hoeing that lay ahead. Maybe in this year of our Lord, 1864, me and M'mere will earn enough to buy a few acres.
There was a chance of that. They had been making a little more money this spring. Not just from their baskets, but also from his mother's doctoring and birthing.
They'd only been camping in the area for three months, but word had spread about “Aunt Marie, the Abenaki doctoress.” Country folk hereabouts had learned that Marie Nolette was the best to call upon for certain things, especially the way she understood what to do when a mother's time came to bring her child into the light of day.
Not only that
M'mere, she knows when the need for her is great. She shows up at the door of some farm far from town just when some frantic husband, he is about to send for help
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