The Toters Book Club’s book choice for April is Bootheel Man by Morley Swingle who is a Missouri prosecuting attorney. The story is a mystery with theft, murder, and intrigue wrapped around a backdrop of history about the Mound Builders. The setting is Cape Girardeau, Missouri with visits to the Cahokia Mound Builders site in Illinois, the Wickliffe site in Kentucky and the Osage Indian Reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Swingle has written a tight story and managed to educate readers about Osage history. While most of the story is contemporary, Swingle interrupts his tale temporarily to spin another yarn set in about 1100 AD along the banks of the Mississippi where the Mound Builders lived. Then he manages to ties the two eras together nicely.
We have driven by Wickliffe Mound Builder site on the Kentucky side several times in route to other destinations. We always planned to stop but either thought we would catch it on the way back, or it was too late at night when we passed. A few years ago friends did take us to the Cahokia Mounds a few short miles across the river from St. Louis. What a fantastic experience it was to see how the original people lived in that area during prehistoric times. To think mounds the size of the Great Pyramids were built one basket of dirt at a time!
Osage history has intruded on my own story during my lifetime. I grew up only a few miles from the first Osage Mission of the Catholic Church in Kansas. The Black Robes came to St. Paul, Kansas because an Osage chief, educated in St. Louis himself, wanted the priests to come and teach the Osage people to read, write, do handwork, and learn about God. In my teens, my first love was an Osage/Peoria boy. Then when I moved to Carthage, town history claimed this area was a site for ending the Osage Wars, which was really the Osage just being pushed out of Missouri and into Kansas. Later they were pushed to Oklahoma where the useless land they were given ended up sitting over oil wells!
Missouri readers will appreciate Swingle’s local references. Names like Perryville, Jackson, St. Genevieve, Kingshighway, and Crystal City to name a few. Interesting trivia like how the Missouri Bootheel got its name dot the pages. (Shaped like a heel on a boot, this area should have been plotted in the state of Arkansas, but a wealthy land owner did not want to live outside Missouri!)The story opens with an attempted suicide off the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, a real beauty that spans the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau.
I am sure the book club will have a lot of discussion about Bootheel Man, and in April they might even decide to find other titles by Morley Swingle. It was nice to read and enjoy such an entertaining and informative Missouri author.
Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at Night, photo by Morgan Mundell