Book Review: 'Widder’s Landing' | Kentucky's history is part of love story
Special to the Courier-Journal
Review by Mary Popham, Special to the Courier- Journal
Eddie Price has written a love story interwoven with a thoroughly researched and well-written history.
In 1811 in Lancaster, Penn., apprentice gunsmith Craig Ridgeway loses his position when the owner of the gun shop dies. Ridgeway packs his few belongings and heads west. During heavy rainfall on a flatboat coming down the Ohio River, he contracts pneumonia and lands in Breckinridge County, Ky., where his life is saved by a hideous outlaw widow. He helps her with farm work and when she dies, she bequeaths Widder’s Landing to him. He falls in love with Mary McDonnell and marries into the Irish Catholic family that owns the connecting farm.
Through the Ridgeways and McDonnells, the author describes how hard our ancestors worked. “Craig could scarcely believe the labor required to run such a little farm.” Each page is filled with the daily chores of milking cows and feeding chickens to such phenomena as the arrival of “a giant comet close to Halley’s in brightness,” or swarms of migrating birds that darken the sky. Each season's crop is detailed: trading or purchasing the tools, horses and oxen for the plowing; saving or buying the seed for planting; hoeing and gathering corn, oats, hemp, and tobacco.
Members of the community help one another in almost every chore, from building the houses and barns, to corn-shucking, hog-killing, transforming flax to cloth, suckering, worming, stripping, and hanging tobacco, rolling cigars, and hauling the fruits of the fields to market. I have never read a more detailed account of how bourbon whiskey is made.
Price explains what is going on around the state and the country with stories of traveling priests and preachers, riverboat trips to New Orleans, the New Madrid earthquake, and river pirates and outlaws who must be subdued. He describes the Battle of Tippecanoe and a year later, the War of 1812, sometimes referred to as “The Second War of Independence,” when the young men go off to war. He writes an extensive side-story of slavery and how Craig and Mary Ridgeway purchase slaves to set them free, giving them paying jobs on their farm.
Price’s writing is clear, and his scenes chock-full of color and reality from war and death, to birth and love-making. “Widder’s Landing” is highly recommended to history buffs and to anyone who likes a great story.