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The Light Shines from the West: Lifting the Veil of History

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When Bob Baron, who founded Fulcrum Publishing more than thirty years ago, asked me to write a chapter on the rural American West for Fulcrum’s new book, The Light Shines from the West, I knew that I wanted to start with the New Madrid Earthquakes.
In the winter of 1811, a series of terrifying quakes struck the low-lying country between Missouri and Arkansas. The Mississippi River thrust her waters upward, left her banks, rose twenty feet into the air, hung suspended, then plunged to the earth. For a few terrifying moments, her roaring waters flowed backwards.
“The earth was horribly torn to pieces,” wrote eyewitness Eliza Bryan. “The inhabitants fled in every direction to the country… the earth was in continual agitation, visibly waving as a gentle sea.”
I felt an intimate connection with the New Madrid Earthquakes not just because of family history, but because of novel-writing history. What cultural upheaval, I had wondered, would cause my protagonist’s Cherokee ancestors to leave …