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Chance Down the Mountain (2018)

Chance Down the Mountain (2018)

©2002, 2018 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (2018). Chance down the mountain. In press, Brandons, MS: Foundations, LLC.

In 1834, fourteen-year-old Chance Early is forced to leave his home in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. Before his return he will have survived a duel, a steamboat explosion, and the Battle for San Antonio, and acquired a slave who refuses to be freed.


I’m happy to say this novel has been accepted for publication by Foundations, LLC.

About Chance Down the Mountain

I was born in Asheville, North Carolina and lived there several times. I love all the ranges of the Blue Ridge, including the Black Mountains, where the Early family settled as part of the great migration down the spines of the mountain from Pennsylvania.

The Black Mountains are isolated and rugged now and were rugged and even more isolated in the 1830s. I set my novel in that decade because the land was still wild, yet quickly becoming settled.

The settings and events in the novel are described as accurately as possible. In most cases I was able to verify place names and and the dates and circumstances of historcial events. I was even able to determine the going price for turkeys in the mid-1820s.

Synopsis (Spoiler Warning!)



Chance Down the Mountain

A Novel by Dallas Denny


It’s June, 1834. The place is Yancey County, North Carolina, high in the Black Mountains. Fourteen-year-old Chance Early has just killed a man, and Sheriff Bob Carvis is at his doorstep. Carvis hasn’t come to arrest Chance, however, but to gently suggest that if Chance ever “had a hankerin’ to see the wide blue sea or a big city or the western mountains” this would be as good a time as any.

Knowing that if he stays, his family with be thrown into violent conflict with the Webb clan, Chance elects to leave his home and “go down the mountain” to the lowlands to make a life for himself.

As he walks, Chance, feeling sorry for himself, is bitterly homesick, reflecting on his home and family. On the second day, however, he meets Doctor Elisha Mitchell, an actual historic personage and explorer of North Carolina’s high peaks. In the few short hours in which they are together, Mitchell exposes Chance to ideas far outside his experience. Mitchell discovers, by accident, that Chance can read; this is a surprise to Chance.

Continuing down the mountain, Chance mulls over the new ideas. When he reaches Asheville he seeks a Baptist preacher and asks for God’s—or at least the Baptists’—position on ice ages and an earth that may be millions of years old. In my favorite passage, he poses his questions and gets the standard Baptist response and manages to enrage the preacher by asking difficult theological questions. It’s at this point in Chance’s journey that his sense of humor, diminished by his recent troubles, begins to reassert itself.

The fall finds Chance in Newport, Tennessee, trying unsuccessfully to hire on as a drover for any of the many herds of livestock or flocks of fowl that are being driven through on the way to the markets of the east. He chances on Rolly Newsome and Tom Long, two frightened and penniless boys alone with a herd of turkeys. Chance hires on as their drover, and the three take the herd east. Along the way, two “desperate men” appropriate the flock, planning to kill the boys. Chance runs away, but returns, and with the help of his great-grandfather’s sabre (taken from a ‘kilt’ British officer in the Revolutionary War’s Battle of King’s Mountain), unhands (literally) one of the bandits and chases away the second. Unfortunately, Rolly is killed in his sleep by a shot from one of the mens’ pistol.

When they reach Asheville, Chance plays social worker with the Dissledorp’s (a farm family he met earlier in his journey), suggesting that Tom, whose father is a “bad drunk,” might find a home with them. In town the next morning, Chance encounters that same bad drunk passed out on the sidewalk. They strike a deal, and Chance buys the Long’s half of the flock, using money he obtained by selling gold nuggets and flakes he had brought with him from his mountain home. Chance then puts a pistol in Long’s face and tells him he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again. Because of Chance’s age, Long is resistant, but by happenstance, one of the bandits walks by and, seeing the pistol, runs away, pleading for his life.

Chance tells Long (untruthfully) the bill of sale he has given Long transfers ownership not only of the turkeys, but of his son Tom. Long demands more money, and Chance provides it. Long says, “He’s worth more than that,” to which Chance replies, “Not accordin’ to you.”

When Chance and Tom and the turkeys arrive in Greenville, the market is depressed and the price down. After trying unsuccessfully to get a fair price, they sell turkeys door-to-door until they’re stopped by an angry merchant in the company of a deputy. The merchant agrees to buy the rest of the flock.

Chance accepts his wages from Tom, but refuses to let Tom reimburse him for buying the flock. In a prophetic moment, Chance allows Tom to pay him the twenty dollars he paid Tom’s father for him, saying, “I took it, as the last thing I wanted was to own a man.” Tom departs for Asheville and a life with the Dissledorps, and Chance, who has a vague notion of going to sea, takes a stage to Charleston. His appearance offends a Savannah matron, who, when he introduces himself, calls him mountain trash; this amuses fellow passenger Vance Chambers, who waits to see Chance’s response.

Chance, who has been building his vocabulary, thanks to a dictionary given him by Dr. Mitchell, mimics the woman’s low-country speech, saying, “Today, the Lord be thanked, we are all, mountain trash and cracker trash alike, Americans, and we should be thankful for it.”

When the stage arrives in Columbia, the matron, claiming that Chance has committed an offense against her honor, provokes a man named Raddison Pressley, who threatens to have his slave, Lloyd, trash him. Vance prevents this by showing a gun, and suggests that Raddison and Chance settle the matter like gentlemen. Raddison declines to duel and offers a half-hearted apology.

After a muddy trip to Charleston, Vance takes Chance to see the ocean. Later, to pass the time, they watch a slave auction. Raddison had threatened to sell Lloyd, and sure enough, Lloyd is on the block. Due to misadventure, Chance buys a grievously wounded Lloyd for only five dollars; he makes the purchase only so he can get Lloyd medical help. To everyone’s surprise, Lloyd recovers.

When Lloyd is able to walk, Chance tries to free him, but Lloyd refuses to be manumitted in the unhealthy social environment of Charleston. He also refuses to walk with Chance to a free state, saying “Massa Raddison, least he let me ride up on top the coach.”

Vance, who was once a riverboat pilot, suggests they ride a packet boat to New Orleans and journey up the river by riverboat; this would allow Chance to free Lloyd in Indiana or Illinois. They take the packet, with Chance, who is now low on funds, paying his passage by serving as cook. In New Orleans, Chance takes a job as pilot of the Magnolia, and soon the three are steaming upriver. Unfortunately, there is a disaster (brought about by steamboat racing), and Chance finds himself in the river. He finds Lloyd, but there’s no sign of Vance.

Faced with the prospect of walking to Illinois, Lloyd decides he would prefer to ride to Texas, and he and Chance throw in with Routier and Constantine, two mountain men.

In San Antonio, Chance is confronted by Gus Webb, who has followed him for months, and in the fight that ensues, Gus is blinded. Chance, conscience-stricken, seeks out a priest, who talks to him of redemption and contrition. Chance, figuring he can buy redemption, arranges room and board for Gus and writes Gus’ family, asking them to come get him.

When they reach New Mexico (then a part of Mexico, where slavery is illegal), Chance formally emancipates Lloyd, who immediately knocks Chance from his horse, saying, “Ain’t personal, but you was my massa, and shouldn’t no man own no other man. I just give you somethin’ to remind you of it.”

Chance arrives back in San Antonio in December, 1935, to find the city under occupied by Mexican General Cos and 1500 troops and besieged by an army of Texans. Chance fights with the Texans and Cos is defeated.

Chance finds Gus Webb still in San Antonio. In a true act of redemption, he takes the disabled Gus all the way back to Yancey County, where, facing death, he confronts the Webb family.

Chance Down the Mountain

Chapter 43


We caught up with the Indians the next day. Billy Bogartson poked me in the side to get my attention, and when I looked at him, he told me it was a hunting party. They didn’t look like much to me, mostly hair and stink and ponies, but the Rangers were respectful. “Tonkawa,” Billy told me. “Used to be they were a troublesome tribe. Most Comanche still are, but not this bunch. They’re more or less peaceable.” We gave them some beef and tobacco and they went on their way.

Two days later, as we were riding along, a brave rose from the tall grass and ran a lance deep into the flank of Routier’s chestnut. The Indian’s face was painted in crazy colors. Routier, who had been riding point, twisted out of the saddle, pulling his rifle from its scabbard as he leapt clear. He shot his man as his horse went down.

There were screams and yells all around. Every man was busy trying to keep himself alive, and that went double for me. A young brave charged at me with his lance raised and I shot him at five yards with my rifle. He stumbled into Junior, his lance still held high, and I grabbed it from his hands and spurred Junior and rode him down.

There was no time to reload, but that lance was a handy weapon from horseback. Just in front of me a brave was hacking at a Ranger with a hatchet, and I got the lance into position and ran him through. Then we were all galloping to get clear and the Indians were sprinting for their ponies. “It’ll take them a while,” said Billy. “The horses couldn’t be too close or we would have seen them or heard them and spoiled their ambush.”

The country was almighty bare, and I would have sworn there was no place an Indian could have hidden, much less a couple of dozen of them. “It don’t take much for a Comanch,” said a young Ranger everyone called Succotash. “Just a little dip or low place in the prairie, or some sagebrush or a rock to hide behind. Sometimes I think they can just go invisible, by willpower. They just appear out of thin air.”

Captain Macon, having made many forays into West Texas, knew the country by heart. He took us straight to a wash just deep enough to get our horses out of the line of fire. We tied them together and lay on the bank and waited for the Comanches to come.

Come they did, and on horseback. Our first volley picked off two or three of them, but they kept right on charging. Those in our party lucky enough to have pistols knocked down a couple more. I just had time for a second shot before they were upon us, and then it was man to man, tooth and nail.

My Comanche was about forty, heavyset, and madder than a nest of hornets. He was all knives and gouges. He seemed disappointed I didn’t just lay down and let him kill me. He slashed at me with his stone knife, cursing at me in Comanche, and I slashed back at him with the big blade Constantine had outfitted me with, calling him every name I knew, and then he screeched at me and latched onto a pony racing by and all of a sudden he was on its back— I’ll never know how he did it so fast— and he reached down with his bare hand and laid it gently on the chest. Then he was hotfooting it along with the rest of them and the Captain was calling roll to see who had been killed or wounded. He told Billy to check the downed Indians and finish any who weren’t dead. Billy took a Ranger named Tate with him. “You be goldurned sure to shoot anything that twitches out there,” Billy told Tate. “Except for me, of course,” and trudged away into the sagebrush, rifle in one hand and Bowie knife in the other. Before long I heard a couple of shots, so I guessed someone had been playing possum.

Billy’s count was six dead Indians. “Comanche, sure enough,” he said, spitting in the dust at his feet. “Long Arm’s band.” One Ranger— it was young Succotash— was dead and another so badly wounded he died minutes later. Routier had an arrow in his arm that had to be dug out.

“Boys, we were lucky,” said Captain Macon. “We’re lucky we had this draw for cover, and lucky there weren’t more of them, and lucky that fool young brave jumped the gun and took the first man in the party instead of waiting till most of us were past like he should have. It could have been worse. We’d best get the graves dug before it gets dark. Routier, how are you feeling?”

“How do you think?” said Routier darkly. “A man who will benefit financially from my death is coming toward me with a big knife to cut off my arm.”

“I ain’t going to cut it off,” said Constantine softly. “Not unless it goes gangrene.”

Later, Macon said to me, “Welcome to Texas.”

“It ain’t what you got here that worries me,” I said, echoing Billy Bogartson, “it’s that you got so much of it.”

He grinned at me. “You done good. Have you ever thought about joining the Rangers?”

It shocked me. “No sir, I haven’t.”

“Well, you look me up if you ever should decide.”

Lloyd had fired his musket. Unlike rifles, muskets have a smooth bore, making it difficult to hit anything, especially something that’s moving and screaming and wielding a knife. Still, Lloyd was sure he had killed his man. “First time in my life I fired on someone,” he said. “I feels free already.”

I said, “If killing someone makes you feel positive, there’s something wrong with you inside.”

He looked at me. “Didn’t say better,” he said. “Said freer.”

“Alright, then,” I said.