Read The Winding Stair Massacre by Douglas C. Jones Online


It all began with the reported rape and murder of an Indian woman; but when the law men, Indian and white, arrive the trail leads them to three more murders and to one survivor, an 18yr old white girl named Jennie Thrasher. The time is 1890; the place the frontier city of Fort Smith where the famous 'Hanging Judge' Parker presided over the Federal Court and over the IndianIt all began with the reported rape and murder of an Indian woman; but when the law men, Indian and white, arrive the trail leads them to three more murders and to one survivor, an 18yr old white girl named Jennie Thrasher. The time is 1890; the place the frontier city of Fort Smith where the famous 'Hanging Judge' Parker presided over the Federal Court and over the Indian Nations - the territory given to the Indian tribes who had been resettled in the West. The trouble was, the absence of effective law enforcement in the Indian Nations attracted the worst elements amongst Western outlaws. Into this harsh and violent world comes Eben Pay, a young lawyer who has been appointed to Parker's court to learn the realities of law enforcement. It is through Eben Pay's eyes that the reader sees what came to be known as the Winding Stair Massacre. A mere 4 days after he arrives in Fort Smith, Eben Pay is dragooned into a posse led by Marshall Oscar Schiller into the Winding Stair Mountains to investigate the murder report.This story is not a historical chronicle of the Rufus Buck gang, all five of whom went to the gallows in Fort Smith, Arkansas on July 1, 1896, and with the exception of Judge Isaac C. Parker and George Maledon, all characters are fictitious. But the narrative does describe the kinds of crimes for which the Buck gang and others were tried in the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas in the last quarter of the 19th-century. The author dedicates the book to the good and decent people - red, white and black - of the Indian Nations, now eastern Oklahoma, who once suffered the ravages brought on by the complexities of national expansion....

Title : The Winding Stair Massacre
Author :
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ISBN : 9780048231802
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 277 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Winding Stair Massacre Reviews

  • Michael
    2019-02-22 19:52

    A terrific sense of a time machine trip to a wild place and time in history with some engaging characters after some really bad dudes. A book blurb on the cover proclaims this “True Grit” for grown-ups. That’s pretty fair. Instead of 14-year old Mattie on a justice quest into Indian Territory, our hero is a young lawyer after some murderers in the Territory in 1890. The book shines with endearing development of this character as he moves past his boy-scout features to a wiser outlook on the complex moral choices required by life. He is challenged to quickly learn the ways of the competent and craven and find out the stuff he is made of. And that includes navigating the arc of his heart as there is a romantic element in the tale. I guess that makes this a delayed coming-of-age story, which I have much affinity for. Some special sauce for me is that I have become a fan of Doug Jones’ historical fiction and especially appreciate his portraits of life in the Ozark regions from having grown up in eastern Oklahoma.Eben Pay arrives from St. Louis to takes up a job building cases for a prosecutor in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas, court of Judge Isaac Parker, known as the “Hanging Judge.” This federal court administered justice for felony crimes in the land of region of future Oklahoma that was dedicated to placement of ousted tribes from east of the Mississippi (mostly the five “Civilized Tribes”) and, later, ones from the west. Soon after his arrival Eben is encouraged to join a tough, experienced marshal, Oscar Schiller, and his Osage Indian assistants on a trip to investigate the rape and murder of a Choctaw woman. On the long trip to the Winding Stair part of the Ouachita Mountains in the southeastern part of the Territory Eban bonds with the Osage Joe Mountain, who educates him on tribal cultures and inspires him with his compassion. He comes to admire Schiller as a can-do guy for tracking down and arresting dangerous desperadoes , but he is wary of his ruthlessness and skills in wreaking violence. The sense of adventure and chance to do manly things for a worthy gets tarnished by the revelations about the evil character and crimes of the men they are after. They soon learn a white merchant family, which has special permission to live in the Territory, have been killed by their quarry. A teenaged girl, Jenny, is a traumatized survivor and potential witness for the prosecution. Back in Ft. Smith, Eban befriends Jenny to draw out what she may know of the marauders or heard from her hiding place. Eban struggles with a growing romantic interest sparked her playful and sensitive ways. His dreams about her are brought back to earth as he learns she may know more than she will say and is not so innocent. The quest to apprehend the killers leads to deepening knowledge about their identities and potential hiding places. Not all of the four suspects are white, and a couple have had such hard lives they are not playing with a full deck. There ensues much posse work and collaborative action with tribal police leading to some hairy and violent showdowns. Of course the good guys win, but Eben has work to do on his integrity and conscience, both on his naivete with respect to Jenny and on the common fate of hanging for culprits of varying guilt. Despite the press and film portrayals of Judge Parker as some kind of vengeful or Old Testament nut, he come across here as extremely decent, rational, and judicially competent. I trust Jones attention to historical detail when he reveals in this book that Parker was mandated by a federal law to hand out hanging as a punishment for the more heinous crimes in his large and challenging jurisdiction. Jones has such a nice balance between the internal world of his main characters and the external world where of their actions. As in one of his Civil War books I read (“Elkhorn Tavern”), he provides good drama without getting melodramatic, emotional engagement without becoming sentimental, and believable immersion into historical periods and their communities. I am forever grateful to Howard for spurring me on to reading Jones.

  • Howard
    2019-02-26 00:44

    "Jones relies on none of the usual Western trappings; he eschews stereotypes....The historical research is seamless-- the story never slows down to admit dull exposition. Winding Stair convinces, utterly, that this is how life must have been in that place at that time...a significant and highly entertaining contribution to the popular literature of the American West."-- New York TimesWinding Stair takes place in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) during the 1890's when the U.S. Federal Court for Western Arkansas, with Judge Isaac "The Hanging Judge" Parker at the helm, also had federal jurisdiction over the Indian Territory.Young Eben Pay is reading for the law in Fort Smith when a gang of five murderous thieves, rapists, and killers (loosely based on the Rufus Buck gang) go on a killing and raping rampage in the Territory. Deputy Marshal Oscar Schiller invites Pay to go along in an effort to capture the gang. As events unfold Pay becomes much more personally involved than he had planned.We are also introduced to Marshal Schiller's Osage tracker, Joe Mountain. The marshal, Joe, and Eben will make subsequent appearances in Jones' novels.

  • Jeanette
    2019-03-14 20:48

    This is a fiction book that reads like non-fiction. It seems that accurate. It details the lawless 1890 era in the area around Fort Smith, Arkansas. And the hanging judge, Isaac C. Parker, is one of the characters.The core protagonist and narrator is Eben Pay, a journalist sent from IL. He tells his tale of travels and inquiry for his assignment.It's brutal, and some of the minutia of the men who commit the most horrendous crime of the novel (5 of number in their gang/group at Winding Stair) is absolutely feral in nature.It's a man's book, IMHO. Not that it lacks any particularly defined women characters. There are several, three with dialogue. But most of them are either dead (can't talk) or too afraid to talk. Until an eventual surround by some more civilized and lawful types, anyway. They (lawmen and the posse of associates that serve as support) deal with their "no-go" zones in manners that would never fly presently. Neither in city or in country. Justice becomes served, as justice was deemed to be served at the time. Closely eye for an eye and also within days or at most weeks. Quickly. Consequences are not delayed. Nor are the trials lengthy. Murder seems as nothing, done for less than a horse or $28. Or just because. No one has good teeth or a wholeness to their complete physical being in this book, it seems. Even Eben is either vomiting or suffering some issue, like a broken nose. The animals have it worse.

  • Chrisl
    2019-03-03 21:42

    copied and pasted "KIRKUS REVIEWJones has taken believable crimes of a real gang of desperadoes from the 1890s, has surrounded the real criminals with fictitious lawmen, and gives them a fictitious trial before the real ""hanging judge"" Isaac Parker. Young Eben Pay, from St. Louis, is reading for the law in the frontier town of Fort Smith in the Indian Territory which will later become Oklahoma. (The Kirkus reviewer errs. Fort Smith is in Arkansas.)Marshal Oscar Schiller asks Eben if he'd like to come along on a hunt for whoever raped and cut the throat of an Indian woman. What follows is a gripping legal procedural under heavy iron skies as Schiller's posse bird-dogs a gang of five men who now have added still another rape and triple murder to their foul catalogue. In part, Jones makes clear, this is a record of the frontier's social insanity brought on by alcohol, since the ringleader of the gang is an illiterate distiller who sells his goods to one and all--and the gang was dead drunk during the worst horrors laid to its ramblings. Primary witness for the prosecution: the nubile daughter of the second woman to be raped, who happened to escape harm by hiding in the attic. When she is brought back to Fort Smith, Eben falls in love with her, and she seems to return his interest, but slowly it appears that she is really trying to save one of the handsomer young rapists (he had seduced her some months before). And the trial itself turns up a surprise: Judge Parker's thorough fairness and humane concern. None of the moral force of The Ox-Bow Incident perhaps--but a gritty, lovingly etched Western-crime re-creation."***Between chapters 4 and 5, the book's lead character provides perspective ..."Our private recollection of men we have known is often at variance with public judgment of them. Much of what my peers in later years know of Judge Isaac Parker came not from personal contact nor the serious and studious biographer, but from the sensational columns of newspapers."Parker was himself a victim of federal government reaction to a siege of lawlessness in the Indian Territory, and of misunderstanding and apathy. He was overseer of a land mostly ignored by those with power to change it, except when the news of a multiple hanging burst upon the pages of the eastern press. He was the boy crying wolf, and the wolf was always there! Yet nobody listened until the judge's pronouncement of sentence on some violent felon, and then for only a moment of horror before all of it was pushed from the mind again."When he took the bench in Fort Smith, capital crimes and their punishment were proscribed by law, a fact seldom remarked upon in print or on the floors of Congress. In pronouncing death sentences, Parker often explained to the condemned that the letter of the law, which he was bound to observe, left him no alternative."The harshness of that law was in keeping with those times. And more, it was apparently the only means that Congress had taken time to devise for assisting the Indian courts in maintaining order in their own countries. Ironically, Parker himself knew as well as any man the genesis and evolution of the condition. He outlined it for me in those first weeks I spent working for his court in Fort Smith."Long ago, before the first white men came, the Osage were there. There were others as well, but largely, the Osage held domain. Early in the nineteenth century, other tribes, powerful tribes, began to arrive from the southeast. At first they came of their own accord, and in small numbers, but later they were being forcibly removed by the United States government, under pressure from white citizens who coveted the Indian farms in the eastern mountains and the Deep South. These displaced persons were called the Five Civilized Tribes and they were herded into the country west of the place where the Poteau and Arkansas rivers flow together. They established societies in the new land that were self-governing and self-contained. They were the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee."But in the original treaties with the United States that gave them the land forever was a serious disclaimer. Their laws and police and courts were only for their own people. They had no jurisdiction over white men."At first, this seemed of little consequence. They tilled their fields and ran their legislatures and punished their own lawbreakers. But when the Civil War came, many fought for the South and afterward, because of this, large tracts of their land were taken from them to be used as reserves for other tribes. Only the eastern portion of what had been called Indian Territory remained. The Nations."Into all of this vast area both east and west, the Indians of North America were moved as the expanding nation pressed outward into open spaces and inward upon itself. They came from everywhere. There were the Seneca, the Mohawk, the Shawnee, the Erie. The Chippawa, the Kickapoo, the Ottawa. The Pawnee, the Comanche, the Cheyenne, the Tonkawa, the Kaw, Modoc, Sac, and Fox and many more. Strangers, old friends, old enemies--all placed near one another without regard for cultural differences, without regard for hopes or fears, aspirations or despairs."And there were also, after the war, the black peoples who had been slaves to the various Civilized Tribes, freed now and made a part of the tribes of which they had once been mere property."By 1889, the western part of what had been the original Indian Territory was opened to white settlement by land run. The first one came in the Unassigned Lands, almost dead center of the old Territory and just west of the Civilized Tribes' Nations. The whites came and claimed the land and a new city sprang up overnight. It was called Guthrie, this new capital of the new white Territory of Oklahoma. And rather quickly, the Indian lands became white lands, by run or lottery or sealed bid. But there was still The Nations, bordering on Arkansas to the east. Still sovereign, with the one important disclaimer."By now, railroads and stage routes were being run through the lands of the Civilized Tribes, and with these came whites in growing numbers. And with these came the scum and the renegade rabble from all the dwindling frontier, because the Indian courts had no power over them, and the Indian police were restrained from controlling them. These came to escape the law of established states and territories, and they were a brutish and mindless breed. ..."The federal court at Fort Smith was established partly to respond to all of this. The task was a thankless and impossible one."'We have been damned by many,' Judge Parker once told me. 'But this is a ruthless land. Ruthless because our handling of it has made it so. But ... there will be no lynch mobs. Eben, let me point it out, there are no such mobs in The Nations. Under circumstances in which they live, this is credit to them, and a little to us as well."The day was near when many territorial courts would be formed throughout The Nations to maintain some semblance of civilized society there. But when I knew him, Judge Isaac Parker and his deputy marshals carried that burden alone."***

  • Craig
    2019-03-09 01:07

    I've just reread this book and I was struck at how good it is. In a just world Douglas C. Jones would have died rich and famous-- not just for this book either, Elkhorn Tavern and Weedy Rough spring to mind-- and the likes of James Patterson and Stuart Woods would be teaching creative writing at Dartmouth or Duke or some other post-modernist hell hole.

  • Jodi
    2019-02-28 19:58

    With the discovery of a woman who had been raped and murdered in the Choctaw Nation in the shadow of the Winding Stair Mountains, a posse is formed to seek out the guilty party and bring them to justice. The year is 1890, a time when murder, horse theft, and whiskey smuggling are a normal occurrence going hand in hand with bouts of drunkenness. Newly arrived to town Eben Pay who has secured a position as clerk and investigator for the prosecuting attorney William Evans is recruited by Marshall Oscar Schiller as one of the posse.Hot on the trail of the men responsible for the murder, the posse comes up on a farm where they find the owner Thomas Thrasher brutally murdered along with his farm hands. Thrasher’s wife is missing, but the Marshall locates Thrasher’s daughter Jenny hiding in the attic in a state of shock. The girl is unable to identify any of the killers, but under questioning from Marshall Schiller, they learn that a whiskey peddler had been by the farm recently so they set off to locate the man.In the midst of a gunfight one of the wanted men is killed, and one of his cohorts is apprehended and brought back to Fort Smith along with two other of the accused to stand trial and face the possibility of death.“Winding Stair” is an all out western in which Douglas C. Jones creates a cast of characters and storylines that will keep the reader captivated until the conclusion. Republished posthumously to showcase his work I realized it is a shame we have lost such a talented author as this.Reviewed by Jodi Hanson for Suspense Magazine

  • Edwin
    2019-03-11 22:43

    The Indian Nations is an area that has intrigued me. I imagine it as a huge island of wildness in the middle of a developing America. I suppose a lot of stories are set there. Judge Parker is the tough guy who tries to protect the innocent inhabitants. The book by Douglas C. Jones about the Marshall in the Indian Nations is a comfortable return to this wild and wooly land.A young lawyer, Eben Pay, accompanies one of Judge Parker's Marshalls, Cap'n Oscar Schiller and Joe Mountain, an Osage Indian, into "The Nation" in search of the perpetrators of a series of vicious killings.Historical novels should give a distinct sense of time and place along with interesting and memorable characters and this book succeeds in this. The story pulls you in and the end comes too soon.

  • Luanne Coats
    2019-03-14 19:46

    Haunting story of murder in "The Nations", Indian Territory in 1890 and the posse sent out from Ft. Smith's "Hanging" Judge parker's court to track down the murderers. As one reviewer put it--True Grit for grown-ups. Eben Pay is the young lawyer sent to work in Ft. Smith by his father, Alan Eben Pay, of Mr. Jones' novel, "Elkhorn Tavern". Interesting characters of multple races all living in the Arkansas/Oklahoma border.

  • Charles
    2019-02-27 19:06

    I'm from Arkansas, and Fort Smith, Arkansas was a wild and wooly town once upon a time. Many outlaws hung out in the Indian Nation across the river from Fort Smith, in what is now Oklahoma. This is a story set in Fort Smith and was very interesting just for that reason to me. But Jones is a good writer with a good grasp of historical detail.

  • Juli
    2019-03-16 18:09

    This book would make a great movie. In fact, I kept imagining the scenes as they would play out on the big screen. The first half shot mostly in the dark, lots of action and suspence; the second half more like a courtroom drama, with the “twist” at the end. The final scene: the china dog floating away in the river... However, the book is not nearly as exciting as the movie version could be. Unfortunately, it read more like a historical account of a true crime rather than the thriller it ought to have been. In fact, the writing was so dry and matter-of-fact, I could never get properly immersed in the story (other than imagining how I would translate it on to film). I generally don’t like first person narratives, but that might not have bothered me as much in this case had the narrator been a little less dull. Actually, I don’t quite get the admiration towards Eben Pay (except for his great name) by the other characters. Besides acting like a fool most times, he doesn’t seem to be doing much at all, especially not towards advancing the case of the prosecutor. Still, Winding Stair was an interesting account of crime and justice in the Indian Nation circa 1890; it just wasn’t a particularly good novel. 3.5

  • Brian
    2019-02-23 00:56

    Not bad, but it's not the best of the series of these books. Where as Elkhorn Tavern, Barefoot Brigade, and Romanare about a father and a son in the Arkansas wilderness before, during, and immediately after the civil war, this one is much later and deals with the grandson. But there was very little connection with this and the other books. It's just a readable western.

  • Boris
    2019-02-19 19:01

    Superb historical novel based in the last days of the Old West on the cusp of the 20th century. The novel is loosely based on the Rufus Buck gang and gives a sense of the times and the places and the people in the Indian Nations and the South after the closing of the frontier.

  • Megan
    2019-03-02 23:48

    Not super interesting. Good character development though.

  • John Hanscom
    2019-03-02 19:53

    Good story about the Old West, when the Old West was Arkansas!!!!!!! The author's character development in the protagonist was superb.