The story begins in 1891. Location: Coal Creek, Tennessee. Fifteen year-oldLent Harris and his family are being evicted from the company house they have occupied for years. Determined to take a stand and resist the eviction order, the family finds itself facing three men with shotguns who underline their final warning by shooting the family's prize rooster. Recognizing the futility of resisting further, the Harris clan packs a wagon to head for the mountain cabin of Lent's grandfather where they remain for several months while the men seek new jobs.

During this time, tension builds between father and son as Lent joins a secret organization of rebellious miners and Charlie Harris, his father, bows to the inevitable by signing a "yellow dog contract" which means giving up any right to question the mine owners. As the owners contract with the State of Tennessee to provide convict labor to break the coal mining union, stockades are built at each mine to hold the new workers. When a group of rebels storms one of these stockades in order to send the convicts back to Knoxville, Lent goes along for the midnight raid and witnesses the miners' triumph. The convicts are loaded onto the first morning train amid miners' cheers of celebration and victory. It appears that the miners have regained control of the valley, but the sense of triumph is short lived.

Before long, the convicts are delivered back with a heavy guard of militia. The Governor pays Coal Creek a visit to promise better working conditions while warning of the consequences if there is any more interference with the convicts. Angered by this visit, the miners plan yet another assault upon the stockades and find themselves once more victorious, marching convicts again to the train station. Lent begins to wonder when the violence and conflict will end.

An uneasy truce settles over the valley as the Governor promises to involve the Legislature in reviewing the convict labor system. Lent finds a job in a dry goods store and begins falling in love with the store owner's daughter, Sarah Prebot. After a few months of waiting, the Governor's promises lead nowhere and the Legislature both reaffirms the laws allowing convict labor and strengthens penalties for interference. Leaders who had urged patience and negotiation step aside for men with a more violent frame of mind.

Lent picks up a rifle once again, but this time it is a Remington handed to him by Sarah's father. The older man shares his philosophy of restraint and his hope that Lent will not have to fire the rifle. Even though the night offers Lent opportunities, as the convicts are once more liberated and the stockade burned to the ground, Lent is able to report the next day that he did not fire a shot.

Sharing his anxieties with Sarah, Lent begins to question the seesaw of violence and retribution that has invaded the valley. The government sends Gatling guns and a large contingent of militia to establish order. An uneasy calm settles over the valley, and some mines begin rehiring the fired workers. Lent considers going back to work in the mines, but Mr. Prebot convinces him that the calm will last only as long as it takes the government and mine owners to regroup.

Lent stays on in the store and finds his relationship with Sarah deepening. As Christmas arrives, they exchange gifts. Sarah's gift to Lent is a silver watch inscribed, "With love and dreams of peace, Sarah, Christmas, 1891." Lent presents Sarah with a carving he has made of two lovers' hands clasped together.

As the prospect of renewed violence intensifies, Lent and Sarah discuss leaving the valley to escape the conflict. Sarah's father encourages Lent to pursue his carving on a serious level. But before any of these plans proceed very far, Lent is ambushed by a drunken band of militia on his way home one afternoon. Although he manages to escape through quick thinking and a desperate trick, his shoulder is struck by a pursuing bullet, and he is laid up in bed for weeks.

By summer, the conditions in the valley have worsened and the miners' anger has surged to a new high. Finally, when a young miner is lynched by the militia because he dared to challenge an officer bothering his girl at a dance, the lid comes flying off the temporary calm. Thousands of miners flow into town from as far away as Kentucky. This time even Lent's father decides the militia have gone too far, and father joins with son in the battle to come. Ironically, Lent has come to question the value of the resistance and he makes definite plans with Sarah to leave the valley if he survives the fighting.

The final battle involves fierce fighting and large numbers of troops backed by artillery that eventually overwhelm the miners, sending them into a ragged retreat. As thousands of miners head for the hills, Lent barely escapes to join Sarah and her father in evacuating the wounded. When martial law tightens its grip on the valley once more, Lent and Sarah board a train to start a new life elsewhere. Lent realizes that throughout all the violence he never did fire his rifle. Mr. Prebot tells him, "Remember that your hands and your carvings will do more powerful work than any rifle."

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This novel is copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. Individuals may download the book to read on their computer and may print a single copy, but no other duplication or distribution is permitted without the author's permission.

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