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Tom Chaney: Joseph Alexander Altsheler of Three Springs

Of Writers And Their Books: Joseph Alexander Altsheler of Three Springs. Tom notes that Altsheler was a stickler for authentic history, Indian lore, and geographic details. A careful reading of his work reveals his detailed knowledge of the Kentucky country of his birth in Hart County, just north of the Metcalfe County line and not so far from Green County. He attended Three Springs School, Liberty College in Glasgow, KY, and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. This column first appeared 20 March 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Mrs. Williams' Splendid Table

By Tom Chaney

Joseph Alexander Altsheler of Three Springs

When the news got out that Joseph A. Altsheler had died in New York City in 1919, the story is told that hundreds of school children of the city filled the New York Public Library carrying his books in their arms.

Whether or not that story is true, it is illustrative of the esteem and affection, which greeted the masterful storyteller from Three Springs.

He married Sarah Bowles of Glasgow in 1888.

When his father died, Altsheler dropped out of school and went to work for the Louisville Herald in the 1880's. After a stint with the Louisville Times, he moved to New York in 1895 where he was the editor of the New York World's twice-weekly magazine.

Altsheler had begun writing historical fiction in the 1890's. At the New York Herald he published novels in serial form. Realizing that there was an unfilled market for historical novels for young folks, he began to write several series of such fiction.

His best-known series was The Young Trailers set in the Daniel Boone era of Kentucky and the Mississippi Valley. Altsheler was a stickler for authentic history, Indian lore, and geographic details. A careful reading of this series reveals Altsheler's detailed knowledge of the Kentucky country of his birth.

Five more series followed, the French and Indian War, The Great West, Texas, the World War and the Civil War.

His heroes are young men -- often Kentuckians -- who find themselves in the midst of history.

In the Civil War series his main characters are Harry Kenton, "A Lad who Fights on the Southern Side," and Dick Mason, "Cousin of Harry Kenton, Who Fights on the Northern Side." These two young men, grandsons of the heroes in The Young Trailers, become well-placed aides de camp and messengers for prominent generals in the war, enabling them to get around to all the major sites of the war and provide a much more accurate description of movements and battles than even allowed to generals.

Many readers have noted that they learned their American history from the novels of Joseph Altsheler.

Most of his books are now out of print -- a great loss to young readers these days.

Hart County has acknowledged its native son in two ways. There is an historical marker near the site of the Altsheler store on Kentucky 218 in Three Springs. Munfordville has renamed a street in Altsheler's memory at the Hart County Library off Kentucky 357.

The Altsheler Avenue in Horse Cave, south on 31-W is names for Joseph Altsheler's brother, John, who was president of the Farmer's Bank, predecessor to the Horse Cave State Bank.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-03-23 07:04:37
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