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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Q. I just finished Elizabeth Crook’s newest book, “The Which Way Tree.” I believe the title referred to an event in Texas history. Can you help me pin that down?

A. This reader loved Crook’s novel which is set on the Texas frontier in the 1860s. I read it myself and agreed it was unique— suspenseful and humorous. It is really Crook’s writing that impressed me. The unique voice of her young narrator Benjamin really drew me in.

The main characters are an orphaned brother and his half-sister. The boy tells the story, beginning with an account of a panther attack which scars his little sister and kills her mother. The girl is determined to pursue and kill the panther. She demands that her reluctant brother help her track the big cat down.

Regarding the title--I searched online and found several references to Sam Houston and a tree in New Kentucky, now a Texas ghost town. I got the feeling it might be a myth so we pulled books about Sam Houston from our biography shelves.

In “Sam Houston,” James L. Haley tells of the events leading to Houston’s defeat of Santa Ana at San Jacinto in his chapter on “The Runaway Scrape.”

By the fifteenth of April, Santa Anna was in Harrisburg (now Houston, Texas.) Sam Houston and his army entered Harris County the next day.

The Texans came to a fork in the road. The spot was marked by a huge tree whose gnarled limbs seemed to point out the alternatives. The right fork led to Harrisburg (Houston) and Santa Ana’s army. The left fork went to Nacogdoches and the United States.

Haley cites an account by the assistant regimental surgeon, Nicholas Labadie. According to Labadie, all eyes were fixed on the “Which-way Tree” to see whether Houston would take the Harrisburg fork.

As the general rode up, Labadie wrote, “Several of us desired of Mr. Roberts, who was standing on his gate, to point out to all the road to Harrisburg. Houston was then close by when Roberts raised his hand and cried out, ‘That right hand road will carry you to Harrisburg just as straight as a compass.’’’

Houston ordered, “Columns right,” and his men marched toward the confrontation with Santa Ana.

Author Elizabeth Crook grew up here in San Marcos. She has written other novels with a Texas connection.

“The Raven’s Bride” is a novel about Sam Houston and the failure of his first marriage. “Promised Lands: A Novel of the Texas Rebellion” features both Mexican and Anglo American families caught up in the Texans’ war for independence from Mexico. “Monday, Monday” is a story about students who survived Charles Whitman’s sniper attack from the UT Tower in August 1966. Give us a call at 512-393-8200 and we’ll hold any or all of these for you.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666