The Which Way Tree

Written by Elizabeth Crook
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Back in 1857, El Demonio de Dos Dedos—The Demon of Two Fingers—didn’t know that he was starting serious trouble. The hungry panther thought he had an easy meal when he ambushed six-year old Samantha Shreve in Texas hill country, but her mother, Juda, a toughened ex-slave, was not about to lose her daughter without a fight. Wielding a hatchet, Juda threw herself at that panther as he climbed a pecan tree with her daughter in his jaws. The big cat lost two hind toes, but escaped. Juda lost her life, and Samantha’s face was horrifically scarred.

Six years later, Samantha and her fourteen-year old half-brother, Benjamin, doggedly scratch out a hungry existence after their father dies. The girl raises goats, and when two are taken by a predator, the children study the scene to see what sort of animal stalks their farm. It’s a panther—a big one—missing two toes. Benjamin reckons that two kids in a shoddy house, with only “bat shat” for gunpowder, are helpless; but Samantha grimly sets a trap for her mother’s killer.

Benjamin describes this, and much more in The Which Way Tree. It’s the ultimate hunting tale wrapped in rich Western lore written by the multi-award-winning Elizabeth Crook. Her wry story is told in a Twain-esque, easy-flowing vernacular that is a joy to read. Even better is Ms. Crook’s amazing Samantha, who won’t let hunger, exhaustion, or a murderous Confederate renegade slow her quest for vengeance. Ms. Crook’s tale is fast-paced and uniquely entertaining, so I had trouble slowing down enough to savor The Which Way Tree. Dang, now I have to read it again, and I recommend that you do too.