(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Lawrence McIvor was twenty-two when he heard his family’s story for the first time. Just out of college, he had been summoned to his Uncle Pleasant’s house deep in the coves of Winston County, Alabama. There, through all of one dark winter night, he listened to his kinsmen’s tale of hatred and grim vengeance.

The McIvor troubles began in Georgia, at a militia muster where powerful old Cameron McIvor refused to wrestle one of the reckless Caruthers twins. Several days later, Job Caruthers attacked McIvor, and the planter broke the young man’s arm. After his recovery, Job and his brother, Mebane, returned a borrowed team of horses in a wind-broken condition. Furious, McIvor shot Job. The brother then started a lawsuit that left the planter almost ruined. McIvor decided to move to Texas. Pleasant, his favored son, was sixteen at the time.

The McIvors traveled by wagon with their cattle and remaining slaves. Near Wetumpka, Alabama, they met Tyson Lovell, a wealthy landowner who offered McIvor five hundred acres of good land to crop on shares. Not long after they had settled in their new home, William, the oldest son, married a storekeeper’s daughter and went to live in town. Pleasant and his younger brother, Levi, helped their father and the hands in the fields.

There was something mysterious and sinister about Lovell. After McIvor and Pleasant, tracking a lost mule, found a shack in which two neighbors named Wilton were guarding several strange slaves, the father became convinced that Lovell was a speculator, head of a gang of slave stealers and horse thieves, an organization to which most of their neighbors belonged. Lovell, becoming alarmed, tried to frighten the McIvors into leaving the country, first by having the sheriff discover two stolen slaves in the planter’s smokehouse, and later, after McIvor and Lovell quarreled, by swearing out a bench warrant which named McIvor an outlaw.

Defying Lovell, the planter waited for his enemy to act. William came to stay at the farm, but he was called away suddenly by false news of his wife’s illness. That night, Pleasant was waylaid and locked in an old church. Before daylight, armed men broke into the McIvor house. While the Wilton brothers held the old planter in his bed, a man named Fox shot him.

The McIvor kin gathered in secret. A few, William among them, argued that the murderers should be punished by the law. Others clamored for an open feud. Grief-crazed over his father’s death, Pleasant revealed that he had tracked the gang to its meeting place and learned the names of its forty members. After the court dismissed charges brought by McIvor’s widow, she and her family quietly left the country. Pleasant, a young uncle named Eli, and Bob Pritchard, a cousin, swore to answer violent death with violence.

Pleasant and his kinsmen began to terrorize the region. A dishonest district attorney, Lovell’s tool, was killed in a fall from an inn balcony. One Wilton was dragged to...

(The entire section is 1228 words.)