(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1905, eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is on his way to Memphis with Boon Hogganbeck—a part-Chickasaw Indian man who is tough and faithful but completely unpredictable and unreliable and who is mad about machinery—and freeloading Ned William McCaslin, the Priests’ black coachman and handyman. They are riding in the Winton Flyer owned by young Lucius’s grandfather and “borrowed” for the excursion without his permission or knowledge. Lucius’s grandfather, the president of a Jefferson bank and owner of the Winton Flyer, only the second automobile ever to be seen in the county, has gone to Louisiana to attend a funeral. Boon tempted the boy with the proposal that they drive the Winton Flyer to Memphis, and Lucius finally succumbed to the temptation. After considerable conniving, they set out, only to discover shortly afterward that Ned William McCaslin had hidden himself under a tarpaulin on the backseat.

Because of the condition of the roads, the truants are forced to make an overnight stop at Miss Ballenbaugh’s, a small country store with a loft above it that holds mattresses for the convenience of fishermen and hunters. The next morning, after one of the breakfasts for which Miss Ballenbaugh is famous, they start out early and soon reach Hell Creek bottom, the deepest mud hole in all of Mississippi. There is no way around it—if they go in one direction, they will end up in Alabama, and if they go in the other, they will fall into the Mississippi River. The automobile becomes mired and remains stuck in the mud in spite of their labors with shovel, barbed wire, block and tackle, and piled branches. As they work, a barefoot redneck watches and waits on the porch of an unpainted cabin nearby, his two mules already harnessed in plow gear. When the boy and his companions give up in exasperation, this backwoods opportunist appears and pulls the car out...

(The entire section is 766 words.)