Sadie, sixteen, witnesses her parents’ murders at the hands of Confederate Raiders. Driven by revenge, she dresses like a man and joins the Union Army as a prestigious Sharpshooter attached to Sherman’s Army. She finds love from a very unexpected source. and runs from a man who is trying to steal her land and who has vowed to either bed her or kill her.
Sadie Penwell, grasping the cold barrel of her musket, waiting for the birds to appear, smiled at her pa sitting close by in the tall grass of their Missouri farm field. They talked little so they wouldn’t scare the turkeys away. He’d taught her how to shoot and hunt and instilled in her a respect for the wildlife found on their farm.
Tomorrow, Thanksgiving 1864, demanded a bagged turkey, or they’d be eating only the vegetables that Ma and Lucy prepared at home.
Sadie blew on her hands to warm them. She loved this time of year. The mornings were frosty, and whenever they spoke, little puffs appeared in the air like ghostly shadows. It had begun to snow, promising a thick, white ground cover by morning.
As long as she could remember, Pa treated her like someone special. He taught her how to load the musket, take aim, and shoot like a man, as well as how to put seeds in freshly plowed rows. After a few years, he’d allowed her to do it by herself, guiding the horse-pulled plow and dropping seeds, dragging her boot along the top to cover them. She learned to love the land as much as her pa and ma did. Never was he not teaching her something about hunting or farming. He depended on her to help with the workload since there were no boys. Pa also taught her, Lucy, and Ma how to read, to be self-sufficient. His calm voice and the smell of his pipe warmed her soul.
The turkeys started their cackling and so up came the musket firmly to her shoulder. The stock, almost freezing, rested against her cheek, the long-barreled gun heavy, but she could handle it.
When the line of birds appeared, Pa whispered, “Sadie-girl, wait for a hen and then just take careful aim for its head. Don’t make a mess of it. We need the whole turkey.”
The deafening bang reverberated in the still of the morning and a rustle of feathers from the flock of birds could be heard as they took flight.
“I did it, Pa!”
He gave her a peck on the check, then fetched and bagged the turkey.
“You’ve become a better shot than me, Sadie-girl. Turkeys are hard to shoot, ‘specially in this snow, but you just take aim like it ain’t nothin’. You can do the hunting around here from now on. Let’s get that turkey to your ma and then get cleaned up. You know how persnickety she is. Then you can help her for a spell in the kitchen. She needs you today with the baking, especially with the Stewarts coming over tomorrow, that is if they ain’t snowed in. It’s starting to come down hard.”
Being inside with Ma and helping her in the kitchen was not her favorite thing to do. Outside with Pa, whether plowing, hunting, or doing chores, she was in her element doing things with Pa. She hated “women’s work.” His old hunting clothes felt right on her body; dresses were a bit cumbersome and uncomfortable. He also made her feel proud of the way she could shoot. But the kitchen was just the opposite—a total disaster, always drawing disapproval from Ma.
The two walked in silence for a while, just enjoying each other’s company, but Pa broke the quiet. “I know how much you enjoy wearin’ my clothes and huntin’ with me. I like it, too, but you need to start helping your ma in the house so you’ll learn about women’s work. You know we’ve always expected you and Caleb to get married someday. You’re already sixteen and he’s eighteen.”
Sadie’s shoulders slumped. “Fine. I’ll help Ma more around the house if you want, but I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Caleb, Pa. There’s something about him I don’t like. I don’t trust him and I sure don’t want to marry him.”
Pa appeared genuinely surprised. “I thought you and Caleb liked each other. Besides, almost every other boy in the county has gone off to war.”
“I don’t think Caleb likes me any more than I do him. I don’t know why he wants to marry me, unless it’s for the farm. He acted rough with me at the barn dance a couple of weeks ago, and he’s always sneerin’ when he talks to me.”
“What do you mean ‘acted rough’?”
“He pawed at me, Pa, like he was looking to buy a brood cow.”
He grimaced and snarled, “I’m gonna have a long talk with that boy and his pa. I never would have allowed him to go near you again if I’d known that.” He put his hand on her arm, frowned, and looked away for a second. “Did you hear that? I’m sure I heard a gunshot. Sounds like it’s comin’ from the direction of the cabin.”
Rushing forward in a panicked pace, they heard the front door of the cabin slam shut with a loud bang.
Pa dropped the bird, pushed her to the ground behind some bushes, and fell down beside her, whispering, “Do you see those men outside the cabin? I wonder if they’re part of that Confederate Raider group that’s been terrorizin’ the county? Keep your head down and stay close.”
Rising slowly, they crept closer. The smoke billowed out of their chimney above the tree line through the increasingly harder snowfall. Pa inched quietly forward through the brush. Sadie followed cautiously behind, her musket cocked.
One of the men outside the cabin door said, “We sure didn’t make much in there, just forty dollars, all that old woman had saved, she said. Wasn’t hardly worth shootin’ her for.”
Pa jumped up. Sounding like a wounded animal, he screamed and ran toward the front door. “Nooo!”
The man shot him with a pistol before he could reach the first step. He crumpled in the snow.
Pa! A tremor overtook her body—a combination of fear and fury—as Sadie automatically brought her gun to her shoulder. Already loaded, aiming and shooting came next, but all she could think of was Pa’s body sprawled in front of the cabin. Then instinctively her finger pulled the trigger, hitting the man who had shot her pa. As she struggled to reload, one of the other men fired, grazing her on the side of her head. She collapsed in the deep snow drift, her head just above her right ear burning like fire.
One of the men walked up to her and put his rifle to her temple, the cold steel a menacing threat. Playing dead was her only option. If they thought she was alive, they’d kill her. She lay there, desperately yearning to check on Pa and Ma, trying not to scream.
“This kid’s dead all right. Captain Warren’s gonna have our heads for lettin’ Jeb get killed. Gotta hand it to this kid though, he was a good shot for a Yankee lover.” With Sadie’s head up to her hairline buried under the snow, no one could tell she was a he. “Got him in one shot, even in this blindin’ snow. Let’s get outta here. We gotta find Captain Warren before dark.”