James Alexander Thom is the author of Follow the River, Long Knife, From Sea to Shining Sea, Panther in the Sky (for which he won the prestigious Western Writers of America Spur Award for best historical novel), Sign-Talker, The Children of First Man, and The Red Heart. He lives in a cabin in Bloomington Indiana, originally built in 1840 and re-built by him. He lives there with his wife Dark Rain. Follow the River published in 1981 and selling 1.3 million copies, “cemented Thom’s place among America’s premier historical novelists”.



Mary Ingles was twenty-three, happily married, and pregnant with her third child when Shawnee Indians invaded her peaceful Virginia settlement in 1755 and kidnapped her, leaving behind a bloody massacre. For months they held her captive. But nothing could imprison her spirit.

With the rushing Ohio River as her guide, Mary Ingles walked one thousand miles through an untamed wilderness no white woman had ever seen. Her story lives on—extraordinary testimony to the indomitable strength of one pioneer woman who risked her life to return to her own people.

[From Amazon Books]


Study Questions

(If you want to make a comment about this book, please scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page.)

1. What were Mary’s premonitions along the way?

2. Which one saved her life at Fort Vass?

3. Compare Mary’s character to her sister-in-law Bettie.

4. How do you feel about Ghetel? Was her behavior excused by the harsh circumstances she endured?

5. What was in Mary’s constitution that kept her focused?

6. Did this being a story of a real woman make you want to keep reading?

7. Does this book change your attitudes about Native Americans (Indians)?

8. The author travelled much of the trail doing research for the book. Do you think this made a difference in how it was written?

9. Did the hardships faced by early settlers come through as real?

10. Were you satisfied with how the book ended?



Follow the River by James Alexander Thom was enjoyed by all the readers. Of special note it was appreciated that the author had personally traveled much of the distance covered by Mary Ingles making his descriptions more vivid. There was unanimous agreement that this woman demonstrated courage and persistence beyond anything that could be imagined today. She prevailed over the most daunting circumstances of distance terrain, weather, and the constant threat of other Indians.

Leaving a child, and Mary left two, a boy and a newborn, was more than one reader could have endured. This person would not have left the children but would have stayed to raise them. “Maybe it’s because I’m a woman”, she said. Others disagreed partially on the basis that young children frequently did not survive the newborn or childhood period. And it is possible that bonding between parents and children was not as strong, nor did it happen as early in in life during the 18th century.

The prevailing anxiety caused by the possibility of an Indian attack that could occur at any time was pointed out as a characteristic of life in these times. Others offered that even in the best of circumstances in these times life was hard, and people expected it to be that way.

The comprehensive author’s note was appreciated because it added a nice completion to the story. It was remarkable that Mary Ingles was able to carry on with life, have a new family with her husband Will, and live to age 83. But she wasn’t the oldest, her brother-in-law John lived to 94. Although the story of his family was not as positive.

The adventures of this woman traveling nearly 1000 miles in just over 40 days after escaping from the Indians who had captured her told of bravery, persistence, and it would be nice to say, luck. But viewing the details few saw anything lucky that happened to Mary Ingles and her companion Gherta. They survived on courage and pluck. Several readers had read other books by the author and considered his other works to be outstanding. Follow the River it was agreed was a good read.

By Gene Helveston


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