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Butcher's Crossing Summary & Study Guide

John Williams
This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Butcher's Crossing.
This section contains 776 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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Butcher's Crossing Summary & Study Guide Description

Butcher's Crossing Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Butcher's Crossing by John Williams.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Williams, John. Butcher’s Crossing. New York Review of Books, 2007.

Butcher’s Crossing is set in the 1870s and takes places in the states of Kansas and Colorado. The novel opens in the frontier town of Butcher’s Crossing, Kansas. A young man from Boston named William Andrews arrives and looks for a man named J.D. McDonald. McDonald is a businessman in town who buys buffalo skins from hunters and sells them to manufacturers in the east. Andrews finds McDonald’s office and explains that McDonald’s met Andrews’ father in Boston about a decade ago. Andrews says that he was in his third year at Harvard College, but he left in order to explore the frontier of the country. Andrews says that he wishes to go on a hunting expedition. McDonald warns him against this, but he says that a hunter in town by the name of Miller could be of assistance. Andrews goes to the saloon, where he meets Miller and a man named Charley Hoge. Miller tells Andrews of a hidden valley he found years ago that was filled with buffalo. Andrews agrees to finance a hunting expedition to this valley on the condition that he is allowed to come along. Miller acquires supplies and hires a skinner named Fred Schneider to join the expedition. Before the hunting party leaves Butcher’s Crossing, Andrews meets a young prostitute named Francine. Francine likes Andrews and wishes to have sex with him, but Andrews becomes nervous and flees her company.

The hunting party, which is comprised of Miller, Andrews, Charley, and Schneider, leaves Butcher’s Crossing in late August. For about two weeks, they travel west across the plains towards Colorado. Miller explains that the plains used to be full of buffalo, but that they have been hunted almost out of existence. Andrews finds the journey difficult, but he slowly becomes used to it. It then appears that Miller has lost the way, and the party suffers extreme thirst after they run out of water. Eventually, they find water and reach the mountains in Colorado. Miller finds the way back to the hidden valley, and the party sees that it is indeed filled with buffalo. On the first day of hunting, Miller kills as many buffalo as possible, without consideration for how long it will take for Schneider and Andrews to skin them. Andrews finds skinning difficult and rather revolting. However, as the weeks pass, he becomes both more skilled and more habituated to the gruesomeness. After two weeks, Miller says that they will stay in the valley until he has killed the entire herd. However, the herd soon attempts to escape the valley. The party turns them back by herding them with the sounds of gunshots, but soon after, snow begins to fall. A blizzard rapidly forms and covers the area with snow. The passage that leads out of the valley is blocked, and the party is forced to remain in the valley for the entire winter.

More than six months pass before the snow melts enough to allow the party to leave. The party spends those months wrapped in buffalo skins and surviving on buffalo meat. Andrews loses all sense of time as the days pass, but eventually the snow thaws. The party loads up their wagon with as many skins as possible, and they plan to return for the others later. They ride out of the valley and down the mountainside. They eventually come to a river, and as Schneider attempts to cross it alongside the wagon full of skins, a log flows down the river and strikes Schneider and the wagon. Schneider and the skins are wept away in the stream. The skins are lost, and Schneider drowns. Miller, Andrews, and Charley return to Butcher’s Crossing, which is now nearly completely deserted. Miller and Andrews find McDonald, who says that the market demand for buffalo skins has completely disappeared. McDonald has been ruined financially, and buffalo skins are now worthless. Miller leaves in a rage, and goes to find Francine. Meanwhile, Andrews and Francine make love, and Andrews then leaves the room to walk about the town. He finds Charley Hoge, who has apparently lost his mind in the wake of the expedition. Andrews then finds Miller, who has set fire to McDonald’s buffalo hides in rage and desperation. Andrews then returns to Francine, and the next day, he leaves Butcher’s Crossing. He decides that he will not return home to Boston, but instead will continue to explore the frontier.

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