5 out of 5 stars!! Readers Favorite Audiobook review
Reviewed by Sefina Hawke for Readers’ Favorite
Clevenger Gold: The True Story of Murder and Unfound Treasure by S.E. Swapp is a non-fiction historical account of the Clevenger family from the Arizona Territory and their journey to the Washington Territory. This is a book that would appeal most to a mixed audience of adults and young adults who enjoy true stories, a “wild west” feel, murder, and the search for treasure. This book is based on the true events that were documented by journalists in a one-hundred-and-thirty-year period ranging from the 1887 trial to the 1900s. Sam and Charlotte Clevenger hired two men by the names of Frank Willson and John Johnson to help them move, but their destiny turned dark when they least expected it. What caused the Clevengers to move, why did they chose to hire the men they did, and where did it all go wrong?
Clevenger Gold: The True Story of Murder and Unfound Treasure by S.E. Swapp might have been a non-fiction audio book, but it read much like a fictional story, which is what held my attention. The overall feel of the book reminded me a bit of the old Indiana Jones movies. I liked the fact that the author got right into the story and did not dilute the book with pointless or unnecessary details. Overall, I found that I really enjoyed this book and I would love to read more true stories written by S.E. Swapp. The narrator of this audio book was Paul Michael Garcia. Mr. Garcia is an accomplished vocal performer who has narrated many audio books ranging from Starman Jones to Job: A Comedy of Justice. I personally felt that he had the perfect accent for this audio book as his voice sounded very “old west cowboy,” which was just right for this setting and the characters.
4 out of 4 stars!! Onlinebookclub.org
4 out of 4 stars
A gripping tale from the wild west, this book has it all – gold, murder, cowboys and “Injuns”, a sordid love affair, and more! Clevenger Gold by S.E. Swapp is a compact and riveting fictionalized account of a real murder that took place in the late 1800s, the events that lead up to it, and the events that followed. This story also holds something beyond the page – the promise of a treasure lying still unfound, with clues to its location buried within the book for the ambitious and adventurous reader.
The story opens with a scene introducing two of the main characters – John and Frank, whom we find locked away in a jail cell preparing for an intense game of cards. The chapters that follow explain how the two men wound up in that cell.
Each of the men independently comes to join the Clevenger family as they travel north from Arizona, with the intention of arriving in the Washington territory. Sam Clevenger, the cantankerous head of the family, is traveling with his ailing wife and adopted teenage daughter with the intention of settling in the north, and hires both men to assist him on the journey. The events that follow are not what any of them signed up for.
Much like the beloved game The Oregon Trail, the travelers must deal with maintenance of their covered wagon, dangerous river crossings, hostile encounters with Native Americans, and supply shortages. The chapters take us through an account of the trip and its gruesome outcome, following each of the characters involved through the events and their aftermath. Each character is painted vividly, and despite the book being a fairly short read, the author successfully portrays their personalities in a way that leaves a memorable impression and allows the reader to understand the motivations behind their actions. The narrative is clear, engaging, and succinct, making this a quick and satisfying read.
This is a raw account of the wild west in all its dirty glory, complete with rather gruesome scenes of violence indicative of the instability of the times. Due to the detailed nature of the accounts of this violence, this book would not be appropriate for younger readers, or readers sensitive to gory detail. The character dialogue and represented dialects are authentic to the time period, which at times manifests as racist speech by the characters in the story – something that readers should be prepared for. The story ends with a solid conclusion that ties up just enough of the loose ends to answer any lingering questions about the case, while leaving open the possibility that a hidden treasure may in fact be waiting for some lucky individual at an old and forgotten campsite in the Northern Arizona Buckskin mountains. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to lovers of westerns, and people looking for a quick, fun, and intriguing work of historical fiction.
Audiofile Magazine review:
A debut author follows the dictum “Write what you know” by building a historical novel around an Old West myth from his corner of Utah.
As the title suggests, Swapp’s book centers on a long-buried treasure owned by the cantankerous Samuel Clevenger. The tale opens with two prisoners playing a hand of poker for their lives: “This was a card game of life or death. Each man’s fate was literally at hand. Each man, ever so clearly, knew the gravity of this game of fate.” How did hard-luck cowboy Frank Willson and mulatto ex-cavalry soldier John Johnson end up in this situation? The story flashes back to the two signing on to help Clevenger move with his sickly wife, Charlotte, and their adopted stepdaughter, Jessie, from the Arizona Territory to the Washington Territory in 1886. But Frank and John don’t know what kind of man Clevenger is until it’s too late. After Clevenger’s endless verbal abuse of both men and Jessie, to whom Frank has become attracted, the cowboy says, “I ’bout had enough of that old bastard, Jessie. I ain’t never seen anyone treat a woman so.” Soon thereafter, Clevenger and Charlotte are buried in a shallow grave, and the other three are fugitives, although not terribly smart ones, as they stand out while crossing through Mormon Utah and are soon caught, with John and Frank convicted of murder. Swapp’s meticulous research gives him a sturdy framework for his imagining of how and why this crime occurred and where Clevenger’s gold may still reside. As the author reveals in his introduction: “Although this story is written as historical fiction, the basic facts herein are absolutely accurate to the timeline and locations.” He skillfully alternates between the dangers the travelers faced, such as a perilous ferry ride across a powerful river and a Native American attack, and the safe oases that small settlements offered. Scant descriptions in historical records and publications of the time allow the author to fully develop characters who fit smoothly into his narrative. Swapp has successfully brought alive a little-known piece of Old West history, and sweetened it with a potential $1 million in buried loot.
This cautionary tale of buried treasure and murder shows how wrong choices lead to tragic results.
T.K Lucas – Best Selling Author –
Author S.E. Swapp seamlessly weaves together an intriguing story full of historical research and intriguing characters. Well done!
Melissa Tanaka for Readers’ Favorite –
I have a strong love for historical fiction, especially when the story is based on true events, and so I was incredibly excited to read Clevenger Gold by S.E. Swapp, which is based on the 1886 murder of Samuel and Charlotte Clevenger. After selling their property and exchanging their life savings into gold bullion, the Clevenger family moved north with nearly $6,000 in American gold eagles, an estimated $1 million in today’s value. Two men named John Johnson and Frank Willson are hired to drive Clevenger’s team as they move to Washington, and they quickly become the center point of the novel.
As the story progresses, it skips around from different times, locations, and perspectives, offering readers insight into the lives of various characters and providing further motivation for their actions. I was incredibly surprised to find out that the reason for Sam and Charlotte’s murder was not primarily for their money, but rather for something else, and it has inspired me to look into history books to determine what exactly within the story is fact and what is fiction!
Clevenger Gold easily captures your attention from the very beginning, with suspense, high stakes, and of course, murder. Swapp has clearly done extensive research, as the basic facts of the story are all true, including the Clevenger’s legacy of golden treasure. Clevenger Gold strikes a chord in the adventurer in us all, leaving readers to wonder about the possibility of the unclaimed treasure and perhaps inspire some to go out and search for it themselves. I really enjoyed reading this book!