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Bob Burton: Plot Summary

Bob Burton cover image is borrowed from the Dime Novels Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of RochesterBob Burton, New York: M. A. Donohue and Co., 1856

          Richard Burton, a ranch owner in Iowa on the Missouri River, is in debt to miser Aaron Wolverton, and makes the semi-annual interest payment on his mortgage. Aaron hates Richard because his wife, Mary Burton, took Richard's proposal above his own. He hates the hero Bob, Richard's son, because Bob has actively and physically defended Aaron's ward and nephew, Sam, from his unjust guardianship. On the way home from this trip, Richard stops and drinks whisky with friends. Unaccustomed to drinking, he becomes drunk and is unable to control his ill-tempered horse. Richard is thrown from his horse and killed. Both Clip, a refugee slave who works for the Burtons, and Aaron see the accident. Clip hides and sees Aaron searching the dead man's pockets for the receipt for the interest payment. Aaron finds it and retreats, Clip brings a doctor, but it is too late.
          Mary is crushed but agrees to give Bob one year to run the ranch to see if they should sell it or stay on. Aaron then comes to the house and demands a second payment. If they should not pay, Aaron says, Mary need only wed him to avoid eviction. Luckily, Sam finds the receipt in Aaron's office and brings it to Bob. Aaron is incensed at his unexplained loss and vows to serve eviction the next day. When Aaron does come, Bob produces the receipt. Aaron claims it is a forgery, but he knows that his plan will no longer work. He swears revenge.
          The next day, Bob finds an old riverboat that had broken loose of its moorings and floated down to his property. When the owner comes, Bob reveals a plan to use the boat to bring his wheat harvest down to St. Louis himself and save money on transport. The owner is taken by his ingenuity and business sense, and agrees to sell the boat for a cheap price.
          Wolverton decides to loose the boat after the wheat has been loaded, thus bankrupting the Burtons. However, one of Aaron's tenants, Dan Woods, a poor man, gets wind of Aaron's scheme. Since Bob had earlier lent money to Dan to pay rent, Dan alerts Bob to the plan. Bob waits for Aaron's evening visit and chases him away. On his way home, highwaymen set upon Aaron. He uses the opportunity to employ them to steal the boat downriver, and kidnap Bob until the boat is lost.
          The following day, Bob and Clip prepare to leave. Sam arrives and asks their help to run away from Aaron. In a town downriver, Sam meets his mother's cousin, Mr. Granger. When Granger hears of Sam's situation, he is infuriated; he claims that Sam had been left a sizeable inheritance. He asks Sam to stay in the town while they work to build a case against Wolverton. Sam agrees; Bob and Clip go on alone.
          Later on the journey, the highwayman's trap is sprung; Sam and Clip are kidnapped. The highwaymen then decide to take the boat to St. Louis themselves and sell the grain to make even more money. They leave the two boys at a conspirator's house who was also holding the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy grain trader in St. Louis for ransom. Luckily for all three prisoners, the conspirator and his wife drink too much whiskey and pass out. Bob takes the opportunity to escape with Clip and the little girl. They make it to town and wait until a steamboat comes to take them to St. Louis. Along the way, they pass Bob's stolen boat. He plans to reach St. Louis and set up a trap for the two thieves.
          In St. Louis, Bob meets with the little girl's father, Mr. Pearson, a willing patron. Pearson is so happy at his daughter's return that he gives Bob a thousand dollar reward. He then helps Bob summon a police force to await the arrival of the wheat barge. The two highwaymen are apprehended, and confess to everything, including Aaron's involvement. Pearson also agrees to buy the grain from Bob at a very good price.
          Once home, Bob reveals to Aaron the highwayman's confession and demands to pay the full mortgage immediately. Aaron is disappointed and fearful of retribution. At this moment, Sam appears with Mr. Granger, who declares that Sam is of an age to name his own guardian. Sam names Granger, who demands that Sam receive his inheritance. Aaron considers himself fully defeated and makes a retreat.
          In the years that follow, Sam works under his relative in a dry goods store, though he returns to the Burton Ranch each summer to visit, where Bob is making a handsome profit at the ranch and is known by all to be a better ranch manager than his father.