BOOK REVIEW: Company of Cowards

 

Schaefer.Company of Cowards.cover
ISBN-13: 978-0826358639
University of New Mexico Press (July 11, 2017)

Jack Schaefer is probably best known for his novel, Shane. However, he wrote a number of other books, as well as a history of New Mexico for young people. One of these is Company of Cowards, a historical novel based on an event which may or may not have occurred.

The story’s premise is that eight Union officers who’ve been court-martialed for cowardice are not sent home in disgrace but are instead assigned to a separate military unit set up just for them, Company Q. Whether or not there really was such a unit is a riddle for the historians. Schaeffer’s take on the idea and his exploration of how such a group of men might become a cohesive fighting group and in the process learn to respect themselves again, makes for a fascinating story.

On this website, I only review books that are primarily set in New Mexico prior to statehood in 1912. Company of Cowards meets my criteria because, though Schaeffer’s Company Q is established in the East, the men in it end up at New Mexico’s Fort Union and  participate in the 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls. Schaefer’s version of that battle highlights the bravery of the fictional Company Q as well as the military skills of their non-fictional commander Christopher Carson.

Company of Cowards is a well-written book that explores how a man might fail and yet not be a failure. While Company Q serves as the primary focus of this exploration, the events at Adobe Walls also provide an opportunity to consider whether this battle—technically a defeat because Carson’s forces retreated— should actually be characterized in that way.

I recommend this book for several reasons. First, it is a fine exploration of the difficulty or breaking free of the labels others place on us. Second, it’s a wryly humorous look at the Civil War and the decision-making process in any military unit. Third, Schaefer’s loving  characterization of New Mexico and careful depiction of the battle of Adobe Walls will be appreciated by anyone who is interested in New Mexico and its history.

Company of Cowards  is definitely worth a read!

A GOOD ARRANGEMENT

As the man on the ridge watched, the herd of elk below suddenly broke and pounded across the icy stream toward the cover of the trees. Three wolves, two grays and a black, chased after them, then slowed and sat, watching them go. A young bull elk with a limp had lagged behind the herd, and the wolves appeared to be studying him. A raven cawed overhead.

The man smiled. The wolves had identified his target for him. He reached to lift the bow from his back.  It was a good arrangement, he mused as he slipped down from the ridge and began circling to get downwind of the straggling bull. When he had finished with the elk, the wolves and ravens would attack the remains. “We will all eat well tonight,” he murmured. Which was good, because the elk herd would move more swiftly tomorrow, without the lagging one to slow them.

from Valley of the Eagles

Billy The Kid Escapes!

On Thursday, April 28, 1881 William Henry Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, escaped from the county jail in Lincoln, New Mexico.

Billy was 22 and loved reading books, singing, and dancing. He was fluent in the Spanish language and skillful with a rope, horse, and gun. He was a hard worker and not much of a drinker. He didn’t use tobacco either.

But Billy did have two problems: He was small for his age and he had a hair-trigger temper. Also, like most of us, he didn’t appreciate being made fun of. In August 1877, while he was working as a cowboy in Arizona, a bully taunted the Kid one time too many. Bonney shot and he didn’t miss.

When the man died, Billy fled to New Mexico. By November, he was in the Lincoln area. By early the following year, he had signed on at John Tunstall’s ranch. The rest is history. [link to Tunstall post]

Three years later, at the tail-end of the Lincoln County War, Bonney was in jail in the town of Lincoln, waiting to be hung for the murder of Sheriff William Brady. Then he saw his chance and took it. He got away, killing Deputies J.W. Bell and R. Olinger in the process.

April 28 illlustration.Lincoln County Courthouse

Given that he now had the murder of a Sheriff and two Deputies hanging over him,  Billy’s friends thought he should head south to Mexico. Instead, he went north to Fort Sumner. There, sheltered by friends and associates, he kept a low profile.

But it wasn’t low enough. Word of the Kid’s whereabouts got out and Sheriff Pat Garrett started nosing around, making inquiries. One night, Garrett was visiting at the Maxwell ranch just outside town when Billy, not knowing he was there, wandered into the room.

Within a few seconds, William Henry Bonney was dead. [link to post about Peter Maxwell in July]. It was Thursday, July 14, 1881, just eleven weeks since his escape from the Lincoln County jail.

Billy the Kid should have listened to his friends.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. I, Rio Grande books, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977; Ruben Salaz Marquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts and Trails, University of New Mexico press, Albuquerque, 1994.

BOOK REVIEW: Glorieta

Bohnhoff.Glorieta cover
Thin Air Press, 2020
ISBN: 979-8604997840

Among the battles of the Civil War, the one at New Mexico’s Glorieta Pass doesn’t get much attention. In the broader scheme of the war, it was a minor conflict. But Glorieta was important for the Confederacy. Although they won the battle, they lost their supply train and were forced to return south, away from Colorado and its gold and silver fields.

Glorieta, Jennifer Bohnhoff’s fictional treatment of the battle, is the second in her trilogy about the Civil War in New Mexico. In Glorieta, we are re-introduced to rebel Jemmy Martin, a character in Valverde, the first book, and meet a new one, the Irish teenager Cian Lochlann from Colorado. Between the two of them, we see the conflict from both the Confederate and Union perspectives.

Bohnhoff also introduces us to some historical characters. One of these, Major John F. Chivington, I expected to dislike. I knew about his actions years later at Sand Creek. For that reason, I didn’t understand why anyone would follow the man anywhere for any reason whatsoever. Bohnhoff’s Glorieta helped me see Chivington’s charisma while she also acknowledges the negative aspects of his character.

The Rebels Along The Rio Grande series is written for Middle Graders. That being said, I found this second volume to be an enjoyable and informative read. I recommend Glorieta to anyone who’s interested in the Civil War in New Mexico, young and old alike.

FIRST DIVORCE

Augusta Meinert stood firmly in the center of the makeshift courtroom, her eyes on the judge. At thirty-seven, she was still attractive, though the stubborn tilt to her chin said she didn’t often take “no” for an answer.

Judge Watts studied her. “You understand what divorce means?” He spoke slowly, as if unsure her English could withstand the strain of the concept.

Augusta’s chin went up. “I understand no longer the bastard takes the money I earn.” A ripple of suppressed laughter ran through the onlookers behind her. She turned and glared, and the men fell silent.

“You will be a marked woman,” Judge Watts warned. “This isn’t Germany.”

She frowned. “In Germany, he takes my money, and I can do nothing.” She smiled suddenly, her eyes twinkling. “It is why I like America.”

The Judge nodded and gaveled the rough wooden planks of the table before him. “The first divorce in Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, is hereby declared final,” he announced.

from Valley of the Eagles

NOTE: This tale, like most of the other stories in Valley of the Eagles, is based on an actual event. In this case, Augusta Meinert’s petition for divorce was the first heard in newly formed Colfax County in the Spring 1869 court session in Elizabethtown, New Mexico. For more details, see the footnote in the book.

New Mexico Delegate Sees Lincoln Shot!

By mid-April 1865 Jose Francisco Perea had finished his term as New Mexico Territory’s Congressional delegate. The Civil War was over and he must have been looking forward to returning home again to a quieter life.

But Perea had one more Washington DC event to experience. On Friday, April 14, 1685, he attended the Ford’s Theater production of Our American Cousin.

His seat was near President Lincoln’s box.

Perea, who had been educated at a Jesuit college in St. Louis, would have known the meaning of the words John Wilkes Booth yelled as he leapt to the theater stage from Lincon’s box. “Sic temper tyrannis!” meant “Thus always for tyrants!”

It wasn’t the first time Perea had witnessed a death as the result of rebellion. As a seven-year-old in Santa Fe, he’d watched four men who’d led a revolt against the Mexican government suffer the ultimate punishment on a cold January 1837 morning.

April 14 illustration.Jose Francisco Perea.Thompson

Now he watched as a doctor rushed to Lincoln’s side and gravely shook his head. It was only a matter of time. Booth’s shot was clearly mortal.

Perea himself would live another 48 years, dying in May 1913. Until then, he would busy himself with his business interests, the post office and hotel in Jemez Springs, and his home in Albuquerque. But he would never forget that January morning in 1837 or that rainy night in April 1865.

Sources: W.H.H. Allison, Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. II, Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Ed., Old Santa Fe Press, Santa Fe; John W. Kirshon, Ed., Chronicling America, Chronicle Publications, Mt. Kisco, 1987; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War HIstory of the New Mexico Volunteers & Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

FOR SAFETY’S SAKE

As Suzanna rounded the cabin from the garden, she saw Gerald in the yard loading his pistol. Both of the children stood beside him, watching intently.

“What are you doing?” Suzanna asked.

“We’re learning to shoot!” Andrew said gleefully.

Suzanna frowned. “We?” she asked. She looked at Gerald. “Andrew’s one thing, but Alma doesn’t need–”

“But I’m the oldest,” Alma said.

“She’s unfeminine enough,” Suzanna said to Gerald. “Always out fishing when she should be inside with her needlework.”

A smile flitted across his face. “Out here, everyone should know how to shoot,” he said mildly. “For safety’s sake.”

“More reason to move someplace civilized.” She turned and stalked toward the house.

“Can I load it, Papa?” Alma asked.

“Me, too!” Andrew said.

Gerald crouched down to show them again how it was done.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Book Review: Valverde

Bohnhoff.Valverde cover
Thin Air Books, 2017
ISBN: 9781534715974

Valverde is a novel about the Civil War in New Mexico that begins in Texas. This location may seem odd to you unless you’re familiar with the relationship of Texas and New Mexico. You see, the Texas Republic tried to invade New Mexico twenty years before the Civil War, and it didn’t go well.

His father’s involvement in that earlier invasion plays a role in teenage Texan Jemmy’s decision to join the Confederate Texan forces. It also affects New Mexico teenager Raul’s attitude toward the invading forces.

Valverde follows each boy as he experiences the beginnings of the Civil War in New Mexico and as their paths cross at the battle of Valverde in February 1862.

The characters are well drawn, the situations are believable, and the battle scenes are handled nicely—there’s enough detail to make the reader feel the characters’ pain but not more than is strictly necessary.

This book is the first in the trilogy Rebels Along the Rio Grande, a series of Middle-Grade novels about the Civil War in New Mexico. The next in the series is Glorieta and I’m looking forward to reading it, too!

You don’t have to be a Middle-Grader to enjoy and learn a little something from this book. I recommend Valverde to young and old!

 Jicarilla Warriors put U.S. Dragoons to Flight!!!

On Thursday, March 30, 1854, in the mountains of  New Mexico, the U.S. Army experienced its worst defeat at the hands of Native American warriors up to that time, west of the Mississippi. It would be another twelve years before larger losses occurred at the 1866 Fetterman defeat near Fort Phil Kearny, and another twenty-two before the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The New Mexico clash wasn’t what the top brass had ordered. The dragoons from Cantonment Burgwin near Taos had been sent out under Lt. John W. Davidson to monitor the Jicarillas camped west of the traditional Spanish village of Cienequilla (today’s Pilar, New Mexico), not attack them.

There was a history of conflict between the Spanish settlers in the fertile little valley along the Rio Grande and the Jicarilla Apaches. The Jicarilla had been farming and hunting in the area well before 1795, when the Spanish governor granted land there to his settlers. The Apaches protested his decision and, in 1822, petitioned for their own grant of land in the area, but the settlers in Cienequilla and in Taos vigorously opposed the idea and the request was denied.

So the Jicarillas were left to farm and hunt where ever they could find space. By 1854, this was becoming more difficult, as American settlers moved into New Mexico and further reduced the supply of arable as well as hunting land.

Early that year, complaints against the Jicarillas had increased in the area east of the Rio Grande. The Territory’s top military officials were skeptical about the validity of many of these complaints, but in February credible reports began coming in that the Jicarillas were stealing livestock north of Fort Union. A few weeks later, a group of 45 Jicarilla lodges were reported to be camped near Mora, west of the Fort.

When soldiers led by West Point graduate Davidson went to investigate, they discovered that the Apaches had moved away from Mora and were headed west through the mountains. Davidson noted the “miserable quality of their arms and their mean shrinking deportment” and returned to Cantonment Burgwin, where he and his men were stationed, convinced the Apaches weren’t a threat.

John_W_Davidson
John W. Davidson

Eight days later, he and his U.S. Second dragoons were ordered to the Cieneguilla area to observe the movements of the same band, but not to attack.

On March 30, two hours east of the Rio Grande, the dragoons found the Jicarilla camp. The order not to attack was apparently not obeyed. Someone fired a gun and by nightfall, at least a third of Davidson’s men were dead, with another third wounded, and 45 horses lost.

It must have been a shock to realize that the Jicarillas’ weapons weren’t quite as miserable, and their warriors nearly as shrinking, as Davidson had thought.

Source: David M. Johnson, Chris Adams, Larry Ludwig, and Charles C. Hawk, “Taos, the Jicarilla Apache, and the battle of Cienequilla,” Taos: A Topical History, Corina A. Santistevan and Julia Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts And Trails A Guide To New Mexico’s Past, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1994; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History Of The New Mexico Volunteers And Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

 

DUCK HUNTING

The girl lifted her skirts away from her feet and eased toward the small brown-mottled duck on the creek bank. It was busily investigating a small marshy area where water had seeped past the bank. Alma wished she’d brought her bow and arrows, but she’d been sent out to collect greens, not meat.

The duck had its back to her. Alma eased forward and crouched, getting into position. Her right foot pressed her skirt into the mud, but she didn’t notice.

The duck turned slightly. Alma lunged forward. As her hands touched the bird’s smooth feathers, her foot ground into her skirt, yanking her off balance. The duck flew off with a panicked series of quacks and Alma pitched forward into the mud.

“Hell and damnation!” she said angrily. “I hate dresses!”

She got to her feet and looked down ruefully. Her mother was not going to be happy.

from Valley of the Eagles