Book Review: Mariana’s Knight

 

Marianas Knight cover
Publisher: Five Star Publishing (May 17, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-1432833923

It’s one of New Mexico’s perennial mysteries: What happened to Albert Fountain and his son Henry? By the mid-1890s, southern New Mexico attorney and special prosecutor Albert Fountain had made a lot of enemies. It wasn’t surprising that those enemies would take advantage of Fountains’ trip across the Tularosa basin to take him out.

As a matter of fact, he and his wife expected as much. That’s why Fountain’s wife insisted that he take their eight-year-old son, Henry, with him to Lincoln, where Fountain was scheduled to present evidence against suspected cattle rustlers. Surely no one was wicked enough to kill a little boy, or murder his father while he watched.

When Fountain and the boy disappeared, the entire Territory was stunned.

And that’s where Mariana’s Knight diverges from the historical record. To this day, no one knows what happened to Albert and Henry Fountain in early February 1896. All that remained of them was a patch of blood soaking into the southern New Mexico sand.

Michael Farmer provides an interesting and vivid take on what might have happened that day and afterward and, in the process, gives his reader a look at New Mexico in the late 1800s.

If you’re interested in the Fountain mystery or the history of southern New Mexico, or if you’re just looking for a riveting Western tale, you’ll find Mariana’s Knight a fascinating read. I recommend it!

Book Review: But Time And Chance

Chavez.But Time and Chance.cover
by Fray Angelico Chavez
Sunstone Press, 1981
ISBN: 978-0913270950

Padre Antonio Jose Martinez is perhaps  New Mexico’s most famous home-grown priest, and his chroniclers seem to either heartily disapprove of him or love him unconditionally. Fray Angelico Chavez’s But Time And Chance appears to try to fall somewhere between the two, striving for neutrality. I’m not sure he succeeds, but I believe this is still a valuable book for students of New Mexico history.

But Time And Chance provides a good overview of Martinez’s life and his conflict with Bishop Lamy and also describes Martinez’s background, and his relationship with his constituents and the Americanos who were so prevalent in Taos during his lifetime. Certainly, this book helped me to get a better feel for Martinez’s role in the politics of the day.

However, I do feel that Chavez spends more time than necessary in this book sifting through the Taos baptismal records to attempt to identify possible children Martinez may have fathered. Some of the evidence Chavez presents in this endeavor seems a little thin. I also question the idea that a mental health issue lay at the heart of the Padre’s actions in his later years, after he was excommunicated by Bishop Lamy.

However, despite my disagreements with Fray Chavez, I still found this book helpful in providing insight into Padre Martinez’s character and the times in which he lived. At the very least, it’s certainly a more well-rounded depiction of him than is Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop.

I believe But Time and Chance is a book that anyone interested in Padre Martinez’s life and works should definitely include in their list of items to read.

 

Book Review: Youth on the Santa Fe Trail

 

Kattell.Youth On The Santa Fe Trail cover
Youth on the Santa Fe Trail
by Camilla Kattell
Light Horse Publishing, November 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0996675406

We tend to forget just how young many of the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail were. I suppose this is because we associate the Trail with merchant caravans more than we do with family settler groups.

In Youth On The Santa Fe Trail, Camilla Kattell reminds us that some of the most famous voices from that famous road were not yet twenty when they travelled it. In addition to Christopher “Kit” Carson, these young people included the soon-to-be mountain man Richens Lacey Wootton, future authors Francis Parkman, Jr. and Hector Lewis Garrard, diarist Susan Shelby Magoffin, and—youngest of them all at age seven—Marian Sloan Russell.

One of the things I especially appreciate about this book is that Kattell includes information about travelers I was unfamiliar with, including James Ross Larkin, an early health seeker on the Trail, sportsman William B. Napton, and New Mexico native José Librado Gurulé.

But Youth on the Santa Fe Trail does more than provide a concise biography of these travelers. It also provides context for their particular story and, in doing so, helps us to understand their world. For example, Kattell’s portrayal of Susan Shelby Magoffin helped me to see this young woman in a way I hadn’t before.

When I read the Magoffin diary a number of years ago, I was frustrated by what I saw as her very narrow view of the world. Youth on the Santa Fe Trail reminded me that Magoffin’s strict, rather puritanical, upbringing would naturally make her look askance at women smoking cigarettes and church hymns set to apparent dance tunes. What I saw as a narrow mindedness can also be viewed as a difference in cultures which Magoffin was doing her best to assimilate. Kattell expanded my view of this young woman’s perspective.

While Youth On The Santa Fe Trail is about the youth who traversed the Santa Fe Trail, it is certainly not only for young readers. It will give you a new appreciation for the Trail’s travelers, the impact they had on both their destination, and the way their experiences on the trail shaped that impact. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Trail and of New Mexico.

 

Book Review: New Mexico’s Spanish Livestock Heritage

Dunmire.New Mexicos Livestock Heritage.cover
by William W. Dunmire
University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2013
ISBN: 9780826331656

Have you ever been browsing in a bookstore and come across a book that you didn’t know you needed until you saw the title? That was how I discovered William W. Dunmire’s New Mexico’s Spanish Livestock Heritage. I suspected it could provide me with information that would add new dimension to my fiction. I have not been disappointed.

The subtitle of this book is “four centuries of animals, land, and people,” but the land and people are seen through the lens of the animals, not the other way around. The animals covered include the ganado mayor — the horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, and oxen — and also the minor livestock such as pigs, chickens, and sheep.

Dunmire discusses the types of animals that came in with the Spanish and also their impact on the cultures already in what the Spanish named nuevo mexico. Although the indigenous peoples were not necessarily interested in getting along with the Spanish, they seem to have immediately seen the value in acquiring the animals, especially their sheep and horses.

Dunmire does a great job of describing the impact of the imported livestock on the region from the 1500s into the 20th century, including their affect on the landscape. New Mexico’s Spanish Livestock Heritage is a well-written book that will be of interest to historians as well as the more casual reader who wants to know more about the mingling of cultures in New Mexico.

Book Review: Doña Tules

Dona Tules Bio cover
by Mary J. Straw Cook
UNM Press, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0826343130

In early August I posted a review of a fictional account of the life of Doña Tules Barceló. In it, I said it was the only fictional or non-fictional treatment that had been published about her life. I was wrong.

The week after that post went live, I attended Santa Fe’s Spanish Market. There I found a copy of Doña Tules, Santa Fe’s Courtesan and Gambler.  It was quite a find.

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of information available about Tules Barceló’s life. However, in this book Mary J. Straw Cook has gathered what is known and fleshed it out with information about Barceló’s family members, both blood and adopted, and her contemporaries. While I don’t agree with all of Cook’s conclusions about Tules—the evidence for prostitution seems weak—the book does provide insight into her life, as well as into the era in which she lived, how it may have influenced her, and how she definitely influenced it.

This is a treasure of a book that reads like a novel. If you want to know more about this fascinating woman, her contemporaries, and her times, I recommend Doña Tules, Santa Fe’s Courtesan and Gambler.

Book Review: In The Shadow of Vargas

 

In the Shadow of Vargas cover
by E. Paul Bergeron
Clark River Publisher, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0996701303

Technically, In The Shadow of Vargas, is more frontier fiction than western. That is, it’s not set in the American west after the U.S. took over the area that is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California. In fact, the story takes place just before the point at which U.S. citizens were even welcome into what was then Mexico.

Even so, I would classify this book as a western because it fits the criteria in every other way: a protagonist on his own, fighting the bad guys and the elements; a woman at risk who manages to survive until her man rescues her; a story set on the North American continent west of the Mississippi before 1900.

Those are my criteria for a western and sometimes a reader just needs to put up her feet up and read a good one. As far as I’m concerned, westerns are always better if they’re set in New Mexico. So when I learned about E. Paul Bergeron’s In The Shadow of Vargas,  I was eager to read it.

It didn’t disappoint. The larger-than-life fur trapper protagonist William MacLeod has a strong sense of justice and knows a good woman when he sees her. His impulse to aid the helpless gets him in trouble and then saves him in the end. And the woman he falls in love with is a strong character in her own right.

There’s a nice twist at the end of this novel which left me surprised.  The hero doesn’t—well, I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that Bergeron does a good job of ending this novel while making you wonder what’s going to happen in the sequel, The Search for Diego.

If you’re looking for a traditional western set in New Mexico before the American invasion, I recommend In The Shadow of Vargas.

 

Sabino’s Map: Book Review

Sabinos Map cover
Sabino’s Map, Life in Chimayó’s Old Plaza
by Don J. Usner
Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1995
ISBN 0-89013-289-5

Sabino’s Map is, I suspect, something of a rarity. It combines interviews with aging locals with an anthropologist’s research skills and fine eye for detail. That’s a difficult balance to achieve, but Don J. Usner does an excellent job arriving at and maintaining the necessary equilibrium.

This book is clearly the result of a labor of love, but it is also a very useful book for anyone who wants to know more about the history of the northern New Mexico village of Chimayo, its people, and its landscape.

Usner, who is related by birth to a good number of the people interviewed for this book, provides an extensive history of Chimayo which begins long prior to the first Spanish settlements.

The book is titled Sabino’s Map because in the 1950s a man named Sabino Trujillo hand-drew a detailed map of Chimayó’s Plaza del Cerro as it existed during his boyhood in the early 20th century. Sabino’s map identified each house on the plaza, who owned it at the time, the location of the acequias, where horses were pastured, where trees were located (or not), and a host of other detail. This detail forms the basis for and triggered the oral histories that provide much of the detail in the book.

This much detail, along with extensive interviews with people with plenty of stories to tell, could easily overwhelm a community narrative, but Usner does an excellent job of sifting through a wealth of knowledge and story to give us the nuggets that help the reader see what it might have been like to live in the Plaza del Cerro or its surrounding homes and farms in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.

Sabino’s Map is a beautifully researched and written produced book.