MINERS GOTTA EAT

“Me and Joe didn’ come alla way out here jus’ to cook for no white men,” Frank Edwards grumbled as he slammed dirty dishes into the hotel sink. “You’d think we was still slaves in Kentucky.”

“You be only eighteen,” Louis the cook said. He positioned a pan of potatoes on the wooden table and picked up the pealing knife. “And what’s Joe, twenty three? You all have plenty o’ time.”

Joe Williams came in the door with an armload of firewood. “I here tell there’s a gold claim for sale in Humbug Gulch,” he told Frank as he dumped the wood into the bin next to the stove. “They askin’ seventy-five dollars.”

Frank’s hands stopped moving in the dishwater. “You reckon we got enough?”

Louis looked up from his potatoes. “You two listen to me and you listen good,” he said sharply. “You go to minin’ and you’re gonna lose every penny you have. Miners gotta eat, even when they so broke they sellin’ their claims. Stick to feedin’ ’em and you’ll do better in th’ long run.”

Frank and Joe looked at each other and shrugged. “We don’t got enough anyway,” Joe said. He jerked his head sideways, toward Louis. “An’ the old man has a point.”

“You better watch who you callin’ an old man,” Louis said gruffly. “And that wood box ain’t full enough yet, neither. Not by a long shot.”

from Valley of the Eagles

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MAKE IT STOP

“Make it stop,” the little boy moaned. He rubbed his ears with his fingers and rocked himself back and forth in his mother’s lap. “Mama, please make it stop.”

“I wish I could,” Alma said, stroking his golden hair. She pulled him closer to her chest, then began moving the rocking chair rhythmically back and forth.

“It hurts,” he whimpered.

“I know.” She gazed out the window at the clouds scudding across the Moreno Valley sky. The spring winds had always been a sign to her of coming warmth and green things sprouting. Until now. Until the pain from the changing air pressure had reduced her energy-filled child into a whimpering puppy hiding in her lap.

The rocking chair’s rhythm and the warmth of her arms was relaxing him into sleep. She  stroked his head gently and he snuggled closer. Alma smiled. She had planned to start turning the garden soil today. It could wait until tomorrow, she decided. Until the wind had subsided at least a little.

© 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

NEWS

There was a knothole in the cabin door, in the fourth board from the right. Kenneth stood on tiptoe and peered through it at the men on the horses.

“It’s Clay Allison!” he hissed.

His little sister Elizabeth stood on tiptoe and tried to shoulder Kenneth out the way so she could see for herself. “Are you sure?” she whispered.

Kenneth nodded. “He’s tall and he’s got those black whiskers and he’s ridin’ that big blond horse Papa says is so dangerous.”

Elizabeth bit her lip and shrank back. She hugged herself tightly around her waist. “I’m scared,” she whimpered. “I’ve heard tell that he’s mean.”

“Ah, he’s only mean to those who are mean,” Kenneth scoffed. But he didn’t open the door. His mother had instructed him to stay inside if anyone came while she and his father were gone. As far as Kenneth was concerned, ‘anyone’ included the gunslinger Clay Allison. If that’s who it was. He wasn’t at all certain, now that he thought about it. He’d never seen the man close up. But he sure wasn’t gonna tell Elizabeth that.

The knothole suddenly went black and there was a thud on the wooden door that shook Kenneth in his boots. “What are we going to do?” Elizabeth gasped.

Kenneth put his hand over her mouth. “Hush!” he hissed. “He’ll hear you!”

Boots scuffed on the porch, as if whoever it was had walked away and then come back. “I believe you two young uns ought to open this door,” a man’s deep voice said. “Your Mama says you won’t be wantin’ too, but I’ve got important news for ya’ll.”

The children looked at each other. Kenneth shook his head.

“But he’ll break the door down!” Elizabeth hissed. “And if he has to do that, he’ll be really mad! And then he’ll be extra mean!”

Kenneth’s lower lip jutted out and he shook his head again. Elizabeth had seen that look before and she knew it was no use arguing with him. She sank to the floor in a heap and tried not to cry.

There was a long silence. Booted feet paced the porch. Then they stopped outside the door again. The man coughed. The children looked at each other apprehensively.

“All right,” the man said. “I guess I’ll just have to tell you my news through the door. Your Mama’s been laid up at your Aunt Ginny’s house and she says you’re to stay here until your Pa comes for you. That’ll more than likely not be till tomorrow. She says to have your chores done and your things ready, because your Pa’s gonna be taking you back to Ginny’s house so’s you can meet your new baby brother.” There was a short pause. “Or sister. Your Mama doesn’t  know yet just which it’ll be.”

The children stared at each other, then Kenneth moved to the door and looked through the knothole again. “Really and truly?” he asked.

“Really and truly,” Clay Allison said.

from Old One Eye Pete

The Mountain Man Novel is Almost Here!

I’m pleased to announce that the New Mexico mountain man novel I’ve been working on since The Pain and The Sorrow is about to be published!

It’s called Not Just Any Man and is both a gripping and gritty mountain man story and a love story. An early reader tells me the love story’s an exciting one!

Not Just Any Man 3d cover

The publication date is November 15. That’s next week! You can place your order for the ebook ahead of time. It’s available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and  Books2Read. Or mark your calendars for next Thursday and order a paperback online or from your favorite bookstore!

I’m excited about this book. It given me the chance me to continue to research and write about the subject most interesting to me–New Mexico’s history. Or, as I like to put it, the history of Old New Mexico. I hope you’ll check it out!

Here’s an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

When Gerald tops the low rise and sees the mule-drawn wagons strung out along a rutted track across the prairie, it takes him a moment to adjust. After five days walking westward, he is still absorbing the healing beauty of the wind bending the grass, the bulk of buffalo in the distance. The sweep of the land has been a balm to his eyes. So the eight mule-drawn wagons jolting along the rutted trail below are a bit of a shock.

A loose collection of mules and horses meander to one side. Gerald stops, considering. Approaching the train is the sensible thing to do. It’s pure luck that he hasn’t encountered any Indians so far. But he isn’t quite ready to give up the silent grassland, regardless of the risk to his light brown skin.

Then a long-haired man with a wind-reddened face canters a chestnut-colored horse out from the wagon train. A firearm is braced in the crook of his right arm. Gerald moves toward him, down the slope.

The man on the chestnut reins in at a safe distance, rifle still in a position to be easily lifted and fired. Gerald stops walking and lifts his hands away from his sides, palms out.

“Ya’ll stranded?” the man calls.

Gerald takes off his hat, runs his hand through his curly black hair, and shakes his head. “Headed west.”

The man turns his head and spits. “Lose yer ride?”

“I figure my feet are more dependable.”

The man snorts. “And slower.”

“They also give me a lower profile, out of Indian sight.”

The other man nods begrudgingly, then jerks his head toward the caravan. “Wagon master says come on in, he’ll trade ya for a mount ’n some food.”

“Where are you headed?” Gerald asks.

“Santa Fe, where else?”

“I’m hoping to reach Don Fernando de Taos.”

“Same thing, pretty much. North o’ Santa Fe a couple o’ days.” The man jerks his head toward the wagon train again. “Young’s got a mercantile there.”

“Young?”

“The train master. Ewing Young. He’s been merchanting, bringin’ in goods from Missouri, selling ’em, then goin’ back fer more.” The chestnut stirs restlessly. “Come on in an’ he’ll tell ya himself.”

If he refuses, they’ll suspect him of trouble and who knows where that will lead? Gerald nods and follows the horseman toward the wagons.

As he gets closer, a tall, powerfully built man wearing fringed buckskins and a broad-brimmed felt hat walks out from the lead wagon. In his early thirties, the man’s air of command is enhanced by intelligent brown eyes under a high forehead, a hawkish nose, and a mouth that looks as if it rarely smiles.

“Well now, it’s not often we find someone walkin’ the trail,” he says in a Tennessee drawl. He looks steadily into Gerald’s face.

“A horse seemed like an unnecessary expense and more than likely to make me a target,” Gerald says.

“It’s a slow way to travel, though,” the other man observes.

Gerald glances toward the wagon trundling past at the pace of a slow-walking mule. The way it lurches over the rutted track says it’s heavy with goods. “If I had what you’re carrying, it would be,” he says.

The man sticks out his hand. “I’m Ewing Young, owner of this outfit.” He jerks a thumb toward the rider who’d met Gerald on the hill. “This here’s Charlie Westin, my scout.”

Gerald nods at the scout and reaches to shake Ewing Young’s hand. “I’m Gerald Locke Jr., hoping to one day own an outfit.” He grins, gray eyes crinkling in his square brown face. “Though not a wagon outfit.”

Young chuckles. “Well, out here just about anything’s possible.” The last of the wagons trundles past and he gestures at it. “Come along to camp and we’ll talk about how you can get started on that.”

Gerald falls into step with the older man, cursing himself for a fool. He doesn’t need to tell his intentions to everyone he meets. It comes from not speaking to another living being in the last five days, he thinks ruefully. Solitude makes a man too quick to speech. How often has his father repeated, “Words can be a burden”? He’d do well to heed that idea. Especially until he knows the character of the men he’s fallen in with.

from Not Just Any Man

DARKER THAN A WOLF’S MOUTH

“No, don’t go out there now,” Maria said. “It is late and there is no moon. El es oscuro como boca de lobo.”

“How d’you know how dark it is inside a wolf’s mouth?” Alvin Little grumbled as he put on his boots. “Leave me be.” He paused again, listening. The sound came again, the rattle of sticks tumbling off the pile of kindling just outside the door. “I spent two hours yesterday cuttin’ that kindling and I’m damned if someone’s gonna go stealin’ it.”

“El noche es más mala que Judas,” she protested. “It is unsafe.”

He reached for the door latch, then turned to look at her. “More evil than who? Judas, you say? Where d’you get this stuff?”

He stopped on the sill and shook his head as he peered into the darkness. A pale sliver of moon and no starlight. Heavy clouds blanketing the sky. He chuckled. So this was what a wolf’s mouth looked like. He leaned forward and peered at the wood piled alongside the cabin. He could just see the once neatly stacked kindling. Sticks lay haphazardly at the foot of the pile, as if someone had tried to climb it. Alvin scowled and stepped into the yard to gather them up.

A slight scratching sound came from the wooden roof, but Alvin didn’t have time to do more than lift his head before the mountain lion was on top of him, or hear more than Maria’s single scream before the big cat’s teeth found his throat.

from Valley of the Eagles

THICKER ‘N SNOT

“It’s s’posed to be August, dadburn it.” Julius Fairfield looked gloomily out the door of the long, narrow log cabin that served as the Quartz Mill & Lode Mining Company barracks outside of Elizabethtown. “This fog is thicker’n snot.”

In one of the iron beds lining the walls behind him, somebody sneezed. “And there’s the snot for ye,” Edward Kelly, the company’s lone Irishman, chortled as he added more wood to the pot belly stove halfway down the room.

A door opened at the far end and the chief engineer came out. He ignored the men in the beds as he walked down the room to peer over Fairfield’s shoulder. “That fog’ll lift shortly,” he said. He clapped Fairfield on the back. “Be thankful it’s not rain.”

“That was yesterday’s gift to us all,” Fairfield said gloomily. He shook his head. “And here I thought New Mexico Territory’d be drier than New York.” He grinned and glanced at the engineer. “When’d you say payday was?”

Behind them, Kelly began to sing a song praising Ireland and its green hills, and a chorus of voices yowled at him to be still. The engineer chuckled and turned. “That’s enough now!” he said.

from The Valley of the Eagles