Gerald lowered the gun and looked down at the boy. “Coyote’ve been nipping at the elk all spring and they left tracks by that half-eaten calf up the hill.”
Andrew shook his head. “He didn’t kill that calf, Papa.”
Gerald frowned. “You know that for a fact?”
Andrew hesitated, then nodded. “I’ve been watching him. He lets me get mighty close. He’s not as skittish as the others.”
“You’ve been following that coyote around?”
The boy scuffed the muddy ground with his boot. “I was curious.” He lifted his head. “The calf was dead when he ate off it.”
Gerald shook his head. “You are something else,” he said. He scanned the valley. The coyote was still visible. It trotted purposefully across the far side of the grassy slope beyond the meandering creek. “We’d best head back,” he said. “They’ll be waiting dinner on us.”
New Mexico’s weather so far this year has reflected the weather patterns across the nation—unpredictable, to put it kindly. To put the snow, rain, hail, and general nastiness into perspective, take a look at this May 9, 1907 article from the Cimarron News and Press.
The winter had been a dry one. The stockmen’s herds hadn’t been buffeted by much cold, so they were healthy, over all. But the dry conditions meant the summer was going to bring sparse summer grasses. Until early May. When it rained and snowed!
The Cimarron News and Press tended to be very upbeat, so I question just how positively the stockmen felt about the loss of their calves and lambs to the recent storms.
But we can take comforting in noting know that storms this late in the year are not a new phenomenon.
There were a lot of pieces to the conflict that engulfed New Mexico’s Colfax County in the 1870s–the conflict we know today as the Colfax County War. As far as I know, no one has ever provided a good fictional account of how some of those pieces fit together and just who did what to whom. Until now.
The hero of Thomas D. Clagett’s West of Penancedoesn’t get to Colfax County until a little over one-third of the way into the book. But once he does, he’s in the middle of events that actually happened. Events that Clagett lines up nicely and for which he provides explanations that not only make sense, but make for a great story.
Although Father Graintaire and the woman who takes him in are fictional characters, everyone else in this section of the book actually existed. Based on my own Colfax County research, Clagett’s conceptions of them and their actions are right on target. The portraits of Clay Allison and Sheriff Chittenden, and the explanation of why Cruz Vega was in William Lowe’s cornfield the night he was lynched are especially well done. And Clagett’s portrait of Santa Fe Ring attorney Melvin W. Mills gave me new insight into Mills’ character. I wish I’d read West of Penance before I wrote his scenes in The Pain and The Sorrow!
Given how well Clagett handles the Colfax County material in this book, I think it’s safe to assume that the first part of West of Penance is just as authentic. I certainly feel like I know more now about the French Foreign Legion than I did before I read this book.
So, if you’re interested in the French Foreign Legion at the battle of Camerone and the role they played in acquiring Mexico for France, or in New Mexico’s Colfax County war, I recommend that you read West of Penance!
“She threw a stick at a mountain cat that was goin’ after the boy and it run off?” the old man who was visiting asked. “Mid-lunge?” The two men sat on stools in front of the cabin fire, a whisky jug between them.
“That’s what she says.”
They both turned to look at Gina, who sat on the bed in the corner, singing a lullaby to the child, crooning him to sleep.
“Hard to believe,” the old man said, stroking his stringy white beard.
“Old cat,” Charles said.
“Maybe.” The old man took a sip from the jug. “Coulda been a young one, though. A woman’s protective instincts can be almighty strong.”
There was a disbelieving grunt at the fire and then silence.
“Stranger things’ve happened,” the old man observed. “And she does take kindly to that child.”
I’d been told that, in addition to being an outlaw, Billy the Kid was also a lady’s man. That didn’t make him more attractive to me. A thug and a womanizer. Why would I find that appealing?
However, Diana Holguín-Balogh’s masterful fictional portrayal of Billy the Kid and a young woman who falls for him has me seeing Billy in a new light.
Rosary Without Beads presents a Billy who’s passionate about justice and fair play, and loyal to a fault—characteristics which end up placing him on the wrong side of the law. He also has a facility with English and Spanish that could sweet talk a rattlesnake out of its rattles.
Billy’s linguistic charm is a primary reason I like this book so much. Holguín-Balogh has a gift for writing broken English/Spanish so that it’s not only comprehensible, but has a music all its own. This is true not only of Billy’s verbal skills, but also of the other characters, especially the female protagonist, Ambrosia.
Ambrosia doesn’t have an easy life. She’s been promised to a man who would really rather have her sister. That’s bound to make a girl feel unattractive. So when Billy shows up and shows some interest, she’s pretty much swept off her feet. She doesn’t succumb to his charms easily, though. Holguín-Balogh does a great job of expressing this girl’s mixed emotions about Billy all the way through the novel.
I suppose I can safely tell you that the Kid dies at the end of this book. I suspect that’s a story most of us know. However, Rosary Without Beadspresents a take on the usual explanations for the circumstances of Billy’s death, and what happens afterward, which may surprise you. But you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out what that take is.
If you’re looking for a historical novel you can sink your teeth into and feel like you’ve learned something in the process, I recommend this book!
In late April 1854, W. W. Donaldson of Las Vegas, New Mexico announced that he’d made “ample arrangements” for accommodating “invalids and others” with board and lodging at the celebrated Las Vegas hot springs.
Donaldson wasn’t the first to take advantage of the healing mineral-filled springs six miles northwest of today’s Las Vegas. The Springs had been used for centuries by the Native Americans in the region, reputedly to heal battle wounds and other ailments.
And Donaldson wouldn’t be the last. The board and lodging. He offered were considerably upgraded in 1886. That year, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company built the 90,000 square foot Montezuma Castle as a destination hotel. The castle capitalized on the hot springs as well as the trout fishing in nearby Gallinas Creek and hosted guests as diverse as Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Jesse James, Theodore Roosevelt, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
The hot springs and the hotel, which is now the home of an international high school, are currently owned by the United World College, which still allows public access to the springs. Board and lodging is available in nearby Las Vegas.