The Mexican Frontier: Book Review

The Mexican Frontier cover
The Mexican Frontier 1821-1846, the American Southwest under Mexico, David J. Weber, ISBN 0826306039, University of New Mexico Press, 1982

The Mexican Frontier is the book for those of us who think the American West was “unsettled” before the United States expanded into and past the Rocky Mountains in the mid-1800s. Its author, noted historian David J. Weber, reminds us that Spain had claimed what is now  Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, in the 1500s, long before the various British attempts to colonize the East Coast.

When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, what is now known as the American Southwest came under its jurisdiction. The Mexican Frontier 1821-1846 is a comprehensive look at the  the region between 1821 and 1846, when it was acquired by the United States as a result of the Mexican War.

This book fills an important gap in our knowledge of North American history. Weber not only a good overview of Mexican policy and how it affected the country’s Northern Frontier, he also points out the similarities and differences between Texas, New Mexico, and California, both in terms of how government policies were interpreted and enforced and how the different regions reacted to them. This discussion was particularly helpful to me in clarifying the connections between events in Texas and in New Mexico in the 1830s and 40s. It’s been foundational to my research for upcoming novels, especially as I dive into the complexities of the New Mexico Tax Revolt in the 1830s.

If you want to understand the history of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California prior to the American takeover, I recommend that you read this very readable book.

 

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BUZZARD BRAINS

“He ain’t got the brains God gave a buzzard,” the old man grumbled. He picked up his mattock and glared at the black-hatted figure retreating down the bottom of Humbug Gulch toward Elizabethtown. Then he looked uphill, toward Baldy Peak. “Idiot can’t even figure out there’s a storm up there and this gully likely t’wash out in another half hour.” He sniffed disdainfully and went back to work, breaking rock on the gully’s southern lip, searching for the gold that was bound to be there if a man worked the stones long enough.

The young man in the black bowler hat chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip as he trudged down the center of the gulch through the gravel and broken rock. He’d offered every dollar he had for the claim, but the miner clearly wasn’t interested in selling. He shook his head. There must be other options.

Halfway down the gulch, he paused to catch his breath and gaze at the mountain above. That dark cloud spoke rain. Given the southeast position of the cloud and the angle of the gulch, it was unlikely that particular cloudburst would wet this particular gully. However, just to be on the safe side, he moved halfway up the gully’s north slope before he continued his downward trek.

The sun was glaringly bright on the dry rocks. The young man sat down on a large sandstone boulder and took off his hat. He brushed at the dust on the black felt and shook his head. He needed to find something lighter weight and less apt to show dust. He’d keep wearing this in the meantime, though. If nothing else, it protected him from sunstroke. He glanced down at the shadowed side of his rocky seat and grinned. Like this boulder was protecting that bit of grass, growing here among the pitiless rocks where no plant had a right to be.

The young man’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. He shaded the clump of grass with his hat and peered down at it and the rocks around it. Then he straightened abruptly, glanced up the gully where the miner had gone back to work, and slid off the boulder. He crouched beside the big rock and gently pried a piece of broken quartz from the ground. He turned it slowly back and forth, examining every facet and seam.

Five minutes later, the young man sat back on his heels and turned the rock again, just to be certain. Then he picked up a stick and poked around a bit in the ground beside the boulder. He nodded thoughtfully, then stood and looked carefully at the gulch’s rocky slopes for any sign of possession. But this piece of land clearly hadn’t been claimed. Apparently, no one had thought there was gold this far down Humbug Gulch.

The young man chuckled, tucked the piece of quartz into his pocket, clapped his dusty black hat on his head, and headed into Elizabethtown to file the necessary paperwork for his claim.

from Old One Eye Pete

The Lizard as Hero: Book Review

The almost-invisible lizard sunning himself on a rock or a log is a common occurrence  in New Mexico. I almost stepped on one in the garden this morning. However, I would never have thought to use a lizard as a metaphor for a detective and “fixer.” But Pamela Christie did, and the resulting books are a fascinating look at New Mexico in the 1780s.

Kings Lizard cover

In The King’s Lizard, Christie introduces us to the Old New Mexico version of the invisible person—the half-Ute, half-Spanish Fernando “Nando” Aguilar who lives in a kind of limbo between his Spanish and Native origins. This liminal status makes Nando easy to overlook. But it also gives him access to both the Native and Spanish worlds, an access which makes him a valuable tool for Governor Juan Bautista de Anza.

Governor Anza has been tasked with creating a lasting peace with the Comanche. But there are men in New Mexico who don’t want peace. Unsettled conditions give them access to human contraband. And contraband sales fund a more-than-comfortable lifestyle. Nando becomes part of these men’s merchandise and then, after he escapes their clutches, the key to destroying the slave network as well as providing the Governor with a path to peace.

Dead Lizards Dance cover

In Dead Lizard’s Dance, Nando once again saves the day, sorting out a plot that not only threatens the Governor, but also his own family’s security. Rumors of witchcraft go hand in hand with the struggle to control the caravan of goods to and from Mexico that is the colony’s lifeline.

This particular novel also highlights the status of women in the colony, and it isn’t a particularly pretty picture. But Nando protects the women he can, including those who’ve exacted revenge on a man who’s made a life’s work of abuse and betrayal.

Lizard’s Kill appears to be the end of the road for Nando’s work for Anza, because the Governor’s term of office has ended.

Lizards Kill cover

He’s on his way back to Mexico and retirement. But Anza has one more service he hopes to perform for New Mexico and only Nando Aguilar has the skills to achieve the impossible.

Christie brings a deep knowledge of a complex bygone world  to these three books, a knowledge that seems to expand with each story. Her writing and her observations about New Mexico life and politics in the 1780s grows more deft with each novel. If you’d like to know more about this period and are looking for a good mystery series to dive into I recommend these books.

Long live lizards!

P.S. All of these books are also available directly from Pamela Christie, who says she prefers direct contact with her readers. And she’ll also cut deals! You can contact her at christiepr@gmail.com.

West of Penance: Book Review

West of Penance cover
by Thomas D. Clagett
ISBN: 9781432831417
Five Star/Cengage, 2016

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 Penance doesn’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!

 

Ewing Young, On The Move Again

On Sunday, January 1, 1832, Tennessee-born Ewing Young was once again on the move. Young had arrived in New Mexico in 1822. In the following ten years, he’d trapped the San Juan, Gila, and Salt Rivers, as well as the Colorado as far as the Grand Canyon. That was during the trapping season. The rest of the year, he kept busy hauling goods from Missouri over the Santa Fe Trail and selling them in Taos and Santa Fe.

Apparently all this activity wasn’t enough for Young. In 1831, he was looking for further adventure and profit. He recruited thirty-six other trappers** and headed farther afield. Young had a Mexican passport that allowed his party to travel to Chihuahua. But he and his men made no attempt to even look like they were headed south from Taos. Instead, they moved almost straight west to the Zuni villages.

There they traded for supplies, then moved across country to the headwaters of the Black River, in what is now eastern Arizona, and down it to the Salt. From the upper Salt, they crossed to the Gila River, then trapped the Gila to its junction with the Colorado. This is where they landed on the first day of 1832.

Jan 1 illustration.Young, Ewing.young man
Ewing Young as a young man

The group’s beaver catch hadn’t been very good. They were apparently all using the same traps, ones with a defect that allowed the beaver to escape from the sprung device. Young must have thought he’d solved the problem with the traps, because he made one last effort to gather plews by trapping down the Colorado to tidewater. When that didn’t work either, the larger group split up and Young and twelve men headed to California.

California had been Young’s destination all along. His business partner David Jackson was already there, trying to gather enough horses and mules to make it worthwhile to drive them east to the New Orleans markets. But by the time Young arrived in California, Jackson had only been able to collect about a quarter of the animals they needed.

The men with Young scattered at this point, some of them remaining in California and others returning to New Mexico and points East. Young himself stayed to hunt sea otter, and eventually settled on the West Coast. He’d wandered over a decade before he landed there.

Sometimes it takes a while for a man to settle down.

 

**Young’s band of trappers included Job F. Dye, Sidney Cooper, Moses Carson, Benjamin Day, Isaac Sparks, Joseph Gale, Joseph Dofit, John Higans, Isaac Williams, James Green, Cambridge Green, James Anderson, Thomas Low, Julian Bargas, Jose Teforia, John Price, J.J. Warner, and William Day.

Sources: Robert Glass Cleland This Reckless Breed of Men, Knopf, 1950; Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University Press, 1997;  Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. I, Arthur  H. Clark, Spokane, 2000.

 

Now Available: Not Just Any Man

I’m pleased to announce that Not Just Any Man, my mountain man novel set in New Mexico, is now available in paperback and ebook. Here are the details:

Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin. That’s all Gerald, son of a free  black man and and Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.

not-just-any-man-3d-cover2.png

New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential.

To make either dream possible, Gerald needs to earn something more than a scratch living. The only way to do that is to trap beaver. It’s a tough way to earn cash and the wilderness is an unforgiving place.

Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?

Not Just Any Man is set in the late 1820s in Old New Mexico and is filled with historical characters and events.

You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online outlets, or from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Shoot out at Fort Stanton Over Indian Deaths!!

In mid October 1862, troops led by Captain James “Paddy” Graydon of  Fort Stanton killed at least eleven Mescalero Apaches at Gallinas Springs, on the west slopes of New Mexico’s Gallinas Peak. The circumstances were murky, but Graydon was thought to have gotten the Mescaleros drunk and then shot them down in cold blood.

Whatever had occurred, Graydon’s fellow officer Major Arthur Morrison believed Graydon had acted improperly. He demanded an official investigation. But when Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson took command at the Fort Stanton later that month, he declined to get involved. After all, he wasn’t sure what had actually happened at Gallinas Springs.

However, Carson knew what happened next. Dr. John Marmaduke Whitlock of Las Vegas and Santa Fe arrived at Fort Stanton in early November and he wasted no time forming an opinion about Gallinas Springs. He heard all about it from Major Morrison, who he knew from Las Vegas. Whitlock was outraged at the news of the purported massacre, and he wasted no time in jumping into action. He excoriated Graydon at the Fort and also wrote a letter to the Santa Fe Gazette condemning the Captain.

Nov 5 illustration.Arthur Morrison.Felsenthal book.
Major Arthur Morrison, Museum of New Mexico Photo Collection

Graydon was not pleased, to put it mildly. On the evening of Thursday, November 4, he  confronted Whitlock and demanded an explanation. Whitlock put him off, saying he’d give Graydon the “satisfaction you desire” in the morning.

They were both apparently ready to render ‘satisfaction’ the next morning. The two men fired simultaneously. Although they were just yards apart, neither was hit. They continued to exchange shots, with Graydon behind a wagon and Whitlock crouched behind a nearby soldier’s tent in true gunfight style. Eventually, they managed to hit each other at the same time. Graydon was wounded in the chest and Whitlock took bullets in his side and his hand.

Soldiers carried Graydon into a nearby tent while Whitlock retreated into the sutler’s store, pursued by thirty of Graydon’s men,  Lt. Philip Morris in the lead. When bullets started breaking through the store windows and door, Whitlock exited through the back door toward headquarters and Colonel Carson’s protection.

He didn’t make it. He was shot down, thrown into an icy ditch, and then shot some more. Lt. Morris was so beside himself with rage that when he ran out of bullets, he began pelting Whitlock’s body with rocks.

Three days later, 31-year-old Captain Graydon was also dead. One of Whitlock’s bullets had pierced his left lung.

In Carson’s opinion, the men responsible for Whitlock’s death deserved to “swing before sunset.” They got a court-martial instead, a somewhat pedestrian outcome to a bloody deed, especially the one at Gallinas Springs that precipitated the whole episode.

Source:  Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.