The Kid And Me: Book Review

Note: I’ve decided to add some book reviews to this site, featuring fiction set in, or nonfiction about, New Mexico before statehood. The first one up is The Kid and Me, a story of Billy the Kid.

the Kid and Me cover
The Kid and Me, by Frederick Turner, ISBN: 978-1496206893 Bison Books, 2018

In New Mexico, there’s really only one “Kid”— Billy the Kid of Lincoln County War fame. Frederick Turner’s novel The Kid and Me takes a new approach to Billy’s story by narrating it from the perspective of George Coe, one of the men who rode with the Kid.

It’s a rambling story, told many decades after the events, which occurred in the late 1870s. Coe is an old man now, and the memories he shares are marked by digressions, exaggerations, and telling insights into the character and possible motivations of the people involved in the Lincoln County War.

These insights and the colorful language Coe uses to tell his story are the two great strengths of The Kid and Me. It’s only weakness is actually not in the story itself—I would have liked a historical chronology of events at the end of the book, along with a discussion of how Coe’s memory might have failed him during his retelling of the Billy the Kid story.

This is a recently published book and a great read. It’s definitely worth adding to your library if you’re interested in New Mexico’s Lincoln County war. Or if you’d just like too read a first-person fictional narrative from a crotchety, opinionated old man’s point of view.

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Kid-Me-Novel-Frederick-Turner/dp/1496206894/

SOFT WOOD

Samuel stroked the narrow piece of old cottonwood thoughtfully, absorbing its smoothness. It called out to be carved.

He was one of only a handful of boys living in Elizabethtown, New Mexico Territory, in this year of 1871. Almost all the other children were girls. Even worse, he was the only boy in a house full of overly-particular and opinionated sisters. Samuel scowled at the wood and dug his dirty fingernail into it, cutting a rough zigzag. It felt good to mark up something that they couldn’t complain about, even if he did have to hide behind the woodshed to do it, and didn’t have a knife to cut it proper-like.

“What are you doing?” a young female voice inquired.

Samuel looked up warily. A girl with long honey-brown curls and large gray eyes stood at the corner of the shed, staring at the wood in Samuel’s hands. She moved closer, her eyes still on the old stick. “How’d you mark it like that?” she asked. “All the wood around this town is too twisted and tough to cut into.”

“This here’s cottonwood,” he said. “It’s softer than the pine and other stuff hereabouts.”

“Where’d you get it?”

He stiffened, remembering he was talking to a girl, one who was bound to boss him around. “What’s it to you?” he asked.

“Well, never mind,” she said. She shoved her hands into her pinafore pockets and turned to go, her head down. Her curls covered her face.

“I’m sorry,” Samuel said contritely. He flung the stick away.

The girl crossed the yard to the piece of wood and bent to pick it up. She ran her fingers down the side he hadn’t marked. “It’s very soft,” she said.

“I have a lot of sisters and they’re always bossing me,” Samuel said apologetically.

The girl lifted her head and grinned. “I only have one brother, but he’s always bossing me.”

“What’d you want to know about the wood for?”

“I want to learn how to carve,” she said. “My brother knows but he won’t teach me. He says carving’s only for boys. I was going to try to teach myself but I couldn’t find anything soft enough.”

“I found that stick in our woodpile,” Samuel said. “There’s more in there but I’ll have to dig through the stack in order to get at it.”

“When you do find some, could I have a piece?”

“Sure. Why not?” He looked at her thoughtfully. “You have a knife?”

She smiled triumphantly and pulled a penknife from her pinafore pocket. They grinned at each other. Then she stuck out her hand, ready to shake. “I’m Charlotte,” she said.

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

Occupied New Mexico Requests Statehood

On Monday, July 1, 1850, the populace of occupied nuevomexico voted overwhelmingly to enter the United States as a state rather than a territory. The Mexican departamento of New Mexico had been seized by the U.S. in 1846 during the Mexican/American war. In the July 1850 referendum, the New Mexico also reaffirmed it’s 1848 decision to not allow slavery in New Mexico, and identified state officers and national representatives to Congress.

However, New Mexico’s decision to request U.S. statehood was nullified before it reached Washington DC. While the new congressional delegation was in route to the capital, news of the compromise of 1850 arrived in New Mexico.

More focused on settling the national slavery question than fulfilling New Mexico’s request, the Compromise admitted California as a free slave state and ignored the results of the July election. Instead, Congress made Utah and New Mexico territories where slavery was allowed. This decision was influenced by Texans who wanted to incorporate New Mexico into Texas, which was a slave state.

The boundary between Texas and Mexico was still amorphous, with Texas claiming land to the east bank of the Rio Grande River. In exchange for relinquishing its claim to eastern New Mexico, Congress gave Texas $10 million. To further keep Texas happy, New Mexico would be neither slave nor free. It and Utah territory would have to vote for or against slavery when they applied for statehood.

July 1 illustration.Webster notes against 1850 Comp.Lib of Congress
Daniel Webster’s notes for his speech against the Compromise of 1850. Source: U.S. Library of Congress

If New Mexico had entered the union as a state in 1850, it’s almost certain that it was entered as a non-slave state, dramatically altering the balance between slave and free and potentially catapulting the country into the war that would come just over a decade later.

However, by the time New Mexico did become a state, the slavery issue became a moot point, since New Mexico . It would not do so until 1912. Instead, the Congressionally-established New Mexico Territory government took over in Spring 1851. 20 years would pass before another constitutional convention was called and 66 years would go by before New Mexico would shake off its territorial status and officially become one of the United States.

Sources: Thomas C. Donnelly, The Government Of New Mexico, U of NM Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Bruce Glassrud, African-American History In New Mexico, U of NM Press, Albuquerque, 2013; Calvin A and Susan A Roberts, New Mexico, U of NM Press, Albuquerque, 1988; Hal Stratton and Paul Farley, History, Powers, Responsibility, Office Of The Attorney General, State Of New Mexico, State of New Mexico, 1990

ROTTEN QUARTZ

The three men and two mules stopped and stared up the mountainside. A fall of broken rock blocked their way.

“Well, shit!” Gus said. “How’re we supposed to get to that old mine shaft with this in the way?”

Herbert pulled off his hat and fanned his week-old beard. “Maybe we can go around.”

Alonzo pulled his suspenders away from his rounded belly and looked down and then up the sharply-angled slope. “Mules ain’t gonna like that,” he said.

“Guess we’re done then.” Gus rubbed his jaw. “Hell, I needed that gold.”

Herbert shrugged and began maneuvering the mules to face back down the mountainside.

Alonzo stared across the slope at the fractured stone. “That’s rotten quartz,” he said thoughtfully. He moved out onto the rocks.

“Careful there,” Gus said, but Alonzo only crouched down and stretched to pluck a piece from near the center of the rock fall. He turned it carefully. “Will you look at that,” he said wonderingly.

Gus and Herbert looked at each other, then Alonzo. He grinned back at them. “Might be this is  as far’s we need to go,” he said. He lifted the quartz in his hand. “Looks like there’s gold enough right here!”

 

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Santa Fe Ring Implicated in Reverend Tolby’s Unsolved Murder!!!!

Cruz Vega didn’t go quietly to his death. He told the Cimarron, New Mexico Territory mob who lynched him that they were killing the wrong man. He hadn’t shot Methodist missionary Franklin J. Tolby in Cimarron Canyon on September 14, 1875. Manuel Cardenas had.

Vega’s accusation didn’t save him from death, but it did turn attention to Elizabethtown in the mountains west of Cimarron, where Cardenas lived. When word of Vega’s accusation reached the mining town on Saturday, November 6, 1875, Cardenas turned himself in rather than face a lynch mob of his own. Then he proceeded to tell Etown’s Justice of the Peace what some county residents had suspected from the beginning: Santa Fe Ring members were responsible for Tolby’s murder.

The Santa Fe Ring controlled the Maxwell Land Grant Company and they’d badly wanted to silence  Reverend Tolby. Tolby inveighed regularly against the Company evictions of people they considered squatters as well as the Company’s other efforts to get maximum value from the land they’d purchased from Luz and Lucien Maxwell five years before. According to Tolby, the grant lands were open to homesteading and, if anything, at least part of it should be returned to the Ute and Apache bands who’d used it before the Anglo invasion.

Manuel Cardenas told the Elizabethtown Justice of the Peace that three men associated with the Santa Fe Ring—mail contractor Florencio Donoghue, County probate judge Dr. Robert Longwill, and Attorney Melvin W. Mills—had offered him $500 to kill Tolby. However, according to Cardenas, he turned the job down and the trio hired the now-dead Cruz Vega to shoot Tolby instead.

Cardenas’ charges resulted in a flurry of activity. Robert Longwill fled to Santa Fe pursued by a posse led by anti-Grant Company gunman Clay Allison. Since Allison had bested Santa Fe Ring enforcer Juan Francisco “Pancho” Griego in a shootout at Henri Lambert’s Cimarron saloon earlier that week,  Longwill was wise to take him seriously.

Nov 6 illustration.robert longwill.parsons book
Source: Clay Allison, Portrait of a Shootist, Chuck Parsons

Melvin Mills was made of sterner stuff. He’d been in Colorado when the charges were made and  he returned to Cimarron, indignantly insisting on his innocence. Mills must have arrived back in town around the same time the cavalry detachment from Fort Union showed up on Monday, November 8.  The horse soldiers had been dispatched to Cimarron to maintain civil order, sent out at the request of Territorial Governor Samuel Axtell, who just happened to also be a member of the Santa Fe Ring.

With Longwill safely in Santa Fe, Cardenas and Donaghue in jail, and Mills released for lack of evidence, it seemed reasonable to assume that things had quieted down and would remain so. A hearing date to address Cardenas’ evidence was set for Wednesday, Nov. 10. But there was going to be a least one more death before it was all over. Can you guess who? . . . . Stay tuned.

 

Nov 6 illustration.robert longwill.parsons bookSources:  David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press, 2014; Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison, portrait of a shootist, Pioneer Book Publishers, 1983

Clay Allison Kills Pancho Griego in Lambert’s Saloon!!!

Monday, November 1, 1875 in Cimarron, New Mexico should have been a quiet day after an eventful weekend. Cruz Vega, the man thought to have murdered Methodist missionary Reverend Franklin J. Tolby in September, was dead and buried. Now the County could get back to ranching and mining. But Vega’s confession at his Saturday, October 30  lynching had not put the matter to rest.

Vega confessed merely to being involved in the plot to kill Reverend Tolby. He said Manuel Cardenas was the actual shooter. So there was still that to deal with.

Then there was the matter of how Vega had died. Following the telegraph-pole lynching that produced his accusation against Cardenas, Vega was shot and killed. When his battered body was found the next day, his friends and relatives were upset, to say the least. Their thoughts turned almost immediately to revenge. In fact, before the funeral was over, Civil War veteran Juan Francisco “Pancho” Griego vowed vengeance on the men who’d tortured and killed his friend.

There’s no concrete evidence that gunslinger R. Clay Allison was part of the Vega lynch mob, but the fact that Griego confronted him about it implies that Allison either participated in the lynching or was concerned for the welfare of those who had.

At any rate, Griego and Allison met late Monday, November 1 at Henri Lambert’s saloon in Cimarron (today’s St. James Hotel) and Griego didn’t make it out alive. According to Lambert, who’d been born in France, “Pancho try to pull the pistol. Mr. Allison smarter.” When Pancho fell, Lambert ordered everybody out and closed up shop. It was a smart thing to do. Allison and his friends spent the night “hoorahing” the town and probably would have caused more damage to Lambert’s place besides the blood-stained saloon floor if he hadn’t closed down when he did.

But Tolby’s killer still needed to be dealt with and there were still strong suspicions that the Santa Fe Ring was somehow behind it all. Certainly, the bloodshed hadn’t ended. There would be more in the coming days. Stay tuned . . . .

 

Nov 1 illustration.pancho griego.parsons book
Source: Clay Allison, Portrait of a Shootist, Chuck Parsons

Sources: Las Vegas Gazette, November 14, 1875. Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison, Portrait of a Shootist, Pioneer Book Publishers, 1983.