The third book in Mary Armstrong’s Two Valleys saga, The White Sands, takes a further dive into the history of southern New Mexico as it explores the events that led up to the famous feud between Albert Fountain and Albert Fall. While Fall would go on to be implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal, Fountain would disappear into the White Sands in 1896 with his ten-year-old son Henry.
But I’m getting ahead of myself and Armstrong’s novel The White Sands. In this book, her narrator, Jesús Messi, gets to know the Lee family, the clan that was thought by many to be responsible for the Fountain disappearance. What he discovers is that there are two sides to every story, and more than one way to deal with a problem.
Armstrong uses Messi’s memory loss, suffered at the end of Book 2, to place him in the midst of the Tularosa Basin and the Lee network of family and friends. As part of that group, he comes to understand their perspective, which makes things awkward for him when he returns to Las Cruces. The teenage Jesús is caught between two worlds as he realizes that neither side is totally in the right—or the wrong.
His struggles are thoughtfully portrayed and provide a great way for Armstrong to explore the antagonism between the political parties at the time and the way those political divisions became deeply personal. In fact, the attitudes and events she recounts are eerily echoed in today’s news. They involve strong, opinionated personalities, convoluted legal questions, impatient and potentially coerced witnesses, and much more.
If you’re interested in southern New Mexico history in the late 1800s, the way our past is echoed by our present, or simply want an insightful coming-of-age story about an intelligent and perceptive young man, I highly recommend The White Sands.