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(This is one of the adventures which may be included in the next Lone Star Sons volume. I am intending this to be released in time for Christmas. If the plot seems somewhat familiar, it is because I have lifted one element – the US Army going rogue and joining an Indian tribe –  from the book and movie Dances With Wolves. From a historical perspective, that seemed to be almost too late in history for that development to be entirely convincing. But an officer leading an exploring party in the Southwest some fifteen years earlier? That seemed to me to be much more workable, as a plot.)

 

Part 4 – Into the Wild

 

“Camels!” Ned Beale exclaimed in delight, when he showed Jim and Toby their means of transport at least as far as the fabled canyon of the Colorado in the vast New Mexico Territory. Beale was a little younger than Jim, a lively and gangly young Yankee with a high sloping forehead which merged into a magnificently beaky nose adorned at the lower margin with an equally magnificent and bushy mustache. His Navy rank on a strength report was a relatively lowly one – but his functioning level appeared to be much higher, due to friends in high places and to his recent daring exploits in crossing the continent several times on his own, armored with nothing but a spirit of his own recklessness. With a certain sinking of heart, Jim realized that here was another enthusiast with an insatiable appetite for adventure, for experiences and arcane knowledge. Not that there was anything amiss with such qualities, in moderation – but individuals possessing an excess of them were apt to go haring off in unexpected and usually dangerous tangents. “Ain’t they a marvel? And what better use for traversing the vast deserts than creatures ideally suited to it! They carry burdens which would buckle the knees of half a dozen mules, without complaint, go for days without food and water …”

“They look like a horse designed by a government committee, smell like Satan’s own privy, and frighten the daylights out of all the horses, mules and oxen around,” Jim replied, refusing to be moved by Ned’s enthusiasm.

“But you see, Jim – I may call you Jim, may I? And you should call me Ned, of course. They are perfectly designed by nature for the harsh climes of this new territory! What better use can we make of them… I am charged to explore the natural route to California from Texas and to see how the camels perform …Hey, Walid Ali – what do you think of their fitness for six months in crossing the southern deserts?”

“A desert – like any other, sire,” replied one of the beasts’ hired handlers, a wiry sun-burned man, who wouldn’t have appeared out of place in a Ranger company, save that his head was wrapped in a turban of fine green cloth. He spoke English fluently enough, although with a strange accent. The other handler looked off into the distance; he was an older man with a thick grey-streaked beard, who never spoke, but was usually to be found somewhere about the camel corral.

“Nonetheless, I am not riding on one of those critters,” Jim announced, flatly. “I’ll stick to the evil I know, rather than fly to that which I know nothing of.”

“You have no sense of adventure, Jim,” Ned laughed in delight. “I tell you, it’s a delightful experience – rather like rocking along in a row-boat on a mild swell … certain I cannot convince you to try it out? We’ll be away tomorrow at first light now that you are here and ready for traveling.” Ned hesitated, and then blurted, “I’m not really sure of why your fellows are detailed to join us. A Texas ranger, and a Delaware Indian, with a wet-behind-the-ears ensign and an old soldier like Owen; you must know that my fellows will be curious, having such an odd collection added on to our party at the last minute. We were supposed to test the camels, map out a good alternate road, and hurry along to California… you know, they have found gold there – and in amazing quantities, just this last autumn – and I know about secrecy and the security of missions and all that. I won’t ask your purpose in this, but the fellows will wonder. A word to the wise, Jim – have some convincing story to tell in answer to questions. For they will ask them, you know. Around the campfire of an evening.”

“Certainly,” Jim replied. “Should anyone ask of you – tell them that we are to recover certain records and items left in a cache on the banks of the Colorado, after the failure of the O’Neill expedition. The party was sent out at great expense, and following upon the disaster which cost the lives of so many – those records were left concealed for later recovery. Sergeant Owen is our guide in this, as he was one of that party, and Mr. Shaw serves as translator, should we encounter any of the local natives.”

Ned Beale nodded, comprehending. “Yes, that is a yarn which will convince. Although there will be embroideries upon it, trust me on that, Jim.”

Jim felt a sudden conviction that Ned was far cleverer and more diplomatic than he had let on. Best to change the subject, then. “Gold in California, you say? I had read of it, but thought it was only stories in the sensational press.”

“No,” Ned shook his head. “Tis all true about the gold. I brought the samples east myself, not three months ago. It is real and an amazingly rich find – so rich that every fortune-hunter in these States – and even farther afield – will be heading California-ward. No, strike that; Captain Reade, I am assured they will be heading to California even as we set out.”

“As long as they do not interfere with our mission,” Jim insisted, and Ned Beale laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Nor mine as well. I tell you, Jim – I do not hunger for riches, myself. Knowledge, experiences, the sight of new horizons… all that is worth more to me than any quantity of gold. Still, ‘tis curious. The Spanish came to this place, this new world, avid for gold. And found it, now and again in rich mines and taken from the native tribes in Mexico and Peru. But they never found it here, no matter how their conquistadores searched for the Seven Golden Cities, for Quivera, the greatest of them all. It is a curious coincidence that once their hold on these places in the northern continent was shattered … that a man building a humble saw-mill should find gold, gold in such quantities to beggar the imagination.”

“An irony, indeed.” Jim replied. Another thought occurred, as he and Ned watched the camels in their enclosure, walking to and fro with their particular swaying stride. “Ned, what do you think? What do you know of our Sergeant Owen? Is he a man to be trusted?”

“I honestly do not know,” Ned replied after a moment of considering silence. “I have heard nothing disparaging to his character. But he is an enlisted man, not an officer. Two worlds, Jim – to us of the profession of arms. I would trust him with my life and the lives of my men, based on his repute. But I do not know him, having never served with him, not as you have with Mr. Shaw.” He added, with a smile, “I do not know you, either, save that Colonel Hays, whose reputation as a commander of irregular soldiers is a byword – has vouched for you to the satisfaction of my own commander – and to my own.”

“Thank you, Ned,” Jim replied. “We’ll be ready in the morning. Mr. Shaw and I are accustomed to travel light and fast – although I cannot speak for our Army contingent.”

“They’d better be ready as well,” Ned chuckled. “Or they will be playing catch-up all the day.”

“We’ll be ready,” Jim said, and strolled away to the ramshackle and rambling quarters – a crude-built dog-trot cabin of logs, from which most of the chinking had already fallen, which the commander at Camp Verde felt to be all the hospitality necessary for visitors, important or not. Toby was already sitting outside of it, cross-legged in Indian fashion, contemplating the fading sunset, a blaze of red, purple and gold on the western horizon.

“We’re away in the morning,” Jim said, softly. There was a rough bench sitting on the bit of turf outside the cabin. He sank into it. He and Lt. Barnes were bunked for the night in one part of the cabin, Sergeant Owen and Toby in the other – although Toby, as was his usual habit, had taken his bedroll and spread it out underneath a generously sheltering oak nearby.

“We’re away at sunrise,” Jim told him, “Camels and all,” and Toby nodded.

“As I expected.”  He returned to his contemplation of the sunset. Very little surprised Toby. “James, do you think that we will find the missing Captain O’Neill? And that if we do – will he want to return?”

“Of course, we will find him,” Jim replied. “We’re Jack Hays’ finest stiletto-men. And he will wish to return – he is a white man, a soldier. Duty requires it. Why would he not?”

“I have been talking a little with young Barnes,” Toby replied. “He said that Captain O’Neill had a … fondness as a cadet for the tales of Fenimore Cooper, and a great interest in relics and weapons of my people, and those Others. Barnes says that he used to laugh at himself – saying that he was meant to be a wild Indian or an Arab corsair, but by mistake his soul was wrapped in the flesh and bones of a Christian. It struck young Barnes as curious, which is why young he remembered. If such is the case, your Captain may not wish to return, and what would we say to convince him?”

“I don’t know,” Jim replied. Yes, this was another dimension. “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it, I guess.” And yet another random thought occurred to him; his own instinctive dislike of Sergeant Owen. “Toby, do you remember that treacherous Englishman, Vibart-Jones – the one involved in the Wilkinson letters, and the matter of the Spanish treasure at San Saba? I am given to wonder if he has turned up again, in disguise. The man was an actor, after all. And at a squint, Sergeant Owen looks enough like him, and the age is right…”

“No, James,” Toby shook his head, very definitely. “They are not the same man, even though there is a likeness.”

“How can you be so certain?” Jim was diverted, but not convinced. Toby considered gravely, before replying. “Two things, James; things which no man can disguise through art or effort for very long. First, the lobes of Sergeant Owen’s ears are not attached to his head, but droop, separately, to the width of my thumb. Vibart the English spy – the lobes of his ears were narrow and attached. And have you not noticed how a man favors one hand over the other, for holding a pistol, a knife, a pen? Vibart the English spy favored his left hand. You and I, and Sergeant Owen, all favor our right hand. Sergeant Owen is not Vibart. He is who he claims to be, a soldier of long service in many lands. I would say we can trust him with our lives. Perhaps not with the good name and virtue of our sisters, though.” Toby added, with a grin.

 

In the cool of a dew-spangled morning, Ned Beale’s exploring party set off; twenty men and a dozen camels, most laden with half-a wagon load of gear, and led on a string by Walid Ali and his assistant, the mute Hassim.  Jim could not find the proper words to express how very strange and alien they looked – the long necks and longer legs, the oddly-humped bodies piled high with gear and supplies, plodding relentlessly along the track from Camp Verde to the north-west.

“They say that every one of them can carry more than four pack mules,” Young Joe Barnes observed in admiration, and Jim replied, “And smell worse than four pack mules, too. He had already agreed with Ned Beale that he, Toby and the others in their party would ride upwind of the camels on the trail, and picket their horses apart from them at night, although Ned assured him that their horses would eventually become accustomed to the odor and behavior of the beasts. Jim doubted that, profoundly; his own horse – normally a steady-tempered brown gelding turned jittery and restless whenever within sight and smell of the camels, his eyes showing white all the way around. The one pack mule that he and Toby shared was even more reluctant to associate with the camels. He could only hope that any curious Comanche with a taste for stealing exotic stock would be just as unsettled – and their own horses even more so.

Still, the first part of the journey was a relatively pleasant one; folk came out from their houses and fields, just to watch the camels amble past, and to cheer the Federal soldiers in their neat blue uniforms. At long last, perhaps there would be a relief from the dangers of Comanche war parties, striking deep into settled territory! They were invited to settle for the night in pleasant pastures, and more came to marvel at the gangling camels, and to offer hospitality, food, and drink to the soldiers – which was much appreciated. At one camping-place, an obliging Walid Ali clipped a fine harvest of hair from the camels, presenting the women of the locality with better than a bushel of coarse stuff, which they carried away in triumph, saying that they were going to spin it into yarn and knit stockings from it.

What Jim also appreciated – especially when it rained, or an unseasonable spring norther blew – was that among the burdens carried by the camels were several commodious canvas tents. They lived in some comfort, for the soldiers were most practiced at setting up the tents of an evening, and the baggage also included numerous items of folding camp furniture. One soldier in particular proved to be a most accomplished cook, for which all were grateful.

“He was detailed for that skill, let me assure you,” Ned Beale asserted. “French creole from New Orleans, prolly got a drop of the African in him, but he looks white enough, and so I don’t enquire too close. Best not, when someone is cooking the food you eat. Tastes prime, though – doesn’t it?”

“Best Army meal I’ve ever eaten,” Jim acknowledged – for it was. Corporal Fournier was indeed a masterful cook, commander of the cook-fire, the array of skillets and iron ovens deployed over them, the Army rations seasoned with spices and additions conjured up from his own private stores. Even the corporal’s corn-dodgers were amazing.

Even better, of an evening after a supper provided by the expert corporal were the yarns told around the fire, for the party proved to have some excellent spinners of same around them. Ned Beale, as a raconteur, ordinarily would have been a champion among them, but his stories of California and the fabled gold mines paled next to those told by Sergeant Owen, and most unexpectedly – by Walid Ali. The sergeant had an inexhaustible fund of stories, of his service in India for the British crown and the India Company; accounts of intrigue and spectacle, of Indian princes and princesses, clad in silks and jewels of incredible richness, of deeds of derring-do – most of which Sergeant Owen modestly averred had been those performed by other men, and of which he had only heard second-hand. Walid Ali also had stories; fantastical stories of the middle east, in which names of towns known in the Bible featured heavily; Damascus, Jerusalem, Babylon, and Antioch. Such enthralled the party, every evening, even the mute Hassim, who did not speak but apparently could understand English.

“Poor fellow,” Ned explained early on. “He’s from Baku on the Caspian Sea, so I was told – I’d guess that he is mostly Russian, or Crim Tatar. They say that the local Bey’s men cut out his tongue as a punishment for something or other. But he’s a hard worker, and does what we tell him. God knows, he could have finished up in worse conditions.”

02. July 2017 · Comments Off on Another Jim and Toby Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(Yes, I am writing a number of them simultaneously – for the next book of adventures, to be called “Lone Star Glory”. This is the set-up for one of them, to be entitled – Three Learned Men of Science.)

Three Learned Men of Science

“I have just gotten a letter from the president’s office, boys,” Jack Hays announced, on the afternoon that Jim and Toby returned from sorting out the murderous business of the Yoakum establishment at Pine Bayou. “So don’t get too comfortable. In a couple of days, you have to set out and meet a party of gentlemen at Copano and be their escort for the time that they are in Texas – no matter how long they choose to stay, or where they choose to go.”
“What does Dr. Jones have for us this time, Jack? And why do these gentlemen need the tender offices of your stiletto-men as wet-nurses?” Jim Reade hung his hat on one of the set of pegs by the door, and dropped into the nearest battered leather chair. Toby, hatless, settled with a barely-stifled groan of exhaustion onto the bearskin hearth-rug. The return from Pine Bayou had been broken by a short stay in Galveston, where Mrs. Reade had plied the two with the best food that her cook, Fat Nella, had to offer, and the very worst that she concocted with her own hands as a measure of affection for her son and his blood-brother.
“Because these gentlemen are foreigners, for one,” Jack chuckled. “And scientific representatives of his most royal majesty Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who according to Dr. Jones, intends to invest in Texas, through the medium of a consortium of noblemen. But before he sinks his noble cash in the venture, the Prince has sent three of his scientific advisors to survey the lay of the land, as it were. They will arrive with their retinue soon in Galveston, and come by coastal sloop to Copano to begin their survey.”
“We could have just stayed in Galveston and met them at the docks,” Jim stifled a yawn. Yes, and prolonged the stay with his parents, although he didn’t think he could endure much more of his mother’s disastrous attempts at baking turnovers, sweet biscuits and cakes.
“Indeed, but I did not know of their arrival before three days ago,” Jack unfolded the letter and spoke in his most reasonable and heartening tones. “And you can take a few days – but no more than three – before meeting these scientific gentlemen. You will know them, because they will be foreigners, of course. And my orders are that you should accompany them where they wish to go – and to keep them from serious trouble. There is money for the Republic involved – a thing that we are desperately short of – if they produce a favorable report.”
“Yes, we haven’t been paid in money in months,” Toby contributed from his comfortable position on the hearth-rug. “Over and above our expenses. Not that I keep count of your white man conventions.”
“At some point, all accounts will be squared,” Jack replied, ignoring the snort of skeptical derision from the hearthrug. “As men of intelligent creativity, I know that you can manage it. Prince Frederick William – or his secretary – was thoughtful enough to send their names and qualifications in his letter to Dr. Jones.”
“Give it to us now,” Jim sighed. “So that we can become accustomed to the notion of being bear-leaders to the servants of a foreign prince.”
“All right, then,” Jack’s grin broadened. “The senior of our scientific trio is the eminent botanist, Herr Professor Manfred von Brockdorff, who rejoices in the title of Graf von Brockdorff. The equally eminent geologist Dietmar Kraus is not a noble – a mere professor. And Herr Doctor Theodore Maier is a real medical doctor and surgeon, seconded from service with the Prussian army.”
“Well … they sound like a much better class of folk than the Yoakums,” Jim remarked, after taking all this in. “And they can’t possibly be any more difficult than thieves, murderers, and dog-stealers.”
“We would hope, brother,” Toby answered, but not as if he really had any real conviction.

A week later, the coastal sloop Eliza arrived and tied up at one of the three wharves at Copano. Jim and Toby had brought a handful of three horses and a pair of pack mules, staying in the house of Joseph Plummer while they waited the arrival of the Eliza. There was much excitement among the regular residents of the tiny hamlet, upon hearing that Jim and Toby were there to escort some important foreign visitors.
“A titled gentleman, you don’t say?” exclaimed the Widow Jackson, a handsome matron of about forty, who kept a tiny boarding establishment in her cottage of shell concrete, which had a view of Copano Bay from a garden planted thick with flowering cosmos, potatoes and herbs. “Well, I never!”
“You would if he offered, like a gentleman,” Joe Plummer added with a leer and the Widow Jackson ruffled like an angry hen, told him to keep a civil tongue in his head and flounced away to speak to Mrs. Plummer, although she cast indignant glances over her shoulder now and again. Joe Plummer chuckled coarsely, and remarked in a lower voice,
“Becky Jackson is tired of the single life, and on the prowl for another husband. I’d say beware, but you two fellows are a mite young for her taste. She wants an older man, one with a sizeable … property and a solid profession. Better tell your foreign fellows to steer clear, or she’ll have them in her man-trap before you can blink.”
Toby and Jim exchanged glances; Toby’s expression one of amusement, and Jim’s of mild horror.
“It might not be so bad,” Toby ventured, in judicial consideration. “Is she a good cook?”
“One of the best, I’d have to admit,” Joe Plummer admitted. “And pleasant-tempered, mostly. Old Ezra – her last husband – he had a good appetite for her vittles; everyone at his funeral say he was laid out with a smile on his face and a gut almost too big for the coffin.”

But there was no smile on the faces of anyone, when the Eliza tied up, that afternoon. And as far as Jim could see, the deck was piled high with bundles, crates and trunks – surely too much for the five men who strode off the sloop as soon as the gangplank was secured. There was a sixth man also – who seemed to be giving directions to the sailors and deckhands ready to unload the sloop.
“We may need more than two mules, brother,” Toby whispered. “If all that is theirs – and I do not see any other passengers.”
“We’ll work out something,” Jim murmured in an aside, as three men were in hearing distance and bearing down, with the other two lurking in the background. Those two – both young, fit, and under arms had a soldierly bearing about them. Jim rather wished that he had brought some of the other stiletto-men with him, even someone like Creed Taylor or Albert Biddle. Jack himself would have been a solid addition to the reception committee. Instead, he braced his shoulders and addressed his remarks to the tallest and most important-appearing of the gentlemen bearing down upon him.
“If I am addressing the Graf von Brockdorff – I welcome you again to Texas, sir. Jim Reade, Esquire, and Toby Shaw of the Delaware Nation. We have been sent by my commander, Captain Hays and President Anson Jones of the Republic of Texas to assist you as might be needed…”
“Reade?” the gentleman demanded; a burly and choleric sort, with a countenance scarred with several straight slashes which suggested he had fought with bladed weapons on a regular basis. “Hah – are those all the horses you have brought? Clearly, we will need more than that. Brockdorff – at your service.” He crushed Jim’s hand, nodded briskly towards Toby, who was doing his best to be at one with the immediate surroundings. “We will require a place to stay, while our belongings are unloaded. My servant Achterberg will see to that. My compatriots; Professor Kraus, Doctor Meier … Achterberg!” he bellowed over his shoulder, and Jim started. That was an authoritative and noble bellow if he had ever heard one. “Fuchs! Haun! Attend!”
The other gentlemen of science stood half a pace back at Brockdorff’s elbow, and Jim was aware of a sinking feeling as he introduced himself.
“Maier,” said the first; a thin and youngish man, but wearing thick glasses, which magnified watery blue eyes.
“Certainly,” Jim replied. A medical doctor, and a near-sighted one. Well – this would turn out well.
“Herr Professor Kraus,” announced the third man, in an over-loud voice. He was of middle-age, slender and lanky. His handshake was strong, his fingers callused like a working man’s. “I am greatly anticipating the pleasure of exploring the particular geology of your sedimentary formations.” A heavy coat hung on him like clothing on a scarecrow, the pockets of it weighted down with heavy objects. One of them, Jim noticed, was a large hearing trumpet. “Pleased,” Jim replied, wondering if this meant that Professor Kraus meant that he was going to search Jim’s coat pockets or something
“You will have to speak up,” Professor Maier said, when Jim introduced himself to the professor. “Kraus is very hard of hearing.”
“Never eat herring, gives me gas,” Professor Kraus announced. “Please to meet you, young man, although I didn’t catch your name. Where then are we to stay, Brockdorff, while our supplies and equipment are being unloaded?”
“We have made arrangements for your party at the boarding house of Mrs. Jackson – a very respectable widow,” Jim replied; as hers was the only house with sufficient room for guests to actually sleep in beds, rather than in a pallet on the floor of the verandah. “We did not expect … such a large party, sirs…”
“Avoid parties,” Professor Kraus grunted. “Waste of time, flouncing around when I have work to do.”
“We reduced our necessary entourage to the minimum,” von Brockdorff replied, vaguely perplexed. “Only Achterberg and the two soldiers as guards…”
Twice as many has had been expected, Jim thought – although Jack had said something about an entourage. He had definitely not mentioned the steadily growing pile of trunks, crates and bales. A scientific expedition; and he would have thought that such would have started with little, and concluded with much. As it was, this expedition was commencing with much – and what it would conclude with was anyone’s guess.
“We’ll make arrangements,” Jim answered, determinedly cheerful, although he murmured in an aside to Toby, “We’ll have to hire a wagon and teams, then. Who in Copano has such for hire?”

“Why, bless my soul – I do!” exclaimed a beaming Widow Jackson. “And my son, young Corb to drive it! I’m sure we can come to some proper arrangement – you leave that to me, young Mister Reade. Oh, my stars!” she looked down from the gate. “These furriner gents don’t travel light, do they? I’ll have to rustle up a place for them sojers of theirs to sleep.” She bustled away, leaving Jim and Toby to look at each other.
“That is one thing accomplished then, James.” Toby ventured. “So – have we any sense of where the gentlemen wish to travel?”
“North to the frontier,” Jim sighed. “And then east as far as the pine woods, then down the Brazos towards Galveston. It’s to be a wandering journey, allowing them to survey the land and make collections of plants and what-not. Von Brockdorff is also an accomplished artist and draftsman; he says he is to make a detailed record to guide Prince Frederick William and his friends. They plan a leisurely two or three months at this. I had better start drafting my first report to Jack and let him know the plan.”

(to be continued. Of course.)

26. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Near-Forgotten Man · Categories: Old West

Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was a prominent 19th century hero, a celebrity, almost; a military officer, war hero, notable horseman and explorer, hero of the western frontier, good friend of several other notable frontiersmen, friend of one president, and appointed to offices of responsibility by four others – and those offices varied quite widely in scope. He was also a champion of the Native American tribes, prominent in Washington high society for decades, and seemed to lurk meaningfully in the background of key historical events at mid-19th century. Curiously, his name doesn’t readily spring to mind more than a hundred years after his death; the most prominent places bearing his name being Beale Street in San Francisco, and Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville in north-central California. One would think for all his various services to the nation and for his vast array of prominent and still-famous friends that he would be more of a household name. Perhaps he was for a while – but four decades or more of politically-correct restructuring of American history have elevated some, and reduced others to mere footnotes in dusty journals.

Beale as a young midshipman

Ned Beale was born in 1822, in Washington D.C. – the capitol of a nation barely half-a-century old, to parents with connections to the American Navy. His father was a paymaster for the service, his mother the daughter of one of the first six commanders appointed by President Washington to head the new US Navy. So, it was only natural, when after the death of his father, Ned Beale was appointed to the Naval School in Philadelphia, a precursor to Annapolis. Upon graduation from the school in 1842, he was commissioned as a midshipman, and made voyages to the Indies, South America, and Russia. Three years later he was assigned to the Pacific Squadron, the command of Robert Stockton; an able and trusted officer, who had – as Beale himself would later have in his own career – the trust of presidents, and the friendship of the influential. Beale served as Stockton’s aide and private secretary; they were part of the American delegation to Texas when the Texas Congress formally accepted annexation to the United States.

Beale’s next assignment for Stockton was – not to put too fine a point on it – a spy, ordered to conceal his nationality and sail on a Danish ship to England, to suss out British feelings and possible war preparations over the contentious matter of the Oregon boundary. Barely having completed that assignment and reported his findings to President Polk, Beale was sent off hotfoot with dispatches to rejoin Captain Stockton, whose flagship happened to be in Peru at that moment. This necessitated that Beale make the journey by sea to Panama, cross the Isthmus and make his way to Peru – all this a kind of 19th century precursor to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Stocktons’ ship detoured to Hawaii, and arrived in harbor at Monterey, California in July, 1846. War between the United States and Mexico had already begun. The Pacific Squadron’s orders, in that eventuality, were to seize those ports along the Pacific coast – especially those in California. Stockton set about doing so with zeal and efficiency. Ned Beale was detached to serve with a US Army column which had come at speed overland from Fort Scott on the Missouri-Mississippi under the command of General Stephen Kearny. Briefly pausing to take Santa Fe, and New Mexico for the US, Kearney’s advanced column – guided by Kit Carson — arrived in California out of breath and weakened after a marathon march of 2,000 miles across country. Kearney’s advance party, augmented with sailors and Marines from the Pacific Squadron clashed with Californio-Mexican volunteers and Mexican presidial cavalry at San Pasqual, near San Diego. Both sides claimed a victory – although Kearney’s force suffered the heavier losses, they eventually took San Diego, and Ned Beale was one of the heroes. Two months after the San Pasqual fight, he was sent east with dispatches. Over the next two years, he made six cross-continental journeys on official business; one of them in disguise to make a short-cut through Mexico to bring irrefutable proof of the tremendous gold strike in the California foothills at Coloma to the federal government. Amid these expeditions, he found the time and energy to marry; the daughter of a politician from Pennsylvania, Mary Edwards, and sire three children with her.

Beale resigned his naval commission in 1851, but in no way was he done with the far west, or assignments of great import to the federal government. He returned briefly to California, to manage properties owned there by his mentor, Commodore Stockton. On his way west, he squeezed in a spot of surveying for a transcontinental rail line through present-day Colorado to Los Angeles. Two years later, he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in California and Nevada. Thereafter Ned Beale spent a hectic decade exploring and surveying the west, establishing a wagon road between Fort Defiance, New Mexico to a point on the Colorado River between Arizona and California – the initial phase of this project involved another project of interest to the Army – the Camel Corps. He proved to be a champion of camels in the far west; when the Camel Corps was formally disbanded at the end of the Civil War, Beale purchased some of the surplus camels and kept them at his vast California ranch property. The camels also served in a later Beale expedition to extend the road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River. That same route was later followed by the Santa Fe railway, US Route 66 and the present day I-40.

In 1871, Ned Beale purchased a mansion in Washington, DC – Decatur House, notable for being almost next-door to the White House, and entertained a wide variety of guests there over the following years – guests including U. S. Grant, and prominent members of his administration. He spent one year as ambassador to Austria-Hungary, and made as much of a social splash in Vienna as he had in Washington. Doubt less his experiences on the far-west frontier – which by that point was almost legendary – coupled with his considerable diplomatic skills and ability to earn the trust of important people had a lot to do with that success.

His final years were spent between Decatur House, the California ranch, and a horse farm called Ash Hill, close to Washington. He died at Decatur House in 1893, a few years shy of the twentieth century. Sailor, soldier, spy, surveyor, explorer, diplomat, rancher, man about town – and a fine judge of horseflesh. Not many men of his time could quite equal that resume in every particular.
(Ned Beale is set to appear as a character in the next Lone Star Sons book – Lone Star Glory, which I hope to bring out by November, 2017.)

06. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Start of Another Lone Star Sons Aventure · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(And I promise that I will finish this one!)

Into the Wilds

“I came as soon as I received your message,” Toby Shaw arrived at the Bullock House in Austin where Jack Hays and Jim Reade had taken rooms while they awaited the arrival of Jim’s trusted fellow ‘stiletto man’ on before the meeting with Governor Wood. The stage from Fort Belknap delivered Toby promptly on the third day after their arrival; Toby resplendent in a well-cut suit, fashionable cravat, and white shirt – his long braids the only jarring note in his otherwise conventional appearance. “What is so important regarding this task that we are both bidden to Austin?”

“I have no idea,” Jim answered. “Colonel Hays has been remarkably close-mouthed on that score … as always.”

“Part of my ingratiating personal charm,” Jack replied, with a hearty handshake. “Sit down, sit down … and I have no notion of the purpose myself. I know – difficult to credit. But I’ve been away for months, and had a war with Mexico to win, so I’ve lost touch with the day to day of things. I’ve organized a private supper, so that we can catch up – and not set gossiping tongues to wagging. Since it is the Governor himself driving this … I can only speculate that it is something to do with the United States.”

“Of which we are now one, since Annexation,” Jim pointed out. “And with the US Army to see to our security – what purpose do we have now? Toby and I, and your handful of other stiletto fellows?”

“Oh, there are purposes,” Jack replied. “One or two, still left to us as Rangers. I believe that the governor will be prompt in relieving all our curiosity tomorrow morning. We are bidden to a private conference at nine of the clock at the capitol building, and not to breath a word to anyone of this. It appears to be an extremely sensitive matter.”

“Aren’t all of them?” Jim raised an eyebrow. Jack laughed, and then his expression turned melancholy.

“Most of them, I think. I fear that the feats performed by my stiletto-men Rangers will never be made public; only recorded in certain dusty archives and locked in a sturdy iron safe for all eternity.”

“Well, we didn’t get into it for the glory, did we, Toby?” Jim shrugged philosophically. “We did it for … because it was in the cause of justice.” His blood-brother laughed, replying, “Justice, in the way of your courts, James-Reade-Esquire? We perform our tasks because it is right to do. If the Great Spirit alone knows – why then, what does it matter to us?”

“Well-said, boys,” Jack regarded the two with approval, and Jim thought that he looked … well, wearier and older. The brief sharp war with Mexico had aged their commander. A fair number of his old Ranger comrades had fallen in that field; Addison Gillespie and Sam Walker dead on campaign, and one of his oldest Ranger associates sidelined by wounds and walking away when his final enlistment was done. But it was as if Jack intuited that thought of Jim’s – for he smiled immediately, and exclaimed,

“I know the cooking at Bullock’s isn’t a patch on the market ladies in Bexar with their pots of good red stew – but I have an appetite tonight! Shall we swap stretchers about what we all have been up to since the last time we met?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Jim answered – and so the evening passed agreeably enough, especially since Jack produced a bottle of good bourbon whiskey – “From Kentucky, a gift from a good friend!” Jack insisted, although Jim had suspicions, since the bottle was absent any label. And Toby foreswore any of it, unless well-diluted with water, saying only that although he was not of the temperance persuasion, and not adverse entirely towards a jolly evening with old friends, he did not care to partake of liquor at full-strength.

 

In the morning, Jack, Toby and Jim strolled the short way up Congress Street to the frame capitol building which edifice crowned the top of the hill – a commanding height in Austin, which had been built in a fair and parklike meadow, dotted by copses of noble oak and cypress trees, and threaded through with creeks of clear water. Now the heights to north and south of the great silver sweep of the Colorado River looked down upon a city invigorated by the peace which followed on the successful prosecution of a war, and the consummation of a marriage between an independent Texas and the United States; a marriage which canny old General Sam Houston had labored to arrange for ten long and bitter years. Still, Jim slightly regretted the surrender of a state of independency. It meant that the Rangers were no longer needed; now the US Army, dressed in their fine blue coats and commanded by gold-braid-hung officers would be responsible for the frontier … and for those matters of security which had been Jack’s particular responsibility. Perhaps his term as one of Jack’s stiletto-men was also at an end, a matter about which he was in two minds. His father was old – still vigorous in the practice of law, and their joint practice in Galveston gave every sign of being lively and prosperous, could Jim only pay considerable more of his time and energies to it.

If Toby felt something of the same regrets, he gave no sign of it, as they crossed the porch of that white-washed frame building which served as the capital, and stood in the entryway. The door stood halfway open to a hallway. They were a few minutes early, by Jim’s stout hunter watch. Without hesitation, Jack thumped on the door panel with his fists, and called,

“Say, anyone at home? I’m Colonel Hays, and we have an appointment with Governor Wood.”

“At least I didn’t have my heart seat on a grand reception,” Jim remarked, and Toby – standing at several paces behind, peered over Jack’s shoulder, saying, “Maybe we should ask that soldier?”

Hearing those words, a stocky, grizzled man in US Army blue sprang from a seat at the foot of the stairs, straightening into something resembling attention, and rendering a crisp salute. His sleeves bore a satisfactory number of stripes, testifying to the utter solidity of the man and his value to the federal Army.

“Colonel Hays, sah! I was told to expect you at any moment.  The gentlemen are waiting upstairs. If you and your good gentlemen would be so kind as to follow after me. The General is a man who esteems punctuality.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Jack returned the salute with a nod, never having been much of one for military protocol and the practice thereof. “Have you any notion of what this is about, Sergeant …”

“Grayson, sah – and I do, but I have been given the strictest of orders, straight from the General, which the Senator hisself approved in the next breath.”

“I expect that it is a matter of national importance then?” Jim ventured, as they climbed the stairs, and Sergeant Grayson looked over his shoulder at them. Jim wondered why the man seemed so … familiar, and in a way that suggested a previous encounter had not been a pleasant one.

“In a manner o’ speaking. But if you ken the matter properly – there is a touch o’ the personal as well. And to more than just to the Senator. But,” Sergeant Grayson recovered his sense of discretion, a sense which warred against the propensity of non-coms to pass along interesting gossip and suppositions. “I should say no more, properly. But it is personal to me as well. Captain O’Neill was … well, he was one of the good ones.” Ah – English; Jim made a note to himself, and a reminder to conceal at all costs his instinctive dislike of the man. Grayson was an Englishman; in appearance and manner very like that English agent who had been involved in the matter of the old Casa Wilkinson … and more balefully, in the lost San Saba Treasure.

“Captain O’Neill?” Toby looked across at Jim, as they followed Jack and Sergeant Grayson up the stairs at a discreet distance. “What of this – and what to do with us, James Reade Esquire?”

“I can’t be certain,” Jim whispered back. “But if he means Captain Brendan O’Neill – and I am thinking that he must – the Captain was one of the rising bright stars in the Army, if the newspapers have it right. A favored child of fortune, as my father would put it. A graduate of West Point, although his background was hardly favorable, being the child of poor Irish immigrants. He was taken prisoner briefly in fighting in Monterray, but made a daring escape to our lines on the city outskirts. Feted all around Washington and promoted for his trouble. Then he was given command of an expedition into the western territories, even before they were turned over as part of the peace settlement.”

“Ah then,” Toby whispered, as Sergeant Grayson approached a door at the head of the stairs. “He was favored by the great chiefs to lead a war party.”

“Not a war party,” Jim corrected him. “Rather a party of exploration – to make maps of land features, find natural roads, and make friends with the Indian tribes, in the expectation of making allies among them.”

“A far-thinking notion,” Toby nodded. “Most uncharacteristic of what I have seen so far of the Yengies. What has this matter to do with us?”

“Likely because he never came back from it,” was all that Jim could say before Sergeant Grayson rapped briefly on the closed door at the top of the stairs. At a word from inside, Sergeant Grayson opened the door and announced in a stentorian voice reminiscent of a parade ground, “Colonel Hays, with…”

“Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw,” Jack stepped through the door, while Jim winced. Yes, a captaincy was a nice thing to have, but it was more for a show of authority – a courtesy title, rather than an actual rank. On the other hand, he reflected as he followed Jack and regarded the four men within, it was a small but significant thing, in their eyes.

14. May 2017 · Comments Off on Elsie the Cow and the Alamo · Categories: Domestic, Old West

Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

24. December 2016 · Comments Off on A Christmas Eve Story: Father Christmas and the Provost · Categories: Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
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22. December 2016 · Comments Off on The Golden Road – Holiday Offer! · Categories: Book Event, Old West

Because we did not get the box of print copies of The Golden Road until the very last market day, I have now have an unsold stock of them. So – I am offe9780989782289-Perfect.inddring those copies for a holiday special:
A copy of The Golden Road, at the special price that I would have had at the recent Christmas markets, with personal message and autograph, mailed to your address as soon as the holidays allow. Sample chapter at the link –

Payable through Paypal, and sent at media rate with tracking number through the US Post Office.

 


The Golden Road



$13.00 + $3.00 S/H

28. September 2016 · Comments Off on Just for Fun – A Musical Interlude · Categories: Old West

Behold – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in Concert!

28. September 2016 · Comments Off on A Fine Finish · Categories: Book Event, Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

Well, hallelujah and hurrah, I finally finished out the final draft of The Golden Road which was conceptualized something like five years ago when I mentally mapped out another trilogy-companion set to the Adelsverein Trilogy. Yes, there would be a book about Margaret Becker Vining Williamson, which would slot into the sequence as a prelude to the trilogy – and that took two books to bring to completion. (She was a fascinating character, who saw a lot of Texas history either happen right before her eyes, or just around the corner and out of sight.) There would be a book following on to the Trilogy – the Quivera Trail, which would pick up with Dolph Becker’s English wife and her travails in a new and alien country. And – in between the first and second Adelsverein volumes, there would be the Gold Rush adventures of Magda Vogel Becker’s young step-brother, Fredi Steinmetz. Fredi appeared as a minor character with some brief dramatic turns in the plot. He had gone to California following the rush for gold … but was never forthcoming about what he had done and seen there, between the settling of Gillespie County and the start of the Civil War. I always wanted to write a Gold Rush adventure somewhat like The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, or so I told myself … but it kept being put on the back burner, metaphorically-speaking. I bashed out the two books about Margaret, and then Quivera Trail … for a good bit, I was actually writing them simultaneously. When I got bored or stuck, I’d work on the other. Which is a good method, as long as one is equally motivated. And then I wandered off-track.

First it was Lone Star Sons, then I got taken up with Sunset and Steel Rails – in which Fredi appeared as an older man, a hard-bitten, yet courtly romantic interest for a heroine who chose (through a series of dramatic circumstances) to be a Harvey Girl – and then by the ongoing Luna City Chronicles. Really, I wonder just how much I did want to write a Gold Rush adventure after all, since it kept getting back-burnered so frequently. I posted the first chapter in January, 2014 – but two years in the writing is about par for me, in a historical. So – actually not all that bad in the actual writing and research. So – finally roughed out, start to finish, send to the beta readers, and now to buckle down again with the various contemporary accounts collected. Lot of blanks to fill in – where, for example, was Mary Ellen Pleasant’s boarding house/restaurant in 1856-57? What were the names of express companies in operation in the northern diggings in that same year? How far degraded had the riverbank of the middle fork of the Yuba River become by that same period? Had that vicinity pretty well been overtaken by hydraulic mining – in which whole hillsides were washed away by huge gets of water. And how – exactly were daily newspapers distributed in San Francisco. I am certain that subscribers must have had theirs delivered, and equally certain that they were also sold on the streets … anyway, back to work.

The fall book event schedule carries on this Saturday with the Boerne Book Festival in Boerne, at the Patrick Heath Library, a little off Main Street at Johns Road, just past Main Plaza Park. I’ll be set up in the park and amphitheater by the side of the library – hope to see you there! When the market schedule lets up, after Christmas, I will turn to working on two more book projects – another Lone Star Sons adventure, and the 4th Luna City Chronicle for release in late 2017.

25. July 2016 · 1 comment · Categories: Old West

This is absolutely awesome – this particular find, since it falls just within the scope of the current WIP. A whole Mississippi/Missouri-era steamship, with a cargo of goods intended for frontier settlements, sunk in the mid-1850s with cargo entire, There are so many artifacts retrieved, that they have to display them in an old department store, and take advice from retail…

Behold – the Steamship Arabia! (or a reasonable facsimile thereof.)

Steamship Arabia