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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

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on A Further Chapter: The Golden Road · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

(So, I have been able to pick up the story of Fredi Steinmetz, adventuring in Gold-Rush era California, having finished some other projects and the second Chronicle of Luna City. He and his eccentric and slightly mysterious friend O’Malley have spent an eventful two months in San Francisco, waiting for winter to end in the diggings, working at odd jobs, encountering interesting people, and making friends – among them, an apparent orphan boy of about 14, Edwin Barnett … whose history might just be the equal of O’Malley’s for mystery and intrigue. But Edwin knows of a potentially rich dig in the lower Sierras … and so he becomes a third partner …) 

Chapter 12 – To the Mines

The wagon packed high with supplies, a canvas tent and bedrolls, as well as a contraption that Edwin said was a ‘cradle’,  O’Malley and Fredi finally departed from San Francisco on a foggy morning early in May. They took deck passage on a relatively comfort-less and therefore cheap freight steamboat bound to Sacramento and beyond as far as Yuba City for the wagon, mules, and themselves. With some difficulty they urged the mules over a wide gangplank laid between wharf and the blunt prow of the boat, drawing the wagon after, and found an open space between the neat piles of fuel cordwood and bales of goods bound for the mines, which were stacked on the main deck. Edwin Barnett with Nipper in his arms, clung to a high perch on top of the cargo, as the side-wheel steamer threshed out into the bay, heading north towards Vallejo and the old territorial capital at Benicia, and from there into the tangled delta of the American River. It was estimated they would be a week or so at this – a considerable savings in time over driving the wagon all the way. The patchwork heights of San Francisco and the forests of ships’ masts in harbor vanished very soon in a billow of fog. Within a short way, every surface was wetted with condensation, collecting in beads of moisture. The slight vibration of the mighty steam turbine below deck shook rivulets of water from every slanting surface. It felt to Fredi like the beating of a mighty heart. O’Malley, the boys and the dog huddled in blankets, under the dripping wagon cover, and the mules stood miserable with their noses together.
“This is the first time I have ever been on a steam ship,” Fredi’s excitement at this new experience overcame the misery of passage across the open bay.
“I’m glad to be away from there, Fredi-boyo,” O’Malley confessed. “Between the crimps kidnapping men off the street, an’ murdering swine like that devil Cora, not to mention the fires and the constant pestilential weather … I dinna care to stay a moment longer. There’s a feeling in the city like a storm about to break – a dangerous mood, when honest, well-intentioned men are becoming fed to the back-teeth with corruption and vice. There’s murder in the air, an’ I want none of it.”
“Mr. King was always carrying a revolver, there were so many threats against him for what he printed in the Bulletin,” Fredi nodded in agreement. He had been half-appalled, yet tantalized by the chaotic, haphazard life of a large city, the like of which he had never experienced before. The seamy, vice-ridden waterfront district, the haphazard tents and shanties climbing up the sandy slopes of Russian Hill, muddy streets, magnificent gambling halls and theaters, jousting uncomfortably with the respectability of churches and luxurious mansions, all hung over with the smoldering threat of violence … and fire. Sober Yankee businessmen, elbow to elbow with edgy chivalric gentlemen from the South, Chileans and Chinamen, Kanakas from the Islands of Hawaii, sailors from every nation, swaggering thugs, straight off the latest ship from the Australian prison colonies – and madmen in plenty, most of them mad for gold. Nothing in Fredi’s previous life had ever prepared him for this, not the cattle trail from Texas, or the staid and orderly streets of Fredericksburg, back in Gillespie County.
“It’s not like there is any more law in the diggings,” Edwin now said, morosely. “There are brigands and bandits and claim-jumpers a’plenty.”
“For certain there are,” O’Malley said, agreeably. “But they are few and go against the company of righteous men – they have not suborned the law to feather well their own nests. So, tell us, now – there are rich diggings in the hills between … which river is it?”
“Between the middle and north forks of the Yuba River,” Edwin nodded, rubbing the end of his nose with the back of his sleeve. “They called it Coarse Gold Hill, sometimes Pine Tree Diggings … it’s far enough up into the mountains beyond Camptonville, to where the snow closes down the diggings in late fall.”
“And you know of rich diggings because …” O’Malley hinted broadly and Edwin replied, “I had kinfolk with a claim there. A rich one … which still ought to be mine, by right. But it has been left for months …” and Edwin’s pale, peaked face was adult in its adamantine determination. “But I know where the best and most promising part of the diggings lie – and if we are the first to reclaim and stake our own claim … this will be worth the journey. I promise you fellows …” Edwin blushed, boy-like, and embraced Nipper even closer, as if for security, and Nipper, who above all else hated cold and wet with an uncharacteristic passion for a dog, licked the lad’s cheek, and burrowed deeper into the shelter of the blanket wrapped around them both. Edwin continued, “You are both stout fellows and have been good friends to me, so a third each of the gold in this claim; that would be fair, would it not? And we are good friends, aren’t we … three in fortune and friendship, like the royal musketeers in that French novel of M. Dumas … All for one and one for all?”
“We are indade, boyo,” O’Malley answered, comfortably, “Although Fredi-lad and I have been true companions these many months … to admit another to our fellowship – especially a trusty fellow with knowledge of the mines – is a most providential occurrence. You have a skill, complimentary to mine and Fredi’s. So you see, we shall get on very well, I believe. Even more when we get out from this pestilential fog. My oath upon it, lads – there is nothing to equal this fog and misery, not even in old Eire…” More »

This was on the grounds of the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture – which as it turns out – is a little bit off the road from where we go once a month for the local Tractor Supply outlet; a lovely meadow dotted with oak trees, patches of wildflowers, and old houses, moved onto the property to be an indoor-outdoor museum.

10. December 2015 · Comments Off on Another Toby and Jim Story! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(All righty then — the beginning of the second set of Lone Star Sons stories! Attend, then – for here I will post another set of adventures over the next few months as the Tiny Publishing Bidness and the other WIP allow…)

Murder Being Once Done

“Something eating at you, hoss – since you got that letter from Galveston?” Jack asked, on a bitter-cold winter evening. Out in the Plaza at the heart of old Bexar, the ice-chilled north winds had swept those tables set up by the most enterprising of the red-pepper stew vendors clear of hungry diners, and all but the most desperate of them had gone home. Every citizen of that town who had a hearth to call their own – no matter how plain, tiny or humble, had retreated to the warmth of a good fire of sweet-smelling mesquite logs. Between missions, as assigned by their captain, Jim and Toby roomed in the small adobe house at the edge of the plaza, near the squat stone tower of San Fernando – the tallest building in town – and stabled their horses in the ramshackle building behind it. Jack, sometime commander of Texas Rangers was not an exception to the general rule on this winter evening. Jim Reade and his blood-brother, Toby Shaw of the Delaware people, shared his dislike of the cold on this evening; between them, they had spent all too many cold nights, shivering and shelter-less on various journeys and campaigns.

“Only puzzlement,” Jim replied, closing the volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries which lay open on his knee. The fire burning on the tiny plastered hearth and the tin candle-sconce between them barely put out sufficient light for him to make sense of the tiny print. “The letter is from my father … he has been asked by an acquaintance in Galveston for advice on a deeply personal matter, and he in turn has asked my advice – having none other to confide in, other than my dear mother. She is interested as the matter concerns the death of a woman, a woman that she knew – but not well, since the woman in question was much younger and resident in Galveston only for a year or so. It is not a matter of interest for the Rangers, or the State,” he added hastily, seeing Jack begin to frown. “A matter of law and conscience … and doubts.”

“There are always doubts, my Brother, when it concerns a matter of concern to women,” Toby added, from where he sat on the shabby hearth-rug, cross-legged in Indian fashion, leaning against the side of the box which held more wood for the hearth. “And what does this woman herself say of the matter?”

“Nothing much, since she is dead and laid in her grave this last half-year,” Jim replied. “The matter – as my father outlined it to me – is that her widower wishes to marry again, having settled upon a likely candidate for matrimony. The young lady so honored is not yet completely invested in the prospect of matrimony – at least, not with the man who has asked for her hand. Her guardians are even less eager to see their ward hand-fasted to him … hence their consultation with my father.”

“So, what is the problem, precisely?” Jack puffed on his pipe in a desultory manner, and laying it aside, looked into the fire; small orange and gold flames, dancing along the logs, bright spurts appearing as brilliant sparks.

“Certain remarks made to their ward by the man who courts her have cast considerable doubt on his fitness as a husband in their minds,” Jim replied, and frowned. He had spent some hours considering his father’s letter, teasing out from those brief words some sense of the puzzling reality hinted at, and from what he recalled of reports of a certain trial published in the Telegraph & Texas Register some months previous. It was not any surprise that Jack would have noticed his abstracted state of mind – Jack was like that. Not much got past him.

Now Jack drawled, “For the love of the almighty, Jim – don’t tell me that Johnathon Knightley is going courting again, after being acquitted from a charge of murdering his wife on the grounds of self-defense?”

“The very same,” Jim sighed. No curious event occurring the length and breadth of the Republic escaped Jack’s attention for very long. On those shreds of information made, Jack had divined the very essence of the matter. “It was a terrific to-do among the folk in Galveston,” he added for Toby’s benefit, as the latter looked extremely puzzled. “There was this man and his wife, who kept a tavern and let rooms to travelers – they were new-come to town, from … where was it?”

More »

30. November 2015 · Comments Off on The Judge, His Bowie Knife, the Duel and the Femme Fatale · Categories: Old West

Judge David Smith Terry

Judge David Smith Terry

David Smith Terry was truly a man of his time and place – Texas and California in the early to mid-19th century. He possessed a large portion of the same intelligence, ambition, and physical courage which distinguished many of his contemporaries, as young men in tumultuous times. Alas, such qualities were offset by a pig-headed conviction of his own righteousness, a boiling-hot temper readily provoked to violence, and one more weakness, which would eventually prove fatal to David Smith Terry; he was all too ready to act on impulse without regard for consequence.

He was of a generation born into a relatively new country, with no memory of colonial rule by Britain, or the revolution itself, save perhaps for passed-down recollections of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, who had both fought in it with distinction. David S. Terry was the second of four sons of Clinton Terry and Sarah Smith Terry. The Terry marriage does not appear to have been a particularly successful one; they separated in 1835, when David Terry would have been about eight years old. Sarah Terry must have been a woman of spirit and determination, for she moved with her four sons to Texas in that same year, apparently hoping to retrieve some portion of respectability and income which had been lost through her husband’s mismanagement – mismanagement which must have been on a fairly epic scale to leave her in possession of their remaining property and custody of their sons. She and her sons established a plantation west of the present-day city of Houston, where they planted cotton and waited for prosperity to bless them once more. Instead, Sarah Terry died, shortly thereafter, leaving her sons – the oldest, Benjamin being fifteen, and David thirteen – essentially orphaned in the war and rebellion which followed.

David, large for his age and already impetuous, enlisted in Sam Houston’s army of Texans at Gonzales, following the fall of the Alamo. Reputedly, he fought at San Jacinto with considerable distinction. When Texas won a shaky independence by Houston’s victory, David S. Terry returned home to the cotton plantation – but not for long. He took up the study of law in the office of a relative by marriage, was admitted to the bar and practiced in Galveston for some years. He was described as a tall, handsome gentleman, solidly built, with steel-grey eyes under heavy brows, and sandy hair brushed back from a high forehead. He sported chin-whiskers but no mustache. Naturally rather reserved, he could be animated in conversation when the topic interested him, and very good company. He identified passionately as a man of Southern sympathies and as a Texan; to that end, he usually carried a sheathed hunting knife of the design made popular by Jim Bowie.

He went soldiering again, in the Mexican-American war, serving in Colonel Jack Hays’ regiment of Rangers. He participated in the battle before Monterrey, and upon returning to Galveston at the end of that war, became interested in politics. In 1847, he ran for the office of district attorney for Galveston and lost. This defeat may have been felt in a stinging fashion; two years later, he joined together with some of his Ranger comrades and followed the Gold Rush to California. He tried gold-mining for a brief time, didn’t care for the experience, (as did most men with a more readily-profitable trade who did not immediately strike it rich)   and set up practicing as a lawyer again in Stockton, California. There he dabbled in running for local office, this time as mayor. Just as before, in Galveston, he was defeated, and thereafter for a time returned to the practice of law. He prospered sufficiently over the next few years that he could afford to return east and marry a distant cousin-by-marriage, a Miss Cornelia Runnels. She was educated, well-mannered; the perfect gentle Southern belle, twenty-three to her husband’s twenty-seven. She is supposed to have influenced him greatly, and as the decade progressed, David Smith Terry went from success to success. Sadly, of their six children – all sons – only three survived to adulthood; of those, one died as a teenager in a hunting accident and the other at the age of thirty or so.

As for David S. Terry’s professional prospects, in 1855 the laurels of high political office finally descended on his noble brow in the form of a position on the California Supreme Court.  But controversy dogged his footsteps; in a tense interlude during San Francisco’s second bout of organized Vigilante activity, he lost his temper. He was not a supporter of the Vigilance Committee, which had been created by otherwise sober and law-abiding citizens in the wake of what appeared to be flagrant abuse of the law by elected and appointed authorities. Being one of those elected and appointed authorities – although personally incorruptible – Judge Terry did not approve of other parties interfering. An altercation ensued, when he and others who objected to amateurs taking the law into their own hands paid a visit on the Vigilance Committee. When a posse of Vigilance Committee members led by Sterling Hopkins attempted to arrest two members of Judge Terry’s group, Judge Terry most intemperately stabbed Hopkins in the throat with his Bowie knife. Arrested in turn himself, he must have had a nervous couple of days, waiting to hear if Sterling Hopkins’ wounds were mortal. Fortunately for both men – they were not. Alas, in coming years, Judge Terry’s temper remained as uncontrolled as ever.

The matter of slavery – whether it was to be allowed in prospective new states of the Union and under what conditions if any – roiled California every bit as deeply and violently as it did elsewhere. There, the established Democrat party in California split into pro and anti-slavery factions. Not entirely unexpectedly given his origins and background, Judge Terry was vociferously on the pro-slavery side. Given that, and his intemperate nature, he was bound to clash with the anti-slavery side, personalized by his former friend and now US Senator David C. Broderick. Inflammatory accusations were exchanged, deep offense was taken … and a formal duel agreed on by the aggrieved parties. On September 12, 1859, they met in a place which is now a city park, but which then was outside San Francisco’s city limits. Judge Terry won the coin toss, allowing him to select a set of dueling pistols … which had hair triggers. Supposedly, Senator Broderick was warned of this by the neutral party who examined the pistols – but as the two men squared off, Broderick’s pistol accidently discharged. This left Judge Terry to take his own sweet time in taking aim at Broderick.

The famous duel

The famous duel

Mortally wounded, Senator Broderick fell; he died three days later – a martyr to the anti-slavery cause. Judge Terry was charged, but acquitted. His career in public office – although not his profession as a lawyer – being pretty well trashed, in the eyes of indignant anti-slavery partisans and perhaps those who disapproved of dueling, or of a duelist taking savage and unsporting advantage of a hair-trigger misfire – remained relatively untarnished. He returned to that practice for a time, but on the outbreak of the Civil War, picked up his sometime occupation as a soldier, in which practice an affinity for dealing out sudden fatal violence was – if not more acceptable – conceded to be more generally useful.

Returning to Texas, he proceeded to join the Confederate Army – for which his older brother Benjamin had raised a swashbuckling cavalry regiment official known as the 8th Texas Cavalry, and popularly as Terry’s Texas Rangers, which served valiantly throughout  the war in the west of the Appalachian theater. Benjamin Terry was killed in nearly their first skirmish, late in 1861, another Terry brother perished at Shiloh and David Terry was wounded at Chickamauga. He finished the war as a colonel, lay low for a time in Mexico, as did certain other die-hard Confederates … but in 1865, he returned to California and the practice of law as if nothing had ever happened. Time and experience appeared to have chastened him, or at least taught him to rein in the temper, for by the end of a decade after his return, he was a respected member of the California Constitutional Convention, revising the original state constitution.

And then, fate played the femme fatale card on David Terry, jurist, judge, colonel of cavalry and man of the world. He took on a client of the type usually termed as an ‘adventuress’  in the 19th century and a gold-digger in the early 20th, terms which usually hint at a degree of daring and amorality – a woman bent on playing high-stakes poker in the grand game of life. She was Sarah Althea Hill, an orphan of a respectable and prosperous family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1871, when she was twenty-one, Sarah Althea and her older brother came to San Francisco to live with relatives. Sarah, in the parlance of the time, was ‘fast’ and in the next decade, she burned through the inheritance from her parents of $20,000 dollars. (From modern calculations, this would have been anywhere from a quarter to over half a million.) Sometime around 1880, Sarah Althea made the acquaintance of a very, very rich man – William Sharon, a ‘49er, financier, silver-mine magnate, real-estate tycoon, hotelier, and for two terms, US Senator representing Nevada. He was at that time in his sixties, a widower … and as noted, filthy rich. They became attached, to which precise degree became a matter for spectacular and scandalous legal wrangling in various courts for the next five years.

The Notorious Lady Herself

The Notorious Lady Herself

Seriously, the courtroom antics would have made a spectacularly tacky real-world TV series, beginning when Sarah Althea Hall had William Sharon arrested on charges of adultery, and proceeded to sue him for divorce, demanding alimony and a generous share of his property due her as an aggrieved ex-spouse. The resulting legal wrangling enthralled the readers of tabloids across the nation. Sarah Althea insisted they had been secretly married and she had a signed contract to prove it – secrecy necessary because he was running for reelection at the time, and wished to keep it all quiet lest his other mistress hear about it and create an embarrassing scandal. William Sharon insisted, indignantly, that Sarah Althea had merely been his generously compensated mistress and any such contract alluding to a marriage between them was a forgery. After a year of bitter legal wrangling, a judge ruled in favor of Sarah Althea, declaring her to have been William Sharon’s legal wife, and to have a right to such of his wealth accumulated since their presumed marriage. Coincidentally, Cornelia Terry, David Terry’s long-suffering wife died at the same time.

The appeals and countersuits commenced immediately, continued by William Sharon’s son and son-in-law after his death a year after the judgement. Meanwhile, the presumed Mrs. Sharon married her now-widowed and very much older lawyer, and together they zestfully embarked on another round of legal hearings on whether William Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill had been truly and legally man and wife … only the next time, the circuit judge hearing the case – Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field, of the US Supreme Court – appeared distinctly unsympathetic. Sarah Althea, in a breach of court etiquette, loudly accused Judge Field of having been “bought” by the Sharon interests in the case. A fracas ensued, with David Terry drawing his Bowie knife in her defense. Both Terrys scuffled with US marshals, were forcibly removed from the courtroom, arrested and slapped with jail sentences by Judge Field, who thereafter earned the bitter enmity of the pair. The threats against him by the Terrys were taken so seriously, that when next Judge Field ventured to California in the late summer of 1889, he was accompanied by a US marshal as his dedicated body-guard.

Whether it was coincidental or not, Judge Field and his body-guard, David Neagle, were traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco train, on August 14th, 1889.  Coincidentally, the Terrys had also boarded that train, somewhere along the way.  When the train stopped for breakfast at the station restaurant in Lathrop (a town a little south of Stockton), the Terrys discovered the presence of the judge … although perhaps not his bodyguard; a fatal omission, considering subsequent events. But given the hot and irrational tempers displayed throughout the lives of both David Terry and Sarah Althea, this was absolutely guaranteed not to end well or without bloodshed. David Terry approached Judge Field, peacefully eating breakfast, and without warning, slapped him across the face.


Justice Stephen J. Field

Marshal Neagle – who had previously been a town marshal and deputy sheriff in the rowdy municipality of Tombstone, Arizona, during it’s the wildest and most wooly stage – leapt to his feet and drew his own weapon as David Terry reached inside his own coat. Marshal Neagle shot David Terry twice – dropping the former judge dead in the middle of the railroad restaurant. So ended the life of a man who otherwise might have been better known for nobler things – save that he had a wicked and impulsive temper, and fell for a woman who had even more problems with violence and impulse-control than his own.

The post-script? There was a resulting US Supreme Court case, which decided that yes, the Attorney Genera of the US did have the authority to appoint US Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices. Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry – who it might be inferred – had substantial mental health issues, was eventually confined to an institution, where she died of natural causes some forty years later. She was buried in the Terry family plot, in a cemetery in Stockton, California. A granddaughter of David S. Terry came forward and approved, at the time of her death.



08. October 2015 · Comments Off on Done! · Categories: Book Event, Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

The cover for Sunset and Steel Rails! Page and pre-order page to be put up shortly.

17. September 2015 · Comments Off on Final Chapter – Sunset and Steel Rails · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles(All right – the final chapter in the book which will be released in November. In another week or so, I’ll set up a page for pre-orders. This is the story concerting Sophia Brewer Teague, who came west as a Harvey Girl in 1885, and made some startling discoveries about herself … and about some long-buried family secrets. But just as she discovers the one even more startling than her older brother trying to drive her mad … she is caught in Galveston, Texas, on a certain fateful weekend…)

Chapter 23 – Sunrise in Lyonesse

            With Min clinging to her side, Sophia went to tend to Baby – relieved to find little Christian no more than moderately fussy, laying in a cradle moved to the corner of the elder Richter’s palatial bedroom. She cuddled him close to her, almost crying in relief, for now they were all three safe, dry and together. Christian nursed with vigor, and fell asleep in her arms, while outside the wind howled like a wolf, striking the side of the house seemingly in fury at being balked and refused admittance. The few candles that relieved the darkness flickered and smoked behind glass chimneys – of course, a careful housekeeper like Amelie would worry about a lit candle falling, and perhaps setting a fire. The bedroom door stood partway open, to the tramping of feet on the stairs and in the hallway as the men carried furniture, and rolled-up rugs upstairs.

“The water is still rising, Sopherl,” Amelie said, when she brought in a mantel clock and an elaborate arrangement of wax flowers under a dome which had formerly adorned the parlor. “We have sent everyone to shelter on the second floor, on the side away from the wind.” The house – with the windows closed and shutters fastened tightly over them – was not only dark, but close and hot. Sophia could see that Amelie’s face shone with perspiration.

“Let me help you, then,” Sophia blurted, overcome with housewifely sympathy. Amelie was a little younger than Mama had been when she died – and had been a gracious hostess all this time. “Min … stay with Baby, and look after him.”

“Mama…” Min protested only with a single word, but her grave little face reflected fear and desolation.

“I will be within the house,” Sophia detached Min’s frantic hand from the skirt of her dress. “There is nothing to fear, darling. We are safe within these walls. Cousin George’s house is the biggest and strongest there is in Galveston.”

“Those houses fell down, Mama,” Min replied. “And the people in them thought they were safe within their walls.”

“Min, dear – I must help Amelie,” Sophia kissed her daughter, and her son, and put on an expression of resolution. “Be brave for me – and for your dear Papa, and for your little brother.”

Min gulped and nodded, her eyes filling. Sophia felt her own eyes welling up with tears that she dare not let fall. It would frighten Min, who was already frightened enough. She followed Amelie; the upstairs was already crowded, mostly with strangers – some of whom seemed to be known to the Richters and their sons, nearly all of them soaking wet, frightened and yet grateful for refuge between sturdy walls. For a wonder, the dreadful howling wind had ceased, and the silence itself was as deafening as the noise had been. Sophia looked into the front hall, from the broad landing halfway down. The downstairs rooms had been stripped of their rugs – and just in time, for there was a pool of water seeping from under the front door, and spreading from other rooms, ink-dark in the light of a single lantern. She caught up to Amelie on the landing, looking down with horror on the invading water. George stood with his arm close around her.


“We have fifty-six people in our house,” she overheard heard him murmur to his wife, in German, in that silence. “And Old Mr. Pascoe with his wife and her niece are coming from their house, which is falling to bits. Ambrose and Young Pascoe have gone to help them across the way. They tell me that wind has dropped.”

“Does it mean that the storm has passed over?” Amelie asked, and George shook his head.

“No … it means that we are now in the center of it.” The knocking on the front door sounded very loud in the silence. George sprang down the staircase with an energy which belied his age and the weariness piled on him by this dreadful day, and unbarred the door to admit the new party; Ambrose, another young man, and the three refugees; the oldest carried among them. “The water is rising,” George observed, and made as if to close and bar the door on the darkness and the driving rain outside, but before he could do so, the tide went in one smooth motion from a puddle at his feet to almost his chest, flowing into the hallway, the parlor and the other rooms. “Upstairs, everyone!” he shouted, as there came the crash of breaking glass and wood from within. Sophia fled up stairs, stumbling in her panic. The storm had breached the final fortress. And now the wind howled around its walls with renewed energy.


She sat at the foot of the Richter’s bedstead, with Christian in her lap, and Min pressed close to her side, with the Teague’s old plaid woolen shawl wrapped around them all. Min had always treasured it as a blanket, since her own babyhood, for some inexplicable reason, and now sought comfort in those rough and scratchy folds. George and Amelie sat at the head of the bed, with Henry and Ambrose beside them, or pacing the crowded room; some of the other refugees from the storm lay on the floor, or leaned against the walls. Candlelight flickered over their tense faces. An old woman – Mrs. Pascoe – lay on Amelie’s chaise longue, her lips moving in a silent desperate prayer. The atmosphere in the room was hot, humid with the scent of terror and desperation, waiting for the storm to break open the brick walls as though breaking an eggshell. Richie sat on the floor at their feet; he alone seemed at ease. The noise of the wind was such that words could not be heard across the room unless shouted. Time stood still, as still as the hands of Amelie’s parlor clock … and yet, the walls of George Richter’s house held; battered by rain, by flying slates and timbers which crashed against the windward walls. A queer kind of thumping came from under their feet; at last, Sophia realized that it must be the remaining furniture downstairs, driven to and fro, dashed against interior walls by the high tide within.

Min fell asleep at last, exhausted; without disturbing the child’s slumber, Sophia laid her daughter across the middle of the bed with Baby Christian and covered them both with the plaid shawl. Silently, Richie took Min’s place. It was comforting to lean against him, to have the support of a man’s shoulder on this terrifying day. Sophia desperately wished that it was Fred’s – but Richie’s would do.

Presently, Sophia ventured, “You know – we would not have been here, but for the delay in your travel plans. We would have been on our way home by now.”

“I know,” Richie answered. “I’m sorry for that, Auntie … it seems like we have been nothing but trouble and danger for you, in every way.”

“No … not you, Richie – never; this storm is just a terrible coincidence. I might just as soon blame myself. I should have been agreeable to corresponding with you. You and I are the only two left. I should not have been so afraid … old habits die hard, you know. I was about to marry Fred. I wanted to leave all of that in the past, where it belonged … but of course that is not possible. The past is not so easily abandoned as all that.”

“No,” Richie sighed. “That is what Rosy said. Professor Rosemont … he was the headmaster at school. Dear old Rosy; he became my guardian after Papa did what he did. A decent old stick; he called me into his office and broke the news to me. About Papa and Mama; I suppose that I blubbed a bit, and asked him where I should go when the term was over, and Rosy handed me a handkerchief and said, ‘To me and Mrs. Rosemont, of course.’ And that was the end of it. Rosy settled it with the lawyers. I did have to say to a judge that I preferred them to be my guardians over any other, but Rosy and Mrs. Rosy turned out to be as fair and good to me as any parent might have been … although Rosy was a bit irate when I enlisted in the Colonel Wood’s volunteer cavalry to fight in Cuba.”

“You were in the Rough Riders?” Sophia exclaimed, quite astonished, and Richie laughed.

“More like the Weary Walkers,” he answered. “It was a bit of an adventure, I made some friends among them – stout fellows, every one – and when we were mustered out, I didn’t want to go back to Boston and spend my days looking at the walls of an insurance office. I liked the looks of what I saw of the West, so …” he shrugged. “I decided to chance it. Coming to see you was just a part of it. My pal – his family has a spread in Arizona … and a pretty sister I have an understanding with. I met her once, in San Antonio, and she wrote to me when we shipped out of Tampa. She’s a clever woman – you would like her. Especially since she worked as a Harvey Girl too. Likely I’m going to settle down with her, once I’ve built up enough of a stake …” The wind dealt the side of the Richter house an especially violent blow, which silenced conversation for a moment. “You see – Auntie Soph – I can’t possibly die in this storm tonight. I have plans. I just wanted to square things with you, once and for all. To make it right, in a small way.”

“You have already made it right,” Sophia clasped his hand in hers. “I should not have been so afraid.”

“You had good reason, once, Auntie Soph,” Richie kissed her cheek very gently. “It just takes some guts to face up to them, once and for all.”

“And then to see that they weren’t all that fearsome at all,” Sophia felt a sense of calm peace overtake her, as if she and Richie sat together with the sleeping children in that quiet place in the heart of the storm. As time passed, she dozed, waking with a start now and again, her head on Richie’s shoulder in that candle-lit room, vaguely surprised at each wakening that the walls still held, as solidly as the castle and refuge that the Richter house had first appeared to be.

“There is something that I need to tell you, also…” Sophia ventured, at one of these wakings, when the wind seemed to have diminished. “It’s about Grandfather Vining … remember, Great-Aunt Minnie’s brother; it seems that we may yet have closer kin here in Texas than we thought …”

Richie listened without interruption, a particularly thoughtful expression on his face. When she had finished, he mused, “I never really considered that … but it makes sense of a sort. He went out West as a young man, spent most of his life here … what are they like, these half-cousins of ours?”

“Very pleasant and worthy people, I think. And at least as embarrassed by the connection as I was.”

“In the past, Auntie Soph,” Richie answered, with an air of finality. “And considering what is happening outside this very minute – not a matter I’m going to trouble myself with, over much – tonight or tomorrow, should we live to see it.”


At that final awakening, Sophia discovered that she had slept for some time; that Richie had moved her fully onto the bed and she lay next to Min and Baby. Amelie also slept, fully-clothed – and that dim daylight was leaking through the cracks and edges of the storm shutters. Mrs. Pascoe snored gently on the chaise longue. Sophia, still feeling as if she had just finished a particularly exhausting shift at a Harvey House, slid from the bed without disturbing the children, and tiptoed quietly to the hallway, and the staircase up to Cousin George’s marvelous tower. Pearlescent sunshine poured down the staircase – blindingly bright after the darkness in the Richter’s bedroom. Most of the window were smashed, and broken glass littered the floor. The wicker chairs and settee were tumbled to one side, their cushions soaked with water.

Cousin George stood at the north-facing window with Ambrose and Richie; A mild breeze stirred the bedraggled curtains, a breeze that smelt of the familiar salt sea … and a wisp of something else, something less savory. and went to the window.

“Oh, my dear lord,” she exclaimed. There was nothing outside resembling in the least what had been there, a mere twenty-four hours before. The Richters’ garden – the lawn where the children had played – was a wilderness of shattered lengths of lumber, of whole small structures like outhouses and chicken coops tumbled together, trunks of palm trees like limp feather-dusters, and the bodies of dead horses. Not the two which had been left tethered on the front porch the night before – they were grazing moodily on those stretches of lawn now left exposed between the debris. Sophia also saw what she first thought to be bundles of clothes or bedding, and realized only slowly that they were bodies … bodies entangled in the rose-bushes, and in the hedges which enclosed Amelie’s garden. The water – which she could see had been nearly up to the second story of those scattered surviving buildings – had drained away. A few tall buildings and church spires still stood, and the occasional partly-shattered house, tottering on remaining pilings, or tipped entirely on one side. The sky overhead was a pale, rain-washed blue, and the desolation of broken boards, bodies and wrecked houses went nearly as far as they could see – to the north where lay the Strand, the wharves, and the significant buildings of Galveston.

“I must see if my friends are safe,” Richie said, huskily. Cousin George squinted into the distance.

“I think the Tremont is still standing,” he said. “They went there, did they not? And the Levy building remains.”

“But what is that?” Sophia asked. She crunched across the glass to the south-facing window, the one looking out towards the open gulf. A tangled moraine of wreckage ran from out of sight in one direction, dropping across the center of what had been neat rows of houses and gardens … a shoal of broken planks and wreckage on the near side … and a sweep of empty sand on the other. She blinked … Laura’s house was gone, the bright painted yellow walls and gallery vanished as cleanly as if they had never been, as if some great broom had swept the sea-front and several blocks behind it clean. Not a scrap remained, that she could seen save a bedraggled salt-cedar tree, which she thought had been at the corner of Q Street, three doors down.

“It’s is what the high sea brought last night,” Cousin George’s voice sounded heavy with grief. “Nearly the opposite of what happened in Indianola … there, the water rushed out from the bayou and pushed all out into the bay – here it smashed everything to pieces – and pushed it into land.”

“My dear friend Laura and her husband live on Q Street, not three blocks from the sea,” Sophia’s chest hurt, for thinking of her friend, and her three children – the oldest a boy two or three years older than Min – and that pretty little cottage that Laura had been so proud of.

“They may have chosen to shelter in a safer place,” Richie squeezed her hand, comfortingly. “We’ll go and look for them in a while. There are plenty of buildings still standing … they are certain to have sheltered as many as were safe here last night.”

He sounded very certain of that; looking out at the desolation, Sophia wondered how he could be so sure.


05. September 2015 · Comments Off on Sunset and Steel Rails – Chapter 21 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(Coming down to the final chapters of one of my next books – of Sophia Brewer Teague, who came west as a Harvey Girl and married Fredi Steinmetz – long written off by his family as a confirmed bachelor – and confronted face to face an old and long-hidden family scandal. She is a closer relation to the Vinings of Austin than everyone had assumed, thanks to Race Vining’s bigamous marriage to Margaret Becker. Sophia is also about to meet with her nephew Richie after sixteen years … but all of those old and not so old scandals are about to become secondary to mere survival. For Sophia is in Galveston, on a certain weekend in September, 1900….)

Chapter 21 – Between the Living and the Dead

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles            “What did you know of this, Fred?” Sophia waited until the household had dispersed for the night to reproach her husband in private. The suite of rooms allotted to them were at the very top of the house, and rather small, but well-fitted to a large family – and the largest of the rooms boasted a small balcony from which one could see the stretch of water dividing Galveston from the mainland. On clear nights, one could see lights twinkling on the mainland, far, far away. Sophia appreciated it most particularly as it allowed them to resume their habit of sitting together and watching the evening fall. “That my grandfather had availed himself of two wives – my grandmother being one, and Peter Vining’s mother the other?

Fred and his nephews had finally been run to ground at one of his old haunts along the Strand. By the time he returned Sophia had composed herself, and then the household had gathered for supper – and she could not bear to speak of this before anyone else. Magda Becker, Horrie and Peter Vining had all assured her of their silence and discretion – but how could Fred not have known or suspected?

“I didn’t know for certain,” Fred answered, slowly. “But I did wonder if it weren’t something of the sort. I heard plenty of stories in the earlies about men having one wife back in the East, or in San Francisco, and another one in the gold-camps. It’s almost a joke, you know – sailors who have a wife in every port – that kind of understanding, especially when you go hundreds of miles from where anyone knows who you are.” Unconsciously, he echoed his sister’s words. “Young bucks, thinking only of the day … they don’t consider anything or anyone else, much. Stupid and unthinking, I know, but that’s the long and short of it. Sopherl, darling,” and here he took her hand and brought it to his lips. “That your grandfather couldn’t keep his trousers properly buttoned in the presence of a pretty girl is none of my business, and not a speck of a reflection on you. And besides – I don’t care and never did. Not about this, or your swine of a brother. It’s only yourself and the dear little ones that I have a duty and a right to care for.” He kept her hand prisoned in his, for a long while, as they sat silent together. The last apricot of sunset had long faded in the west, and now the pale stars winked into view. The distant roar of the surf, rolling in against the shoreline blocks away seemed almost louder than the sound of someone playing a piano in the parlor on the other side of the house. Sophia, unexpectedly comforted, leaned her head on Fred’s shoulder.

“They do look enough like another set of twins,” she said, “Min and Robbie – don’t they?”

“They do, indeed.” Fred drew Sophia a little closer to him. “All of our darlings asleep, then?”

“Min is reading by candle-light,” Sophia replied. “But the others are asleep. Even Baby is asleep – for now.”

“Tomorrow,” Fred suggested after a moment, “Let’s take them all to the Midway – on the streetcar. Let them wade in the water, build sand-castles, and eat salt-water taffy and ice cream until they are sick of it. Make it a perfect holiday, umm?”

“Yes,” Sophia agreed. It seemed a lovely prospect, a day at the seashore with the children. The prospect of meeting with Richie again – all of that had unexpectedly diminished, into a matter so minor that it wasn’t worth troubling her mind over.



3 September, 1900


Dear Lottie:

At last I have a few moments to write to you! I know that you must have been wondering how we have fared during our stay in Galveston, and I apologize for not being able to write sooner than today. F.’s family have been so gracious and welcoming, in spite of some initial awkwardness. Dear F. has been so long a bachelor and a rolling stone; with the exception of his sister and younger nephew, all have been astounded to see him newly reborn as a devoted family man. We have discovered new ties of affection, and some older ties of blood which seem to have been closer than first was assumed. More of this on our return. I have met several times with my old friend Laura and her children, at her dear little house, and once for a luncheon together at the Harvey House – where we laughed and laughed over being guests there, instead of attending to the tables. Such wonderful conversations and reminiscences!

The wedding was a most splendid one, celebrated in the sanctuary of one of the oldest and most notable churches in Galveston, one founded primarily by German immigrants – indeed, the ceremony was in German entirely, as both the bride and groom’s families are of that nation, and have long been members. The sanctuary was decorated with ivy, orange blossoms, and white jasmine mixed with roses, which gloriously perfumed the air. The bride and her attendants carried bouquets of those same flowers, and the smallest attendants wore garlands of the same in their hair. The bridal gown was perfection itself – in the latest fashion, but adorned with inset panels of antique French brocade which came from a cherished but unfortunately disintegrating heirloom – a gown first worn by her grandmother, and then by many thrifty female relations for their own nuptials. There was one rather startling incident – just before ceremonies began, a pair of nuns entered the church, very quietly, and sat in the last pew. I noticed this, and made mention to F. – and he said that one of the nuns was Magda Becker’s eldest daughter – his niece, who had converted to the Catholic faith as a young woman and entered the Ursuline sisterhood! How astonishing – I wished very much to meet and converse with her, as I had a very dear friend in Boston who also became a nun, but she slipped away from the gathering before I could do so. She is a teacher at the Catholic orphanage, at the easternmost edge of the island.

The ceremonies were followed by a lavish ball at Cousin G.’s residence, where a dance floor had been laid out over part of the lawn, and a tuneful orchestra played for most of the evening. Even the older children had their fun, being permitted to remain up and dance until the middle of the evening, and to nibble as they pleased from a sumptuous buffet laid out in the dining room. Oh, I cannot tell you how marvelous was the sight of a constellation of paper Japanese lanterns swaying in the cool autumn breeze, under the brilliant stars – the music and the colors of the ladies’ gowns, swirling across the dance floor! I danced many times with dear F. – and then with other gentleman, while he danced with the ladies – such occasions are what I most longed for as a girl; splendid balls, handsome beaux and music – always music!

Of course, I needed to excuse myself now and again to tend to the children, especially Baby Christian, who did demand his usual meals, regardless of the occasion! Mrs. Jane and I were similar in our absences from the ball, to tend to our children, but I vow that the very exhilaration of the day and the quietude of our own daily lives in comparison lent us sufficient energy. As dawn came, we saw the bride and groom off at the docks to begin their honeymoon journey – a sizable party throwing confetti and rice and cheering them as the steamship departed. They are traveling to their ancestral country, to spend some months among the magnificent castles and quaint villages. I do not consider myself to be envious – do not mistake my enthusiasm for description for any envy on my part, dear Lottie. My wedding was most perfect, in itself. Dear F. and I, when recovered from the day’s exertions, took the children by streetcar, across the Island to the outer shore, for a day which I relished just as much as the evening.

We were planning to begin our return journey on Friday – but I have just received a telegram from Richie, that he is delayed until the following day. This presents the necessity of an adjustment to our plans. The train and the parlor cars for our party is already scheduled, and at this late date there is no possibility of amendment – and the children were so looking forward to continued association with their cousins, and the pleasures of the family palace car! We can hardly bear to disappoint them in this, for it may be some considerable time before they have a similar opportunity. So – F. departs as planned on Friday, with the children, save Min and Baby Christian and I. I will meet Richie on Saturday – and depart on Monday, taking a Pullman berth as far as San Antonio, there to catch up to F. and the children. We will remain for some days in San Antonio, and then return to Deming and home. As pleasant as this excursion has been, I long for the quiet of our home, and the regular routine.

Until then, my best to you and to Frank



* * *


On Thursday, Sophia and Fred made a last excursion to the shore with the children,

relishing the cooler temperatures which autumn brought; the sky was the purest of blue, and the fresh salt-smelling breeze touched the sea with sparkling whitecaps, although the water itself seemed as warm as bathwater. It was the most perfect of days; Sophia thought with sentimental regret of how it would be their last day in Galveston, now that all the excitement and celebration of the wedding was over. Now came the return journey – and that face to face encounter with Richie, at long last. She was glad that it would be a relatively private meeting – apart from the family. There would be too much to explain; to Richie about Horace Vining’s second family in Texas, and to Fred’s family about Richard.

At the very last minute as Fred and the children, with the Beckers and Vinings and all prepared to board the parlor cars at the foursquare brick tower of Galveston’s Union station – he looked at her with sudden sharp attention, as he stood just beyond the gate to the parlor car’s observation porch..

“Sopherl – do you want me to remain here with you until Monday? Magda and Anna can see to the children…”

“No – dearest Fred, they are our children; your sister is tired, and Cousin Anna has done so much already. Min and Baby and I will be along on Monday’s train.” Sophia spoke with confidence – after all, she had often been parted from Fred in time of their marriage, and never felt the slightest worry. He had business to do with the ranch which sometimes took him weeks and days … but then, a niggling little voice reminded her – that on those previous occasions, she had been home at the ranch, among folk that she trusted, and who looked to her as the wife of the ranch-owner – the patron, as the Mexican drovers called Fred

“You’re certain?” he still looked doubtful, even as he kissed her with especial tenderness. “Even traveling all that way by yourself?”

“As if I have never traveled alone on a train before!” she said. He leaned down to embrace her one last time, laughing. “Wednesday, then. If you aren’t on the first train from Galveston, I’ll come back all the way and fetch you myself. But George and Amelie – they’ll look after you and Min and Baby, whatever happens.”

“They are the kindest and most considerate hosts,” Sophia agreed, “But I cannot help thinking they will be relieved when their house at last empties of guests and they can return to their own routine of days. I know that I would be – as happy as I am to extend our hospitality.”

“Very likely, but they would never admit that by a word or gesture,” Fred scooped up Min for a kiss, and setting her down, dropped another on Baby Christian’s forehead. “Goodbye my little chicks – I will see you soon.” Far ahead, the train’s steam whistle blew, and the cars lurched – and they were away, her children waving from behind the windows of the parlor – Carlotta, the twins and little Fred Harvey. Sophie followed the departing train for a few steps along the platform, and then in her mind’s eye – seeing it roll out across the long trestle which crossed the bay.