When I was growing up, I believed in John Wayne. In particular, anything about the US cavalry troops stationed in the various frontier forts in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, I took as truth from John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, and Rio Grande. I grew up believing that all the Southwest resembled Monument Valley, that beautiful women were fabulously desirable out in barren wilderness, and that most of the cavalry rode around all day, looking for Indians to fight.
Later movies would present more authentic stories, but reading the real history of the frontier army, who was in it, their leadership, their mission, their military campaigns, and their daily life is more interesting and provocative than what you’ll find on the silver screen.
As I’ve been reading for information to bolster my next fiction novel, I find myself returning to Fort Bascom, by James Bailey Blackshear. Once again, it’s the data of the situation that characterize what life was really like in a frontier fort.
“Over its history, Fort Bascom soldiers represented a variety of nationalities and ethnicities. In addition to African Americans, Hispanos, Germans, and Irishmen, Americans from all regions of the country were posted to the garrison. First- and second-generation Irishmen had a particularly strong presence in New Mexico both during and after the [Civil] war.… David M. Emmons notes that by 1870, Irish immigrants made up about a fourth of the entire frontier army, so it is not surprising to find them scattered throughout the documents concerning Bascom.”
“As did African Americans, immigrants joined the army because less desirable options restricted them to low-paying, menial jobs that no one else wanted. Enlisting gave both groups a means of escaping overcrowded slums and majority populations that were unwilling to accept them as anything more than subservient classes.”
“The army guaranteed meals and board and offered an escape from urban decay and the cotton economy. There was also the possibility that once their military obligations were fulfilled, former soldiers might put down roots in a region more accepting of different nationalities and ethnicities. Yet as Captain Dubois indicated, not everyone who joined the army fulfilled those obligations. Some deserted.”
“Soldiers deserted for a variety of reasons. Fighting Indians and Comancheros along the Canadian River was not why many of the early enlistees had signed up. They had joined to shoot Confederates. They also had been enticed by cash bounties paid for enlisting. Once mustered into the service, most soon realized that a soldier’s life was 98 percent boring and 2 percent dangerous.
“….the food was bad and the work was hard. Privates spent a lot of time stacking adobes, chopping wood, shoveling horse manure, and hauling water—all within an area most considered an isolated wasteland. Even the water, when it was available, often had to be purged of organic material before it could be consumed. Enlistees found themselves at the beck and call of frustrated, alcoholic officers who felt as trapped as they did. Poor nutrition and bad water often led to sickness and misery. Soldiers feared cholera more than Comanches, for the medical personnel and their facilities were often subpar. For these reasons, 33 percent of enlisted men deserted their posts.”
“Women also lived at Fort Bascom. Officers’ wives often traveled west with their husbands, lending an outsiders’ perspective to military life on the southern plains. Perhaps Martha Summerhayes, stationed in Arizona with her husband, characterized a soldier’s life best when she called it a ‘glittering misery.’”
“Finding single women on the base was unusual, but it did occur. Marian Sloan worked as a cook with her mother at Fort Union. But the great majority of women at the frontier forts were married. Once hired, they were provided a food ration, a stipulation that helped feed families, for many times women brought their children with them. At Fort Bascom in the early 1860s, these positions were filled by Hispanic women since their husbands manned the fort. Wives followed their men out of the mountain villages of San Miguel and Mora Counties, about a week’s journey away. The significance of laundresses to military operations is highlighted by the construction of quarters for them at most frontier posts. Laundress quarters at Fort Bascom were positioned directly behind the soldiers’ barracks.”
“The 1870 census notes the fourteen adult women [there was commonly around two hundred soldiers at Fort Bascom] were either living within the post or on the military grounds, which encompassed two square miles. Twenty children of various ages also lived there. Seven of these women and one sixteen-year-old female were New Mexicans, but Teresa Nown was not the only local that was married to an immigrant soldier. Felicita Kelly’s husband, Private Thomas Kelly, originated from Newfoundland. Conversely, not all of the post’s laundresses and washerwomen hailed from New Mexico. They came from as far as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ireland.”
“Longer stretches of off-duty time allowed soldiers to participate in events organized for larger groups or everyone at the post…..On weekends or special occasions like the Fourth of July or Christmas, horse racing, shooting competitions, and footraces were held on the parade grounds, as were picnics and musical presentations. Baseball had taken the nation by storm by the 1870s and Fort Bascom was not an exception. The Eighth Cavalry brought the game to the Canadian River Valley. Matthews noted that along with additional rations and ammunition, Company L brought along their bats and balls on one particular scout.”
I don’t remember John Wayne ever playing baseball in his cavalry uniform, and I don’t remember him ever becoming involved with a woman who was responsible for washing his shorts, but it might have happened. Reality can sometimes be a lot of fun.
In the late 1990s, I was backpacking with a group in the Chicago Basin area of Colorado, about halfway between Durango and Silverton; we rode the train to get to and from the trailhead.
At our high camp, we met a group of mountain men reenactors. From the Phoenix area, the six men had committed themselves to making a multi-week hike from the Wolf Creek Ski Area near Pagosa Springs to the Silverton area dressed only in authentic clothing from the 1836-1845 era, and using equipment (other than survival and first aid gear required by the Forest Service) that was available during that timeframe. They were given special permission to hunt small game with black powder muskets so they could forage for their own food.
It was fascinating to see their handmade clothes, their aged weapons (including handmade arrows for their handmade bows), walk through their camp (no tents or sleeping bags – only wool blankets wrapped by waterproofed animal hides), and listen to their descriptions of how people in the backcountry lived without telephones, cameras, batteries, cushioned footwear, clearly marked trails, aspirin or Tylenol, sunglasses, prepackaged foods, maps, waterproof-windproof-insulated-zippered-monogrammed clothing, anything made of plastic, multi-fueled camp stoves, lighters, anything made of aluminum, modern weapons, compasses, watches, tea bags, hot chocolate mix, trail mix, water filters, sunscreen, bug spray, bear spray, and other items that I currently take for granted.
It made me wonder about what life was really like for those who lived a century and a half before us. What, for instance, did people read? Regular fiction books were hardbound and prevalent but usually associated with classic literature, the era of “paperback” not coming until the 1930s. There were also newspapers, magazines, journals, story papers, five- and ten-cent weeklies, assembled reprints, and a few early pulp magazines. The famous “dime novels” began in the 1860s and were immediately popular.
The following is an excerpt from Fort Bascom, by James Bailey Blackshear, and gives an idea of the literacy of soldiers at Fort Bascom. The era would have been around three decades after the group of Mountain Men reenactors, but that still makes it 1860-1870.
“Communications with friends and family, especially after the mid-1860s, was a key source of entertainment for soldiers posted far from home. Before a prolonged scout, some troops would write several letters because they did not know when they would get another opportunity. A few kept journals of their experiences on scouts and then mailed them east after returning to the post.
“Soldiers like Private Matthews of the Eighth Cavalry and Captain Dubois of the Third Cavalry often spent their first hours back at Fort Bascom catching up on what was happening with their families…..Matthews bragged to his father that ‘ours was a very literary troop, when any ten cent novels are to be had.’ While stationed at Fort Bascom, he read The House of the Seven Gables and noted that all the New York papers, as well as the Democratic Advocate, circulated among the men.
“Reading materials helped to pass the time, yet their acquisition also held an intrinsic value. Captain Dubois related to his mother that with just a few books, pictures, and minimal furniture, he was able to make a ‘great show’ of his quarters at Fort Bascom. Such items, including newspapers and dime novels, were both links to the world from which they came and intellectual status symbols among their peers.
“In November 1869 Lt. Wilson Hartz, Fifteenth Infantry, acting in the role of post treasurer, placed an order for several books and volumes with D. Appleton and Company of New York. The titles included Arabian Nights, Burns’ Poetical Works, all available publications by Anthony Trollop, and the Reveries of a Bachelor, by Ik Marvel (Donald Grant Mitchell). Whatever the topic, such media proved to be both informative and transformative, allowing the lonely trooper the opportunity to escape the isolation he associated with the Eroded Plains environment.”
I have not read Reveries of a Bachelor, but I’m ready to admire anyone who has. Kit Carson relates a story, while searching for Virginia White, a woman who had been captured by Jicarilla Apaches, of finding a novel in an Indian camp written about the daring exploits of Frontier Scout Kit Carson, Indian fighter and hero. That was in 1849. Unfortunately, he was not able to revel in the descriptions of his exploits: though he was fluent in English, Spanish, and several Indian languages, Kit Carson could not read or write.
On state highway 104 north out of Tucumcari, New Mexico, there is a roadside sign marking the location of “Fort Bascom”. Looking across the countryside, there seems to be nothing to indicate the existence of a frontier fort. Maybe a lumpy rise or two, but Fort Bascom, made mostly out of adobe bricks, always had leaky roofs, walls, and windows, and, after it was abandoned, slowly melted back into the earth from which it had sprung. Pictures from the early 1900s show crumbling wall segments standing in the rugged landscape like a set of broken teeth, but even those are no more.
It is unfortunate. Fort Bascom is surprisingly important to the history of the Southwest, more to Texas than to New Mexico, but it served both well through its major period, 1863-1870, and a few years afterwards.
I have written about Colonel Kit Carson leaving Fort Bascom with an expedition of soldiers along an ancient wagon road that eventually led him to the site of the old Adobe Walls trading post, on the Canadian River a few miles northeast of my home town. The ensuing battle with the Kiowas was Carson’s largest Indian fight and ended with his immediate retreat (Carson had a few hundred men fighting a few thousand Indians). He told his officers that they would regroup and return to the battle, but he correctly realized that his men’s horses and mules were in too bad a condition to resume the fight. He continued westward and returned to Fort Bascom.
Carson had been in the country some years before and knew that he could find sufficient water (almost always by streams or springs, not by way of the Canadian River, which was sometimes undrinkable), and enough forage for the animals. On the other hand, he chose to make his expedition travel during the winter, hoping to find the Kiowa and Comanche tribes settled in their winter camps. If he could fight battles, it would be good, but it was as important to destroy the Indian villages, their goods and stored food, and, in particular, their horses.
Carson’s expedition had barely made the two hundred miles to Adobe Walls (it took a couple of weeks) before he had to immediately go into battle. He had traveled a long, hard, barely-capable road; didn’t have enough rest time for the animals to recuperate from their efforts; had found sufficient water, but not enough time to drink as much as needed (he had about 500 horses, mules, and cattle that needed to drink every day, as well as 400 or more men); had found the winter grass and other field foods at a low; and struggled against the savage winter weather.
He had expected and planned for the degradation of his military capabilities, but was still surprised that his army was so worn-out. If he had not turned around when he did, history would be describing his massacre.
The book, Fort Bascom, by James Bailey Blackshear, describes Kit Carson’s expedition and the other military campaigns involving soldiers from Fort Bascom from 1863, when it was built, to 1875, after the Red River War was finished.
In his descriptions, I was amazed at the shear volume of stuff needed by the U.S. Army to wage war against the Southern Indian tribes (mainly Kiowa and Comanche) that inhabited the Panhandle of Texas and the western edge of Indian Territory, later called Oklahoma. There were military forts scattered around the perimeter of the area, but none were located within the Comancheria, meaning that any military campaigns to engage the tribes involved traveling hundreds of miles.
Based on Kit Carson’s experience in the First Battle of Adobe Walls, later Army commanders chose to take along the forage needed by their animals – hay, oats, corn, other grains – as well as the food, weapons, ammunition, and supplies required by the soldiers and non-military contractors (teamsters, packers, ox drivers, farriers, butchers, etc). That meant wagons – lots of wagons. And they expected to be in the field for weeks or months, which demanded the establishment of supply lines, with people dedicated to maintaining and protecting those supply lines.
For example, four years after Carson’s expedition, during General Sheridan’s 1868 Winter Campaign, Major Evans, from Fort Bascom, took 442 enlisted men, 10 officers, 72 civilians, 9 scouts, 47 supply wagons, 3 ambulances, a herd of 329 extra horses, 27 mules, 20 packers, and four mountain howitzers with a squad of twenty gunners to operate them. He also took a herd of 300 cattle.
At the last minute, he added two ten-wagon ox trains, carrying 93,000 pounds of corn and 64,600 pounds of oats. He established a supply depot close to the Canadian River (several miles farther east from Adobe Walls) as a base for the smaller expeditions that would be sent out to pursue their adversaries. Once the depot was operating, empty wagons and ox trains returned to Fort Bascom to be reloaded and driven back.
Sheridan’s Campaign included a similar force under the command of Major Eugene Carr from Fort Lyon, Colorado, while a third force from Camp Supply was commanded by an experienced cavalry officer named Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The three forces were to be coordinated between the commanders, but it did not significantly materialize.
Another example is when Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, from Fort Concho, led an expedition to find the camps of the Comanches and Kiowas in June of 1872. He established a supply base at Blanco Canyon (close to present-day Crosbyton, Texas). He had about 500 soldiers, 12 six-mule wagon teams and pack animals from Fort Richardson; 8 six-mule wagon teams and pack animals from Fort Griffin; and 5 six-mule wagon teams from Fort Concho, all of which hauled forage, food, and supplies. They were driven by civilian teamsters. Additionally, there was a herd of cattle, two butchers, and an ambulance.
In August of 1872, Colonel Gregg, from Fort Bascom, led an expedition into Texas, with 214 Eighth Cavalry soldiers, 11 officers, 38 supply wagons, and a large herd of cattle.
In the second half of 1874, General Sheridan launched the Red River War. It was the largest military campaign in the region and was intended to be the final effort to either destroy the Indian tribes or to force them onto reservations in Indian Territory. He devised a five-pronged campaign to eventually destroy the resources of the tribes and put them into a position where their continued survival would mean surrender.
From Fort Bascom, Major Redwood Price led an expedition with 225 soldiers, 20 mule-drawn wagons provided by the army, 24 mule-drawn wagons provided by contractors, and 30 pack mules, plus a herd of cattle. They created a supply depot on the Canadian River at Adobe Walls.
Major General Nelson Miles, leaving from Camp Supply in northwest Indian Territory, had similar numbers of men, horses, mules, wagons, and cattle, as did Colonel Mackenzie from Fort Concho, Lt. Colonel George Buell from Fort Richardson, and Lt. Colonel John Davidson from Fort Sill. They established supply depots where needed.
In terms of performance, Sheridan’s plan worked well enough: each prong killed few warriors but destroyed camps, shelters, food supplies, ammunition, and, most importantly, horses. By winter, General Sheridan achieved his goals: the tribal chiefs found themselves unable to defeat starvation, lack of mobility, and the weather. They began moving to the reservations.
I had previously read about the Red River War, but never comprehended the scale of the operation. The challenge of the logistics, the timing, the management of men, animals, and resources, not to mention herds of cattle, and the shear audacity it took to move just one of the forces is hard to imagine.
When I was in high school, a friend and I drove his dad’s pickup onto a dry branch of the Canadian River. It seemed a great idea at the time: my friend’s church youth group was having a party/picnic along some small dunes on the riverbed after dark, with a bonfire, and driving the heavily loaded pickup to the site of the picnic would save a lot of effort toting drinks, hotdogs, ice, and other picnic supplies.
If you’re not familiar with dry riverbeds, think of rivers of sand that look hard-packed but aren’t, about fifty yards wide. The Canadian River, when I was growing up, was a stream ten to twenty feet wide, while the riverbed was a quarter-mile wide, bordered by rugged bluffs a few hundred feet high, which leaves a lot of room for sand, gravel, and a clutter of spindly trees, tall grasses, and bushes with thorns the size of my fingers. The branches coming out of the plains down into the river corridor were always dry.
It didn’t take long to get the pickup stuck in the middle of the riverbed, some distance from the picnic site. It wouldn’t be until the next day that his not-very-pleased dad would come and drive it out. I don’t remember how the picnic got its supplies; I don’t even remember how we got back to town.
To get to our destination, we had to have crossed a little used wagon path close to the bluffs, hidden amongst the mesquite trees, china berry trees, riverbed grasses, cactus, yucca, and other plants, as well as a proliferation of oil field roads, pipe lanes, and the rocking arms of oil well pumps.
That we could have seen the wagon path at all was unlikely, but almost a hundred years before, in 1864, it was a highly traveled and significant road that, within twenty-four hours, would lead Kit Carson to the largest Indian battle of his career.
A few weeks ago, I listed several of the historical “roads” that crossed Hutchinson County in the vicinity of the Canadian River where I grew up. I recently found another one, this one also of significant historical importance. Visiting the local historical museum, I bought a book titled Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls, by Alvin R. Lynn. It is one of the most fascinating and informative books I’ve read in several years.
Alvin R. Lynn is a retired social studies and science teacher, and was also a coach, in the Dumas, Texas, area, I believe. While researching a contribution to a Moore County history journal, in 1992, he discovered that a narrow strip of land following the Canadian River from one side of Texas to the other, had been a thoroughfare of activity for Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexican traders, buffalo hunters, California gold seekers, emigrants, and the military.
In particular, he discovered that the strip included the route used by Colonel Kit Carson in his role as commandant of Fort Bascom (on the Canadian River, east of Conchas Lake in New Mexico), when he took a force of 335 soldiers east into Texas and fought one of the largest battles ever fought between Native Americans and the U.S. armed forces west of the Mississippi, involving as many as 3,000 Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, and Arapahos. The battle and Carson’s subsequent retreat was close to the ruins of the first Adobe Walls trading post (on the Canadian River, a few miles east Borger, Texas), a distance of about two hundred miles from Fort Bascom.
This sudden interest into what seemed a remarkable void in historical literature and research, turned into a fifteen-year project that would take Alvin Lynn “driving about thirty thousand miles on highways and the backcountry of New Mexico and Texas; walking a few hundred miles through yucca, sagebrush, grass burrs, and other sticky plants; suffering the bites of gray-back deer flies, gnats, and mosquitoes; dodging a few rattlesnakes; enduring hot weather, cold weather, and winds that could blow the bark off cedar posts.”
Having been allowed access to twenty-two different ranches along the way, Lynn used his trusty metal detector to locate, identify, and catalogue more than 1,800 artifacts. The location of those artifacts discovered or confirmed the locations of the major camps used by Colonel Carson while traveling to and from the battle site. Lynn’s research was accurately and thoroughly done, and the book is a great contribution to the history of the road, the major battle, and the various skirmishes that occurred over a two-day period.
The battle, known as the First Battle of Adobe Walls (there would be a second and more famous one ten years later) was not a victory for either side. Carson was savvy enough to recognize that he faced a far greater enemy than he had expected, so he retreated from the area within the day that he had arrived, and made his way back to New Mexico along the same road he had taken to get there. If he had not brought along two cannons with him, his force might have been massacred.
The major result of his campaign was that his men located and destroyed the Kiowa camp, burning more than 150 teepees, stores of dried meat, blankets, buffalo robes, powder, cooking utensils, and other supplies, including a buggy wagon that belonged to the Kiowa Chief. The battle occurred on Thanksgiving and the destruction of the camp left the Kiowas destitute for the start of winter.
I am fascinated with the idea that it all occurred within miles of my house, and that what happened and exactly where it happened wasn’t explicitly researched until Lynn’s quest. I’m thankful for him and his book, and really wish that I had owned a metal detector in high school. Maybe I would have used it.
It’s not a bad thing to know exactly what you’re going to do during the day when you wake up in the morning. As a veteran list-maker, I like the idea of writing a to-do list that has only one entry.
I’ve been writing. More correctly, I’ve been revising, rewording, and polishing an official draft for a novel now named Black Magic Dreams, going word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. This is my sequel to Smoke Dreams, my first adult novel published in 2013. It’s the one that has the house with a personality, and is centered around the story of a ten-year-old boy who is kidnapped by the Comanche Indians in 1870.
I started writing the sequel in 2016, so the text I’m currently working on has a lengthy ancestry, but the major work has been in the last six months, when I committed to getting the sequel published. I officially renamed my manuscript this week and it will be the version I give to an editor in June.
I’m on page 242 of 303, so I’m closing in fast and will be finished by the end of the week. I’ll let it rest a few weeks, read it one last time, and then let it go.
I’m a binge writer when I’m preparing a manuscript for someone else to edit. I don’t read other novels because I don’t want to confuse writing styles; I don’t write on other stories because I don’t want to have my mind divided between different characters and plots; I don’t keep up with my blogging; I don’t even watch TV shows, other than PBS.
My goal for each day is to advance my manuscript, which is only possible because I have the time and space to do it—old man, lives alone, no marriage to maintain, no other obligations beyond taking people to lunch, buying groceries, and walking. And golf. It’s my latest passion; I play a round every week and am hoping to play more. And I also help take care of my granddaughter a day each week.
I did recently take a week of sick leave. I caught the latest virus that’s going around New Mexico and spent a few days flushing out my intestines. Even then, I managed to edit a few chapters in between trips to the bathroom.
It’s nice that the end of this period is coming. I’m tired of working on it, tired of serving a stern taskmaster, and it’s time for another set of eyes to review the story, the structure, and how effectively I’ve told the tale. Once this manuscript is sent to my editor, I expect to not be writing at all during the summer. I’ve got seven books in a to-read stack, ranging from a history of Fort Bascom in northeastern New Mexico, to more research about Coronado’s journey, to a new WWII fiction book about a young Jewish man who ends up being the driver for a Nazi general. I have an on-line presentation about Teddy’s War for the Santa Fe Library next week, a short story ready to submit tomorrow for a writing contest, a rafting trip during the second week of June, another one in July, a book to finalize that will be published on September 1, a video to make for a grandson, and several landscaping projects that I will be helping with. I have a special trip to Glacier National Park in September to celebrate my 70th birthday.
I’m going to be happy to leave writing behind for a while.
On the campus of Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas, there are two Texas State Historical markers. One tells of Josiah Gregg, who blazed a wagon trail from Santa Fe to the Mississippi River, while the second talks about the Beale Trail, the first “super-highway” built from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles. These trails were well-used by military expeditions, hunters, and travelers. These two trails overlap each other and are, literally, a few miles from the backyard of my childhood home.
I couldn’t see any indication of the trails on the campus, but wagon ruts appear in the lower left-hand corner of the campus on satellite images found by using Google Maps. To see something more up close and personal, I drove Texas Highway 136 between Fritch and Amarillo (about thirty miles from the campus, as the crow flies) to see wagon ruts on a different portion of Gregg’s trail, between FM245 and FM293. Southwest behind a historical marker on the west side of the highway, are wagon “swales”, which are wide depressions in the ground caused by erosion around the ruts. In the picture, there are two swales directly above the sign, in lighter green, probably from wagons traveling side-by-side.
In a coming sequel of Smoke Dreams, my characters are on a wagon trip that uses the Beale Road. I knew some information about the Beale before I started writing the story, but to know more, I visited the Hutchinson County Museum in Borger last week. It may be the best place in Texas to learn about the different explorers and the historical wagon trails that were based on the Canadian River. My research proved fascinating and the facts are remarkably important to the history of a town that I thought had little history before the discovery of oil.
Here's a synopsis of who did what and when, that can be traced to having used the portion of the Canadian River that lies within Hutchinson County.
The Coronado Expedition, 1541: Coronado left his army in the Palo Duro Canyon area and took a small number of men north, crossing the Canadian River and venturing high into central Kansas, looking for Quivira. He was unsuccessful.
The Onate Expedition, 1601: Onate established the first capital of Northern Spain, which would eventually be Santa Fe, and then took a force of 300 soldiers, priests, Indians, and servants eastward, followed the Canadian across Texas, through Oklahoma, again looking for Quivira. As with Coronado, the expedition failed.
The Mallet Expeditions, 1739-1750: the Mallet brothers were French Canadian traders from New Orleans. They made several trips along the Canadian River (they named it) and the Red River, across Oklahoma, Texas, and into New Mexico.
The Pierre Vial routes, 1786-1788: a trader who developed a route from San Antonio to Santa Fe, and also made several different trips from Louisiana to Santa Fe, along the Canadian and Red Rivers, and from Santa Fe to St. Louis along the Arkansas River. Much of this last route became the Santa Fe Trail in 1821.
The Stephen Harriman Long expedition, 1820: Long was an explorer, surveyor, and a major in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. He led one the first scientific expeditions to explore the Texas Panhandle, spending about fifteen days there, surveying both the Canadian and Red Rivers.
The Abert Expedition, 1845: Lieutenant James William Abert was a soldier, explorer, ornithologist, and topographical artist. He was a member of Captain John Fremont’s expedition to California when, at Bent’s Fort, he was directed to go south and explore the Canadian River from its source in New Mexico to its junction with the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. He wrote splendid reports accompanied by his drawings and watercolor paintings. Unfortunately, except for railroad concerns, all of his information went relatively unnoticed until 1941, when they were rediscovered.
The travels of Josiah Gregg, 1831-1852: Gregg was a sickly, shy and studious man, and his doctors recommended he relocate to Santa Fe for his health. He did so, traveling with a merchant caravan along the Santa Fe Trail. He recovered his health and became enamored with traveling; he would eventually cross the Great Plains four times. On one of his trips, he wanted a shorter trail than the Santa Fe Trail and followed the Canadian River going east. He wrote extensively about his journeys and produced Commerce of the Prairies, a popular book that became a cornerstone for all the studies related to the Santa Fe Trail.
The Marcy Trail, 1840: Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy was commissioned in 1840 to find a less hazardous route with good water on even terrain that connected Fort Smith, Arkansas, to California. He followed Gregg’s route along the Canadian through Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico; followed an existing trail south to El Paso; and then went west across the bottom of Arizona into California. His route was called The California Road. Marcy would later write The Prairie Traveler, published in 1859, which became the principal manual for westward-bound pioneers.
The Amiel Weeks Whipple Expedition, 1853: Lt. Whipple was sanctioned with finding a potential route for a transcontinental railroad along the thirty-fifth parallel. Amongst the soldiers, teamsters, herders, and servants of the expedition were scientists closely associated with the Smithsonian Institute. The eight-month effort followed the Marcy Trail across Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, and then surveyed a new route that went directly west from Albuquerque, across the middle of Arizona, to California. Even though a transcontinental route was not located along his route, much of the trail would later be used for the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad. His expedition produced twelve massive volumes of reports that included contour maps, and helped document the history of the region.
The Edward Beale Wagon Road, 1857-1860: Lt. Edward F. Beale and a crew of 100 men and 22 camels, began building the first federal highway west of the Mississippi. One group worked on the easterly route from Fort Smith to Albuquerque, while a second group began a westerly route from New Mexico to the Colorado River. Beale and his crews cleared a 10-foot-wide track, pushing rocks aside, cutting down trees, and building bridges where needed, to make a road spanning 1200 miles from Fort Smith to the Colorado River. His claim was that the route was never more than twenty miles from water, a vital consideration at the time. It followed much of the Whipple route, the Marcy route, and Gregg’s route, and parts of it would later become Route 66 and Interstate 40.
After 1865, the story switches from wagon trails to railroad tracks, although there were still wagons making the journey west in the 1880s. Though I doubt it was on a major route, my maternal grandmother remembered coming to Kansas in a covered wagon in the 1890s.
I wish I had known this side of the county history when I was in high school. I would have loved to explore the countryside and it would have given me a much higher regard for Panhandle history in general.
PBS recently featured the new Ken Burns documentary about Earnest Hemingway. I always enjoy whatever Ken Burns produces, but I especially enjoyed this one. I’ve read about Hemingway more than other authors, but seeing the photos and film, hearing the stories, and seeing the progression of his life was fascinating. The documentary did an especially nice job handling the ten years leading up to his suicide, showing the consequences of the several head injuries he had suffered, and the family trait towards mental illness.
There is a book titled Hemingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson. It is a fascinating read, and, though explicitly not a biography, it is a detailed examination of Hemingway’s life from the first week of April 1934 (when he first saw the boat at the shipyard) and the first week of July 1961 (when he killed himself), all from the viewpoint of his custom-built thirty-seven foot, dual-engined, two-cabined, sea-going fishing boat that he bought from the Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn, New York, and christened the Pilar.
Interviewing and gathering stories from people, dead or alive, including Hemingway’s wives, children, friends, guests, and shipmates who went adventuring and deep-sea fishing on the Pilar, Hendrickson gives a detailed journey of the boat’s influence on Hemingway. There are several people whose names never make into regular Hemingway biographies, and hearing the stories of their involvement with Hemingway gives a richer and more extensive picture than the typical biographies. His boat was the one thing in his life that never failed him, was always there for him, and gave him a distinctive platform for displaying his true self.
“A man who let his own insides get eaten out by the diseases of fame had dreamed new books on this boat. He’d taught his sons to reel in something that feels like Moby Dick on this boat. He’d accidentally shot himself in both legs on this boat. He’d fallen drunk from the flying bridge on this boat. He’d written achy, generous, uplifting, poetic letters on this boat. He’d propositioned women on this boat. He’d hunted German subs on this boat. He’d saved guests and family members from shark attack on this boat. He’d acted like a boor and a bully and an overly competitive jerk on this boat.
She’d been intimately his, and he hers, for twenty-seven years—which were his final twenty-seven years. She’d lasted through three wives, the Nobel Prize, and all his ruin. He’d owned her, fished her, worked her, rode her, from the waters of Key West to the Bahamas to the Dry Tortugas to the north coast and archipelagoes of Cuba. She wasn’t a figment or a dream or a literary theory or somebody’s psychosexual interpretation—she was actual.”
Hendrickson, in May of 2005, found the Pilar sitting up on concrete blocks under a gigantic plastic-roofed carport on what was the tennis court at the Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s famous house in the hills above Havana, Cuba. Though part of the museum created out of the house and grounds, it appeared abandoned and had suffered significantly from the weather.
On September 17, 1955, at his Havana home, Hemingway set down on a sheet of onionskin letterhead stationery a last will and testament in which he left his entire estate and property to his fourth wife, Mary, and nothing to his children; he expected her to provide for them according to written instructions he had given her. In August of 1961, roughly eight weeks after his suicide, Mary gave Pilar to Gregorio Fuentes, a Cuban who had served as first mate aboard the boat from 1938 and who would not die until 2002, at almost 105. The previous first mate was Carlos Gutierrez, who told Hemingway a real-life story of an old fisherman who had been out on the sea, alone, and had caught a monster marlin after a two-day battle. The marlin was so big that the fisherman lashed him alongside his skiff, but, by the time he made it back home, sharks had eaten most of it.
Fuentes kept it in Cojimar for several years, then gave it to the Revolutionary Government, who moved it to Finca Vigia as the centerpiece of a Hemingway Museum. During the following years, there were attempts at preservation and restoration, but it was a hodgepodge of efforts. In 2005, when Hendrickson saw it, and, when the guards weren’t looking, touched it, the boat was in sad shape. It also had marked differences between the descriptions of the original and what was then sitting on the tennis court, feeding rumors that a duplicate boat had been built and substituted for the real thing.
The official documentation of Pilar’s life was muddled and sometimes full of errors, which reflected the boat’s poor shape and its inadequate preservation. In June 2005 Finca Vigia was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, even though Hemingway’s previous home was not in America, and, in 2006, was listed on the World Monuments Watch of the 100 Most Endangered Sites on the globe. Perhaps because of that criticism, the next year, the Cuban government provided funds for a complete restoration of Pilar, to be done by preservation experts at Marina Hemingway in Havana.
It was done, and done well, and Pilar is now “as shiny as a new penny”, according to Dana Hewson, a member of the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation, a private group that provides financial assistance to efforts directed at preserving Finca Vigia.
Hendrickson’s portrayal of the role that Pilar played in Hemingway’s life is wonderfully done in counterpoint to the typical biographies of his life. The stories of her regular voyages out to sea, the special trips during the war, the fishing with his children, the fascinating guests (including Karen Blixen, who authored Out of Africa)—all add dimensions that give remarkable insights to the how and why of what Hemingway did.
In November of last year, I bought a “marketing package” from a marketing professional in Santa Fe. He offered a package that would advertise Teddy’s War on social media, specifically Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, once a week over a four-week period. It started the week before Teddy’s War was released, which was December 1. I wrote in my blog about it at the time and promised that I would report back on what happened.
I’m reporting back that I wasted my money.
I wanted the marketing effort to lead to increased book sales. At the time I bought the package, I told the marketer that I wanted numbers—which site he advertised on, how often, an estimate of the number of people reached, how many instances of feedback he received, etc. I also told my publisher about the package and asked him to put together the sales numbers from the publishing house’s national distributor for the time period when the marketing effort was going to take place. It takes months of lag time for the sales numbers to tally up correctly across the venues through which the distributor sells its books (including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other booksellers), so I wouldn’t know the result of the effort until this spring.
Through the software that supports my website (Weebly), I also watched the number of visits to my website on a week-by-week basis. It doesn’t have anything to do with sales, but since the advertisement put up by the marketer referenced my website, any increase in website visits should indicate increased interest in me or my books, and should correlate to increases in orders through Amazon. I also monitored Amazon directly, to see the number of books sold per individual paperback books, but their data does not appear very robust or trustworthy.
Without giving any of the details, the marketer did not do what I thought he was going to do; he did not report any numbers and would probably claim that he couldn’t, which might be true; there were no increases in website visits in the timeframe of the effort; and Amazon did not show any unusual increases in sales during the timeframe of the effort. I decided to not ask my publisher for the sales data (I’ll get them later), and am really annoyed that the sales data are not easily obtainable by authors.
My best estimate is that zero books were bought as a direct result of the marketing of Teddy’s War across the social media platforms. I’m not surprised.
My tenth Mogi Franklin Mystery book finished its last review and edit in January. The story is titled War Train and takes place in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It centers around the Castaneda Hotel while it’s being remodeled, and has a lot of flavor of Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls. It deals with a bank robbery in Las Vegas during the early years of World War II, the subsequent disappearance of the robbers and the money, the restoration and preservation of the hotel, the discovery of a hidden footlocker that’s been locked for 75 years, and an ugly quilt.
The cover is currently being worked on, as is the conversion of the Word document into a printable paperback format. The release date is September 1. The book already appears on Amazon (with no cover) and the story description is good. You can see it by typing in War Train with my name.
I’m working through the manuscript of a new story that is a follow-on to Smoke Dreams. It involves Sam, the kidnapped boy who turned into a great Comanche warrior, after he leaves the Goodnight Ranch in 1884 to search for his sister. A different story begins in 1904 that involves Lucy, Sam’s sister, who was sent to St. Louis after he was kidnapped, and is now married, has kids, and just celebrated her 40th birthday. The story also involves Harry, Lucy’s son, who is twenty, as he travels through New Mexico and Texas, searching for what happened to Sam. I bring Sam and Harry together, reveal what happened to Sam during the years between, and then end the book with an emotional and heartbreaking incident that ties everything together, preserving the principle in the first novel that Lucy never discovered that Sam survived until she died.
If you liked Smoke Dreams, you’ll love this one. You’ll like what the house does, too.
I’m, once again, incessantly rewriting. I am more honest now and recognize that only through iteration do I produce any good writing at all. My strengths are imaginative plotting, interesting characters, describing the scenery, and creating authenticity in characters’ actions; my weaknesses are writing good words, sentences and paragraphs. I put the second draft away for three months, and now find myself with different eyes. I can read it differently and can see inconsistencies, incongruencies, bad word choices, and superfluous passages. It’s exciting and enjoying to change the scenes and words to have more clarity and read better, no matter how bad I feel about having written poorly in the previous draft. Maybe that’s the true reason I rewrite so much—I love the challenge of making it better.
I expect to finish my draft by the end of May, and may give the manuscript to an editor in June. I’m going to self-publish the book through Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), matching Smoke Dreams, which I self-published in 2013. I don’t yet know what the title will be.
My publisher is improving their marketing strategies. Whether due to COVID or riding the wave of remote meetings, Terra Nova Books started a monthly ZOOM session that features their authors. I was scheduled in December, but because no one registered to attend, I was postponed.
I’m now presenting on April 28th, at 5:00pm, MST. Instead of having an invited audience using my personal email list, my publisher arranged for me to talk at a ZOOM session sponsored by the Santa Fe Public Library. They hold presentations twice a month and have a roster of some hundreds, so it’s probable that I’ll have a good number of attendees whom I do not know. I’m looking forward to it. I will include photographs, so it should be more interesting than just me talking. I wouldn’t even attend if it was just me talking.
You can sign up to attend the ZOOM session at terranovabooks.com. They will be archiving the presentation on YouTube if you want to watch it later.
Larry McMurty died this week. He’s one of my favorite writers and Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books. He wrote a number of books and screenplays, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was also well-known as a book collector and book seller. In addition to having accumulated a personal library of 30,000 books or so, he started and managed used bookstores around the country. His most impressive and longest-lasting bookstore is in Archer City, a small town in Texas where he lived. He filled five large buildings with a half-million used books.
I visited Archer City in 2005 and found exploring the total collection to be impossible. Each building was stuffed with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (in rooms with tall ceilings), and each bookshelf was stuffed with books. It was quite a sight.
I was looking for books by Robert Ruark. At the time, nothing was computerized (it still may not be), but the ladies who worked in each building got me to the right building, the right floor, the right corner, and within a foot of where Ruark’s books were located. As it turned out, I only bought a classic set of Sherlock Holmes stories.
I hope to go back, if for nothing more than to pay homage to the man. I read that McMurtry was trying to slim the collection down (from five buildings to one), knowing that his family was going to be left with everything once he died, and not wanting them to be faced with an impossible legacy. I doubt that he started soon enough. If you ever get close (Archer City is about 30 miles southwest of Wichita Falls), it’s worth the visit.
Coronado’s army had a roll-call on February 22, 1540, at Coronado’s headquarters in Compostela, west of Mexico City and near the coast, exactly 192 years before the birth of George Washington. From eyeing a map, the distance from Compostela to the Mexico/Arizona border looks to be at least two or three times the length of the route from the border to the Zuni Pueblo. The army was probably already tired before they even began what I learned as Coronado’s Expedition.
About halfway along the Mexico portion, Coronado divided his following into two groups: a forward exploratory force of 75-80 horsemen, 25-30 footsoldiers, and some native allies, and the bulk of the “army”, still around 3,000 people and 13,000 animals. Coronado led the exploratory force, while the rest of the army followed behind at a slower pace. The whole company would not be together again until they met at the Zuni Pueblo on July 7, 1540.
As Coronado was making his way up Mexico into present day Arizona, the Viceroy sent three fully loaded ships up the Gulf of California, expecting the ships to rendezvous with Coronado at some point and resupply his forces. The ships not only sailed up the Gulf, but sailed up the Colorado River a considerable distance. Failing to find Coronado, they left a message along the banks and returned home.
Coronado’s forces had fought with the Zuni natives when he arrived. Knowing they were no match for the horses, the blunderbusses, and the cannons, the Zunis evacuated to the top of a nearby mesa. While waiting for the rest of the army to catch up, Coronado sent out explorers to the west, hoping to rendezvous with the ships. Those explorers discovered the Hopi homelands, the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon. They would also find the spot on the Colorado where the Spanish ships had left their message. The two forces had missed each other by the width of Arizona.
Coronado did not discover the Seven Cities of Gold, but the area did have Six Towns of Wealth. The Zuni excelled at farming, trade, diplomacy and craft technology and had, by aboriginal standards, become extraordinarily wealthy. In 1540, they enjoyed one of the highest standards of living of any people in North America, and were widely known among the native tribes from the Pacific Coast to the central Great Plains. From a poor native’s viewpoint, the Zuni towns were probably an approximation of golden cities.
After Coronado reaches Zuni, the historical narrative is better known. It takes until the end of August for the rest of the army to catch up, after which Coronado moves the full army directly east, passing by Acoma Pueblo and through the lava beds of El Malpais, and establishes their entrada along the Rio Grande River at present-day Bernalillo (north of Albuquerque), where they spend the winter of 1540-1541. In the spring, he takes the full army to the Pecos Pueblo. It is the largest pueblo (about 4000 natives) and may have been the center of the Puebloan Empire.
Coronado finds a guide who witnesses to the great wealth in the city of Quivira, about a thousand miles away in modern day Kansas. In the spring of 1541, Coronado leads the full army to somewhere in the Panhandle of Texas. He finds the land rich with everything except water, discusses his options with his officers, and then sends the full army back to Bernalillo, while he follows the guide with a detachment of thirty men. They make it to around the middle of Kansas and is again disappointed to find that Quivira is a little village of straw huts, full of “bestial people”.
The guide, with a little persuasion, confesses that the story was invented to lure the Spanish out into the Great Plains where they were expected to die. Coronado executes the guide by having him choked to death, wanders around for 25 days, desperately searching for any wealth at all, but eventually heads back to the Rio Grande, a thousand miles away.
Wintering again in Bernalillo, 1541-1542, Coronado and his officers decide to take the whole army to Kansas and explore farther east. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1542, Coronado falls off his horse during a horse race, is kicked in the head, and he’s in a coma for several days. When he recovers, he’s a changed man and becomes obsessed with a prophecy that convinces him that he is dying. Suffering a severe attack of homesickness, he decides not to venture any farther and leads his army back to Mexico.
By the time Coronado gets back to the Viceroy, most of his great company has died, fallen away, or has abandoned him; he makes it into Mexico City with less than a hundred men. Coronado is disgraced, tried and acquitted on account of his treatment of the Zunis and other tribes, and dies in obscurity in 1554 at the age of 44.
For an update on my sheep drive question, a reader sent me a copy of a California Agricultural Extension Service report, written in 1930, the states that “To supply the demand for fresh meat, there was a great influx of sheep from neighboring states and from 1852 to 1857, it is estimated that 551,000 sheep were driven into California from New Mexico.”
That’s more than a half million sheep! How many sheepherders did it take? How many of them walked from New Mexico to California and back, more than once?
I’m finding that my perception of history has a distinct lack of scale to it.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.