Category Archives: Excerpts

1891 IN THE MEADOW

I wandered out from my chores in the morning with never a by-your-leave to Mother. I was too mad to ask permission when permission never seemed to come my way. All I wanted was to ride out with the new hand and show him the eastern grazing lands he was to cover. But Papa said ‘no,’ even used my middle name for emphasis.

“No is what I said, Miss Josephine Parthenia, and no is what it will stay.”

“But Papa, it would save you time. ‘Sides, you know I can show him where to find the lean-to, same as anybody.”

* * *

Papa turned his back on me and commenced talking to the new man. He was young with brilliant black eyes and dark hair that matched the color of his charcoal skin. His full lips and crinkly hair cried out for my touch. I felt a slight rumble move through my innards and didn’t know what to make of it. With my offer rejected, I stalked away from the ranch house and found my way to Manuela’s Meadow.

Photo by Stompro Photo Design 2010

At fourteen, I was a long and strong one, able to do many of the arduous chores found out on the range. I could throw a calf, handle the branding iron, pull a fence line well enough for a girl. I could mend harness, ride all day and holler up a storm after strays.

Mother and Manuela took me in hand from time to time, forcing me to learn my way around the kitchen, vegetable garden and Mother’s hand-turned sewing machine. I could feed twenty, sew up shirts and dresses, milk the dairy cow, round up the chickens and select the best chicken for dinner while keeping the windows glistening. I knew my way about the ranch in all its parts better than anyone, save my parents. I bucked at the restraints they occasionally wrapped me in when all I wanted was to take charge of something, of anything.

Stretched out under a cottonwood in a nest of sweet-smelling grasses, I was chewing over my father’s refusal when Manuela and the girls showed up.         Manuela approached the tree, sat down with her back to me, the better to track the girls.

“Now, hija, you going to stay hid here all day?” Manuela asked the air, her English now better than my Spanish. She was braiding long strands of honeysuckle together, intent on saving them for winter fever tea. It took me a while, but I did answer her.

“Papa treats me like some little baby. He just won’t give me any real responsibility. Bet if’n I was a boy, he’d of let me take that new hand out.”

“Si, hija, si. You speak wisdom now.”

“What do you mean?”  I was a bit peeved.

“You think your Papa don’t see the moon eyes you make at that Lincoln?  And him, a Buffalo Soldier, fresh out of the army. Little white señorita means big trouble for that boy. You stay away from him.”

I twisted to sit up and drew closer to Manuela’s back. “I don’t see how takin’ him out east woulda made for trouble.”

Hija, your Papa don’t go putting the bull in among the cows ‘less he’s wanting calves. Same way he’s not going to go putting his daughter in among the cowpokes.”

“Ah, Manuela, I ain’t going to make a baby with some cowpoke.”  I had that funny feeling again. “Was Francisco the first man to kiss you?”

“There’s kissin’ and there’s kissin’. Then, there’s kissin’ and tellin’. I ain’t tellin’. You just watch out for yourself.”  Manuela was on her feet, basket in hand, moving toward her daughters. “Hijas,” she called. “Vamos a casa.”

 I let out a big sigh. I didn’t understand my feelings any better than before.

I saw Lincoln Brisco two more times until, after fall roundup, he left for Nevada, to try for a homestead. Each time I saw him, he was polite, soft spoken and with some other grownup between us. I took to dreamin’ about him, making up poems I never dared show and found a way to comfort myself when the stirrings in my body made me restless with the itch.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Excerpts, Historical Fiction

Excerpt from HUACHUCA WOMAN

Going to Town for provisions was important to farmers, ranchers, and their workers whether town was near enough for a weekly trip  or so far that trips were seasonal. The Lazy L was far across the San Pedro River Valley so that in the early days, trips were rare. At sixteen, Josephine accompanies her father on a spring trip that widens her experience in several ways.

THE TRIP TO BISBEE 1893

Papa and me set out before light. It wasn’t so much the number of miles we had to go but the rough country we had to climb to get there. The road to Bisbee was pretty well laid out by 1893, but our house was set up in our canyon, about three miles off the main track leading north to the fort. From where we entered the road and turned east, the horses could just glide along in the ruts that the cavalry, banditos and ranchers laid ahead of us. Spring had everybody on the move, glad for the winter to be over and eager with the business of new livestock and new plantings. We joined up with Mr. Carlson and two of his boys toward the end of the first day. We camped out with them, up against a mess of tall stickery mesquite and had a good visit over a supper of beans and Mother’s tough old stewing hen. In the morning, we traveled on together.

A troop of Fort Huachuca Buffalo Soldiers caught up with us and stayed almost to Bisbee. The sergeant, with skin the color of black coffee, took Papa off to the side when we made a short stop to eat. The soldiers talked about raiders going back and forth to Mexico making more trouble than usual. Afterwards, Papa told me to roll my hair under his old hat and to loosen my shirt out of my pants, more manly like. I was already wearing the pants Mother and me usually wore when we did heavy chores around the place. A person can’t brand, help birth a calf or even plow the garden near so well if she’s wearing a skirt tho’ most women tried.

We’d gotten about halfway up over the Mule Mountains when the soldiers turned off toward the border. We waved them on and finished our ride into Bisbee at dusk. We could see cooking fires down in the ravine that sheltered the town and hear the shouts and music from the saloons in Brewery Gulch. It was as close as Papa meant to let me get to that part of town.

We put up at Mrs. Cragen’s boarding house where Papa usually stayed if he had one of us womenfolk along. If it was just him and Francisco, they’d camp out on the edge of town. I couldn’t hardly wait for daylight and the chance to see the town and the changes it had taken in the last year. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cragen fed us fried steak and canned asparagus, the only kind I tasted for lots of years, and her fresh baked bread. I was the only other female staying in the house so Mrs. Cragen took me into her bed and left Papa to share his with a drummer of men’s articles.

Morning was clear and sunny when I woke to find the bed empty. I could hear not so soft voices from the kitchen on the other side of the bedroom door.

“My boarders don’t much care what kind of problems keep you to home of a morning, Mrs. Hale.” Mrs. Cragen was put out for sure. “They want their breakfast and most want it early. Now, I don’t want to let you go, but I can’t be kept waiting again.”

“No, ma’am. I’ll not trouble you again,” said Mrs. Hale, midst a clatter of pots and pans.

I dressed quickly in my dingy old brown calico and headed for the outdoor conveniences. Passing through the kitchen, I looked for the mysterious Mrs. Hale and found no sign of her. Once outside, I nearly opened the privy door on a small, dark haired woman just coming out.

“Excuse me,” she said and pushed on by.

Her empty smile must have hurt for an ugly bruise stretched from eye to jaw. Whatever her problems at home, she seemed to have got the worst of it. Mother told me some men handle their women rough and I’d seen it some in travelers who stopped by our place. Wasn’t no way that’d happen to me without I’d be gone and the man regretting it.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Excerpts, Fort Huachuca, Historical Fiction

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

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Filed under Excerpts, Historical Fiction, Hull House, Nostalgia

1900 A NEW CENTURY

My last post  was an excerpt from BY GRACE and told of Grace Pelham’s Christmas Eve in 1898, spent at a lavish NYC ball. It is a year later and Grace is now known as Glenda Pearson, housekeeper for the unfriendly Reverend Stans and his wife in Virginia City, Montana. She is on the run for her life with her nemesis Jeremy in hot pursuit.

Christmas and New Year’s came and went quietly in the Stans’ household. The Reverend held two extra, well-attended services and the ladies of the church set pine boughs about the sanctuary. Half a dozen children performed the Christmas story and reminded Glenda of her time at Hull House. She was not asked to assist, even though her artistic talents were known from her sketching walks about town.

Church members provided for the holiday feast. Glenda ate alone in the warm kitchen while the Stans ate in their room. If they exchanged gifts, Glenda didn’t know of any, nor did she buy anything for them. Her first month would soon draw to a close and she debated about remaining with the Stans. She knew Virginia City had no other employment to offer and a move to the boarding house would eat into her cash reserves. She couldn’t face another stagecoach ride in the dead of winter. Her book-safe, Robinson Caruso, held her money but, given the uncertainty of her future, she was reluctant to spend it on room and board. She would wait to see what salary the Stans offered now that her fare was more than repaid.

The new century arrived without fanfare. Gunshots sounded at midnight as snow began to fall. The blizzard arrived before noon, putting a damper on the town’s spirits. Doors remained closed, drapes were drawn against the cold and scarcely a body, human or animal, moved through the streets. It was two days before the storm slowed and a weak sun filtered through the clouds. Slowly, the town came to life.

***

I will be back in January…after traveling in the Yucatan

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Filed under Excerpts, Historical Fiction, New Year

CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK 1898

BY GRACE is the second book in the Huachuca Trilogy. When Grace Pelham, an orphaned storekeeper’s daughter from Albany, sets out for New York City to pursue her art, she meets up with people on board the Mary Alice who will  influence her. The Schuyler family includes Eric and Gertrude and their young twin sons, Bertie and Charlie. Grace is drawn to Eric who causes new, uncomfortable sensations. She is later surprised by an invitation to the very wealthy Schuylers’ Christmas Eve Ball.  Grace accepts.

THE SCHUYLERS’ CHRISTMAS EVE BALL

Dinner was a long affair with good food and good talk. Grace looked once or twice to the head table to catch a glimpse of Eric, Gertrude or his parents. Soon, both couples were circulating around the room, stopping at one table or another to speak briefly with each group.

Watching them, Chastity cocked an eye at Grace, and spoke softly. “All society knows  Gertrude is wildly jealous of her husband. She keeps an eagle eye on any attractive woman who comes within shouting distance of him.” Grace looked appalled. “It’s amazing you have gotten this close. Beware of her fangs!”

Before Grace could respond, the Schuylers were nearing the table. She thought of excusing herself to head to the powder room and then decided that would be too obvious a snub. Instead, she gathered her wits and prepared for another encounter with Gertrude and her barbs.

“Dancing will start in the main ballroom in a short while,” said Gertrude. “I hope you will find this new orchestra appealing.” Gertrude put a good face on things, having sheathed her slings and arrows

“But first, we’ll have some carolers from Epiphany School serenade us and sing us into the ballroom,” added Eric, just as the sound of “Deck the Halls” resounded from the entry.

The grandeur of the dining room had impressed Grace with its flocked and silvered wallpaper hung above cherry wainscoting, drapery of fine silk and delicate crystal chandeliers. The ballroom nearly took her breath away.

“I had the same reaction when I first saw this room,” whispered Chastity. “It makes me think of Cinderella and her prince.”

The highly polished floor of intricate parquet spread out before them. Immense fireplaces sat in the east and west walls of the room, each big enough to fit a foursome for a game of whist. Silver and gold garlands hung throughout the room and reflected the light from chandeliers and wall sconces. Several chandeliers tinkled in a breeze from the opened doors on the south side of the room. A Christmas tree, easily twenty feet tall, glittered in one corner. Hand painted ornaments retold the Christmas story while star-held-candles sat on the tree’s branches.

“I think I have died and gone to heaven,” Grace whispered to Chastity as they moved across the vast room. Their little dinner group stayed together with the men making places for the ladies on the brocaded settees and tiny chairs along one wall.

The Epiphany choristers gathered near the tree and ended their performance with a medley of traditional carols and then slipped out the side doors and were gone in a flash. From an overhead gallery, a large orchestra immediately began a waltz to entice dancers. Both Schuyler couples moved onto the dance floor and met with applause as they dipped and twirled about the room. In moments, the floor was full of couples, young and old, slim or stout, all showing their enjoyment in smiles and trills of laughter.

Grace’s dance card was soon filled with the promise of a long evening. She was glad for the lessons at Mrs. Thompson’s Dance Academy that she had begged from her father. At times, she scarcely learned her partner’s name before she was whisked away by the next. When a break in the music came, she found Chastity locking arms and leading her to the balcony. A maid stood at each door to offer wraps to the women who sought to take the air. All along the terrace, men and women were resting from their exertions on the dance floor and chatting or flirting with their companions.

“Good, here come Ralphie and Bob Warren with drinks for us,” said Chastity

As the foursome downed the cool champagne punch, Gertrude and Eric came out on the balcony. Eric had his arm about his wife’s shoulders and was talking to her with deep concentration. Grace felt a knot form in her stomach as she watched them. Gradually, they  forfeited their privacy as guests vied for their attention with compliments and congratulations on the fine party.

Chastity nudged her, “A penny for your thoughts.”

She was saved from answering when a drum roll called the dancers back inside to find Santa and his elves gathered near the tree. With many a “ho, ho, ho,” Santa began calling ladies to his side. To each he gave a gift, carefully wrapped in silver and gold foil. When Grace’s turn came, she approached and recognized “Santa” as Eric’s father.

“And are you having a good time, m’dear?”

“Yes, Santa and I have been a good girl all year.”

Santa beamed. “That’s what I wanted to hear. Now, here’s your reward. Enjoy!”

On returning to her friends, Grace opened the slim envelope to find a membership card for the Museum of Art resting inside. She looked up to find Eric watching her from across the room. She nodded her thanks, and saw by his answering smile that the gift had been his doing. Beside her, Chastity found a silver pen in her gift box.

“I wonder how Santa knew of my poetry attempts!”

The evening whirled on with surprise after surprise. The season’s opera diva made an appearance and sang her famed aria. Teddy Roosevelt, so recently back from Cuba, rumbled in after midnight, in good time for the light buffet. A duo of flamenco dancers entertained, their lightning steps and graceful maneuvers putting the audience to swaying. Jugglers dressed as court jesters kept balls flying.

By four in the morning, Grace was sure she couldn’t drink more champagne, dance another dance or eat another morsel. She knew from Chastity that the Schuylers would serve breakfast at six for the diehards who remained. She intended to be in her bed by then. Taking leave of her friends and refusing offers of an escort back to The Lily Hotel for Ladies, Grace made her way to the entry where she asked for her things and her ride home.

Grace slept in late on Christmas morning, her head full of memories and dreams. She kept to her room most of the day, thinking back to Christmases past and drawing her visions of Albany, the store, the apartment and the town. At two o’clock, over a fresh cup of tea, she drew a random mark that evolved into the outline of a man’s head. It took shape and became her father’s image. Not a picture of his last days, but from her childhood when health and hope were still his. She caught his essence in the finished work, as her tears swelled to the surface.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from BY GRACE.  Watch for its publication in the coming year as Grace flees NYC in fear for her life and makes her way West.

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Filed under Christmas, Excerpts, Historic New York, Historical Fiction

THANKSGIVING, ARIZONA TERRITORY 1888

EXCERPT FROM ROSE OF SHARON

At noon on an unusually balmy Thanksgiving Day, the ranch yard was jumping with activity. Guests were arriving, but not Miss Jacks. Blake had delayed so long in inviting the teacher, she had accepted another invitation by the time he got up his courage to ask. Rose had something to say on the matter when she approached him as people gathered.

“I surely do wish you’d invited Miss Jacks. I think she’s sweet on you, too.”

Blake blushed in shades of pink below his tan. “Why do you say that?”

“You mean about wishing she’d come or that she’s sweet on you?”

“I don’t know, both, I guess.” He didn’t look at her, struggling to find something to distract them both.

“She watches out the window when you come to school and she asks about you.”  Rose answered with a big smile. “I just plain like her, and you do, too.”

“Better look to our guests,” he mumbled, even redder in the face.

The Tomlins, with their father and husband home from the sawmill up Carr Peak, accounted for six visitors and brought peach pies and “smashed” potatoes, as their three year old called them. The elderly Browns added home-canned green beans and cornbread to the table. Blake’s fresh caught wild turkey roasted in the yard pit with the children taking turns at rotating the bird on its spit. Venison steaks and ears of corn were added to the feast as they came off the grill.

“I think that turkey is about done, don’t you, Miz Brown?” Jim was quick to seek the experienced woman’s counsel.

She demurred, just briefly, and then spoke in a thick, lady-like southern accent. “I do believe you are right, my boy.” She prodded the leg of the bird and juices ran into a pan sitting in the fire for that purpose. “We will have us some fine gravy to go with the Tomlin’s taters. Please take that pan in the house and I’ll work it up.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do just that.”  Jim grinned and caught up the pan with a coarse cloth serving to protect his hands.

“Come along, Rose,” said Mrs. Brown. “Y’all can be of help and learn at the same time.” She put her arm around the child’s shoulder and Rose snuggled into her embrace.

“My mama made good gravy.”

“I’m sure she did, child. Ours will be different from your mama’s, but I think we will do alright.” They busied themselves with the drippings, flour and milk, whipping it to a frothy blend in a separate pot. “Did your mama ever use our desert sage in her gravy?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am. .” She watched Mrs. Brown open a tiny cheesecloth bag to reveal a dusty gray matter and stir a small quantity into the gravy. “Maybe my grandma back in Texas used it.” She couldn’t remember for sure.

“I suspect you are right, my dear.” She tapped Rose’s hand gently. Jacob, Rose of Sharon’s twin, ran in and grabbed the pan back from the pair, yelling as he went, “It’s done. We can eat.” Rose carried the thickened and flavorful gravy out to the table while Mrs. Brown brought out her beans and the potatoes. Others scurried about pouring milk and coffee, placing utensils around the table, heading back into the cabin for last minute needs.

“Mr. Brown, sir, would you do us the honor of carving the turkey?” Blake asked. He handed the tools over to the older gent.

“Don’t mind if’n I do.” Though from somewhere in the south, his speech wasn’t as genteel as his wife’s and that caused some folks to wonder how they’d come together. But, in the custom of the west, it wasn’t something polite folks would ask. As far as their neighbors knew, they’d been in the area for more than thirty years and had no children or other family. They’d put in orchards of apples and walnuts early on and prospered in feeding the workmen and families of the San Pedro River Valley and its mining communities.

When the group settled at the table, Blake asked if one of the twins would recite the old Bobbie Burns grace after explaining its family history to those gathered. Jacob and Rose, seated on opposite sides of the table, nodded and spoke the grace in chorus as they’d practiced for a week.

“Some hae meat, and canna eat,

And some hae none that want it.

But we hae meat and we kin eat,

So, let the Lord be thankit.”

“Why, thank you, children. That was very nice,” said Mrs. Tomlin. “I’d like to learn it for our family to say.”

“It’s in old Scottish, my mama said, but I bet you could learn it.” Rose was proud to pass on her mother’s custom to one and all. She stated it line by line, with first Mrs. Tomlin repeating and then others joining in. Jacob’s grin spread ear to ear as the old refrain was echoed about the long table.

“It’s surely fitting for us this Thanksgiving for ‘we hae meat and we kin eat,’ just as it says.” Mr. Brown leaned over and kissed his wife which got all the young ones giggling.

“Mr. Brown, you surely do taste sweet as ever,” she said. Giggles gave way to pure laughter.

With bowls and dishes flying up and down the table, the meal was the richest feast many had seen in months. For the Welty twins, it was a little reminder of meals taken at their grandmother’s table back in Texas. Those memories were growing faint, especially as their new life filled in voids and emptiness with laughter, good stories and new friends. Later, around a campfire, the grownups talked while the children ran about in a game of hide and seek. The talk was quietly shared over coffee and a bit of brandy in some cups. The Tomlins and Browns expressed regrets for not getting to know the Welty parents before the raiders came and killed the parents while the children watched from nearby.

“I surely wish those young’uns had known where to come to us for help. That walk across the desert had to have been awful,” said Mrs. Tomlin. She was gently bouncing her newest child in her arms.

Jim spoke up. “Yes, ma’am, it was hard on them, but I don’t know if we’d have caught up to the murderers without Blake here recognizing them from the twins’ description.”

“The marauders were blabbing about what they did at that place in Bisbee, so somebody would have gone to check, I’m sure,” Blake answered.

Mr. Tomlin added, “Maybe so, but by the time the sheriff could do that, they’d have been long gone.”

“You got that right,” said Jim.

“The important thing is for them to grow up believing the Good Lord will keep watch over them from now on.” Mrs. Brown said this with an emphasis in her voice.

“Yes’m,” said Blake. He silently renewed his vow to protect them with his life, if need be. “And they need a mother,” Mrs. Brown added

                                                  Blake squirmed in discomfort and thought of Elise Jacks for the umpteenth time that day.

A quietness settled on the adults as the sun moved to the west and the shadows of the Huachucas descended into the canyon. Birds were twittering the last songs of the day just as the children drifted closer to the fire. One by one they sought its warmth. Three year old Benjy Tomlin climbed into his father’s lap while his two older sisters found comfort nearer to their mother and Mrs. Brown. Rose and Jacob squatted on the ground between Blake and Jim with Rose resting her head against Blake. He settled his arm on her shoulder.

One of the ladies started to hum the old hymn “Now the Day is Over.” Soon, everyone joined in, singing the words.

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WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

Women’s History Month has its roots here in Sonoma County, CA. In 1978,  the local Commission on the Status of Women called for a week in March to be set aside to acknowledge the struggles and accomplishments of women. By 1980, the Women’s History Project was underway and Congress declared March our month.

Many women have influenced my life but in this day of attacks on the labor movement and hard-won labor rights I want to honor one woman who led the way, often with controversy. I hope you enjoy this tale. 

Excerpt from HUACHUCA WOMAN     Benson, Arizona   July 1917

Wiping her face of rivulets of sweat, she walked away from him and took a shady bench seat under the eaves of the station house, right alongside me. She was a smallish woman, getting on to thirty or thereabouts, fine featured with a full head of soot black hair, her crowning glory. She had the look of too many miles, too few good nights’ sleep and too much bad food. Her color was off and dark circles pooled under her gray blue eyes. She gave a faint smile.

             “Don’t think I’ll ever grow accustomed to the Arizona sun,” she said, fanning at the heat waves with her bit of the El Paso Herald.

            “I’m Arizona born and bred,” I said. “I’m still not used to it. Name’s Josephine Nichols.”

            “I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.”

            “The one they call ‘the rebel girl?’”

            “My main claim to fame,” she answered.

            “Believe I’ve read about you. You went out and made speeches for those lady silk workers in New Jersey about three, four year ago. Newspaper picture didn’t do you justice and I ‘spect they didn’t do so well by your speech either.”

            “You have that right. The newsies tend to intentionally garble what I say most of the time. Fortunately, the workers heard my message for themselves. It was a time.”

            “Is that what you do?  I mean, travel around the country and talk folks up?”

            “That and some writing,” Elizabeth answered. “What are you doing in this god forsaken place?”

            I laughed. “That’s my machine and trunks they’re trying to get loose. I’m heading back to my folks’ ranch with my boys.” I watched my sons horse around, in their usual fashion, and smiled when I caught Willy’s attention. He waved back. “Their daddy has gone off to the war.”      

“A soldier?  You’d think men would learn from their women to gather over the back fence or a cup of coffee and settle their differences before rushing off to kill one another.”

            “You sound like my Peter. He’s spent the last year or so saying that to anyone that’d listen. When the United States joined in the fray, he studied on it some more until he found a way to help. He’s gone off to drive ambulance for the Red Cross.”

            “Good for him. I hope he returns safely to you. And soon.”

            Wanting to shift the discussion away from Pete, my constant worry, I asked, “Who’s that man y’all were talking to? Your husband?”

            “No, no. He’s Big Bill Haywood, chief organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Some call us ‘Wobblies’ or the IWW. Some call him a ‘rabble rouser.’ There’s no one quite like him for getting the attention of working folks and management alike.”

            “Where y’all headed?”

            “There’s been some ugly business in Bisbee.”

            “Land’s sakes, those mines are so dangerous that it’s big time news when a month goes by without an accident,” I told her.  “Makes the headlines hereabout.”

             “They‘ve been saying the IWW down there is full of traitors and immigrants, people who don’t belong here.”

            “I’ve heard it said,” I responded. “Along the border here, most Mexican laborers come over for a time but go home when they want, and take their money with them.”

            “You might be surprised. The mining companies, at first, recruited Cornish, Welsh and German Austrian miners for their skills.” She took off her jacket and undid a few buttons of her blouse.  I followed suit and found some relief from the heat. “Now, these folks are a long ways from home and, for most, there’s no going back. They’ve settled here, become citizens, own land, have bank accounts, kids in local schools.”

            “German friends of ours just got chased out of El Paso a couple of months ago.”  I could see their sad faces as we saw the Kohls off at the station. “You’re right, there’s no going back to Germany for them. Just back to New York to be with more German Americans, to spare the children not fitting in.”

            “It’s a sad time for some, no doubt about it. Most of us have only a generation or two to look back to for immigration stories. My own family is lace curtain Irish.” She looked blankly into the distance as if seeing her ancestors.       

            “True enough,” I said. “Though to hear some talk, you’d think their people built and rowed the Mayflower across all by theirselves.”

            We both shifted in our seats as the sun moved further west and the shade slid off the bench. We fanned ourselves with more vigor. Late afternoon was coming on quickly toward dusk, still the heat held on. Shimmering light danced off a rock wall across the tracks. Flies hovered over horse patties on the parallel trail while a lizard, long and lean, scurried from under the station platform to begin its trek along the rails.

            Willy and Jim-boy, tired of supervising the repairs, collected coins from the crowd and went in search of cool drinks at the drug store down the road.  I felt drowsiness come on me. Elizabeth’s head lolled to her shoulder, causing her to shake awake. She shifted again in her seat and offered an embarrassed grin.

            “Your sons are quite a nice twosome.”

            “They’re good boys. Do you have children?”

            “I have a son, Fred. We call him Buster,” her face lit up. “He’s seven and spending the summer at the shore with the family. Mama and my sister Kathie look after him since I am away so much.”

            “It must be hard to be so far from him. I mean, if he were to get sick or something.”  I felt I had blundered badly here.

            “You’re right for he’s a thin one and has been sickly. He gets the bronchitis in his lungs and he had appendicitis last fall. Fortunately, I was home at that time. We kept him out of school for the rest of the year, fearing he’d get the infantile paralysis. It’s really bad back in New York.”

            “So I’ve heard. I had a brother die of lung disease,” I said. “Most of the lung problems out this way comes from the mining, but William Ebert didn’t have a chance to burrow under even if he’d a wanted. My first husband was a rock hound, but mostly on the surface.”  She asked after him and I repeated that sad story.

            We talked more of our families and their beginnings. Elizabeth much admired her well-read mother who inspired her daughters to go out into the world and make their mark. She spoke of her son in a wistful way, like a fancy doll she could take off the shelf and hold on special occasions, but didn’t dare get dirty. She worried that Buster would grow to resent her work for keeping her from him. I had no answer to that for I’d never had that particular fear, despite my own work.

            Talking of this and that, in the way women will do, I was interested in how she had traveled all about the country. In my limited experience, few women traveled alone. She had been in the Minnesota mines, the Mesabi Range, that summer, to Seattle and Boston and points in between. I thought she was very brave and told her so.

            “I don’t know that it is bravery, but I thank you. It’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll be fighting for better wages and working conditions until the end of my days. How about you, what do you see for yourself?”

            “I don’t rightly know,” I answered slowly for in contrast, I felt my life to be of  little social worth. “For now, I want to work the ranch. Get up before the chickens, ride the fence line, go on roundup with my daddy and sons, gossip with Mama and be pampered some by her. All the time praying that Peter comes home safe and sound.”

            “I’d say you have your work cut out for you.” She smiled warmly at me, as if knowing my doubts. “What’s Bisbee like?”  Elizabeth asked.

“It’s not hardly like any place else you’ve been, I ‘spect. There’s scarcely a level plain in the whole town. It’s all hillsides and topsy-turvey buildings, a bowl of a town with the houses barely stuck to the sides. And dominating it all are the mines with their sulphur fumes, dust, noise and saloons.”

            “Sounds lively,” said Elizabeth.

            “It’s had fire and floods and horrible epidemics, but it just keeps on thrivin’ and survivin’. One thing about Bisbee, you never know what’s gonna happen next. But something will. That’s Bisbee.”

            “Did you know the miners at the Copper Queen went out on strike?”

            “I been so busy packing up my household, I didn’t get many details,” I said, apologetically. “Is it settled yet?”

            “Far from it. Two thousand good citizens of Bisbee, including company men and spies from the Justice Department, took it upon themselves to run some twelve hundred men out of town, county and state.” Elizabeth stood up and paced on the platform in front of me. “Dragged them out of their beds, and crammed them into boxcars. By sizzling hot noon, they were out in the middle of the desert, at some place called Hermanas in New Mexico. Kept locked up overnight, with little water or bread and no sanitary facilities.” She turned and stared at me.

“Good heavens,” I said. “I’ve heard of pogroms in Europe where they gathered up the Jews and run them off like that. Who’d have thought that could happen right here to home. What’s happened since?”

She took a big breath, came and sat with me again. Her shoulders slumped, perhaps in sorrow, perhaps in fatigue.

            “A few were able to make it back to Bisbee, including our IWW lawyer who was caught up in the transport. Most, though, are sitting it out at the Army base near Columbus with no funds or way to get back here, and under a death threat if they do come.”

            “Now, that ain’t right. I imagine there’s family men amongst them?”

            “Absolutely. Most are citizens. Maybe half registered for the draft, have families and property. There’s even local businessmen caught up among the deportees.”

            “I’m shamed. War or no war, that ain’t right. But you still haven’t said what you’re doing out here, so far from New York.”

            A red capped porter was waving folks to board the branch line, the flatcar affixed in place. Willy and Jim-boy had long since settled down on the platform to wait and were now jumping on board and calling to me. We gathered up our satchels and climbed onto the train.

            “I was headed back east when I got a telegram from Big Bill, asking if I’d come down and speak to the strikers, try to give them heart,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll do that and then be on my way.”

            “All I can say is, you got grit, girly, and out here, that’s saying a mite.”

            She gave me a wide open smile and a pat on my arm. We said our goodbyes as I headed to the forward car and my boys, and she moved to the rear with her escort and the men he’d gathered to him. The boys and I wouldn’t be going as far as Bisbee, but unload at Hereford and head to the ranch. Pity was, I liked that young woman. I think we’d have been fast friends, given the chance.

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