"Trouble at Sagrado Ranch" is the story of the Hawkins family in New Mexico Territory. Originally from Virginia, they moved to Texas to run a cattle ranch when the Civil War came along. The two older sons (Pete and Thaddeus) fought in the War on the side of the Confederates and came home to Texas find the family ranch had been lost to unscrupulous men and their father had moved the family to New Mexico to run a ranch at Sagrado (a fictional town near Socorro). And this is mainly their story of life in New Mexico Territory and the trials and tribulations of settling there. A couple of characters from "O'Shaughnessy's New Deputy" (Billy Kelly and the Navajo, Tohyil) play a big part in this story.
The first chapter lays the ground work for what follows, and I hope it's a good introduction in setting the scene and plot. Here is Chapter One:
"Sound Retreat!" my brother, Sergeant Peter Hawkins, yelled to the bugler. The noise was deafening with the shells exploding like thunder all around and the chatter of the rifles adding to the cacophony of the battle. I looked around, wiped the cold sweat from my brow, and Pete yelled at me, "Let's get out of here before we're overrun. It's every man for himself. Come on, follow me."
Zebediah Stewart, the bugler, bravely ignored the flying bullets and brought the horn to his lips, but no sound came out. He fell in a heap, killed by a Minie ball that nicked the mouthpiece of the trumpet and continued through the mouth and out the back of the neck shattering the spine.
"Dammit, why did he stand up to blow his tooter? Dammit to Hell!" said Sergeant Hawkins. "Fall back, men, and stay close. Stay low and hide if you can."
He dropped to a prone position and fired his Hawken rifle in the direction of the Yankee sounds. The brief flashes of fire in the dark from the Union rifles in the distance didn't give much of a target. He crawled on his belly into a thicket on the river bank.
"Pete! Pete! Is that you?" I said from my concealment in the bushes, my eyes squinting and drawn tight trying to see any movement in the darkness.
Pete, hearing my anxious voice coming from a few feet away where I was crawling further into the bushes, said, "Sh-sh, quiet. Let them Yankees get on past. We'll just lie here until daylight and hope they go around us.
I saw his jaws tighten as he looked around to get a better view of his surroundings. We whispered encouraging words to each other as we changed positions on the rocky earth. I drifted in a restless
sleep as the night wore on, tired and hungry from the days' prolonged activity. Waking up at times, I could see and feel a heavy fog settling in, hiding the outline of the trees and hills and everything else more than a few feet away.
Dawn was breaking, barely discernible at first through the fog. Pete sat up and looked around, seeing me sitting on the earth with a hand to my head.
"Are you hurt? Why you holdin' yer head?" he said, staring at me.
"Just got a slight headache, nothing serious," I said, staring back.
"We'll stay here until the sun burns off enough fog to see a good distance. We don't want to stumble into a company of them Yanks," said Pete, now smiling and still watching me.
We sat silently listening for sounds, but everything was quiet.
"I guess we're alone, Pete. Do y'all suppose any of our soldiers got away or are they prisoners by now?" I said.
"Well, we ain't prisoners," said Pete. "We can be thankful for that. We'll take a look around for any survivors. Them Yankees have moved on south and we'll have to be careful and not get caught by their rear guard."
The battle for Newtonia was over for all intents and purposes and the Confederate soldiers were on the run for Arkansas, those that remained in the Army. The others, the many deserters and me and Pete, headed for Indian Territory and home. The war was nearing an end for us.
We stuck together with a small group of southern sympathizers we found hiding in a barn. They said they had been fighting alongside us in one company or another. They told us they were part of Quantrill's Raiders, and they could have been for all we knew. They didn't stay with us very long before they went hunting for Quantrill.
Pete and I lived on squirrels, rabbits, a stray chicken, and managed to catch a possum or two as we hiked through the country heading in the general direction of Texas.
"We ain't deserters, but I can't see no reason for tryin' to join up again with Old Pap's troops. Who knows where they are and what they're up to now," said Pete. "Look at us. Our clothes are ragged, shoes are worn out, and we ain't got no more Minie balls. We might as well throw our rifles away, too. I'm headin' home to Texas. Y'all comin' with me or are you goin' lookin' for Genera Price?"
"I'm sick of this war and all the fightin' and noise and killin' and everything else about it. I'm goin' home, too," I, Thaddeus Hawkins, said, staring at my brother and smiling like a dog that had a 'coon treed. "You look like you been pulled out of the poorest house in the poorest neighborhood in the poorest town in Missouri, brother. You look like the poorest tramp I ever did see. Hahaha," I laughed.
"I guess you think you look better than I do," said Pete, "but, you don't. You're just as darn raggedy as me if not a good deal worse," and he laughed hard, too.
Taking our time and hoping the war would end, we made our way down to Fort Smith where we found jobs clearing trees from farmland. We worked for almost four months and were able to regain some of the weight lost in the fighting and purchase new clothes and shoes that would last until we reached home.
On April 9, 1865, we arrived in Austin. It was the same day that General Lee surrendered to the Union Army and the war was over.
No longer obligated to fight for the south we set out the next day by shank's mare for the old homestead a few miles north of Austin. Our spirits livened up seeing familiar objects like the old waterhole, the old oak tree, and other landmarks as we came nearer home.
"I'm goin' to drink a whole gallon of milk and eat a loaf of Ma's fresh-baked bread with honey and butter," I said, rubbing my left hand across my flat and empty abdomen, thinking I would soon be filling it up.
"I'm goin' to sleep for a week in my old bed before I start herdin' steers again," said Pete, taking off his new cowboy hat he purchased in Austin. "By the way, where are the cattle? I don't see any around. They always used to be some drinkin' at the waterhole."
He looked inside the new hat and rubbed his fingers around the sweatband before he put it back on his head.
"Pa's probably got them rounded up to take to market," I said, watching my brother. "You need to get yourself a haircut, if that hat's too tight on your big head."
"Yer pretty shaggy yerself, you little cricket," said Pete, who was bigger and heavier than me, but we both had brown hair and greenish-blue eyes.
Our old house was empty when we reached it, dark and abandoned. We searched all through it, but couldn't find a sign of anybody living here for some time.
"What do you think happened? There ain't nothin' left belonging to the family," I said, looking at my brother, dejected.
"Mister Blain will know. Let's go over there in the morning," said Pete, dropping his poke to the floor. "We'll make ourselves to home here tonight. At least we got shelter if it starts raining."
We found the Blain house after a six-mile trek over the rolling hills, arriving just before noon. Missus Blain and a girl that looked like our younger sister Lila, were on the front porch peeling potatoes.
Lila, now fourteen, slim, with light brown hair, saw us first and watched us as we made our way down the nearest hill, jumping a small stream and walking toward the house. She studied our faces, dark from the sun, and said, "I think that's Pete and Thaddeus back from the war," her voice carrying through the air to our ears.
She jumped up and ran to meet us. Missus Blain stood up and watched as the young girl let out a yell and greeted each of us with a big, strong hug. We walked to the porch with Lila between us, talking a mile a minute. We greeted Missus Blain and sat down on the steps.
"You fellers are a sight for sore eyes," said Lila, smiling with a tear in her eye. "My gosh, it's been two years at least. I'm glad to see y'all made it home from the war safe and sound. Ma and Pa gave me a letter for you when they left for New Mexico Territory, but I told them I was goin' to stay in Texas. I wasn't goin' to no godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere where there ain't no schools or nothin' for a young girl. I'm goin' to stay here and go to school in Austin and become a school teacher. And Mister and Missus Blain said they would take care of me and they been awful good to me. Did y'all ever get that letter that Pa wrote about Pappy dying?"
"We didn't get no letter," said Pete, disappointment in his eyes.
That news upset me. "Pappy's dead? I can't believe it. I was looking forward to seeing that old cuss again. I always liked Pappy Fisher and the stories he told. He was always there when I wanted to talk about something or other. I'm sure goin' to miss him."
"He was helpin' Pa round up some cattle and just keeled over and fell right off ole Brownie, and he was in Heaven before he hit the ground. Pa said he must've had a heart attack, poor ole feller. Pa buried him on a hill overlooking the house under that big oak tree. We all miss him." She eyed both men with concern and said, "I'll go get that letter Pa left."
"That Lila, just talky as ever, ain't she, Pete?" I said, smiling. "How y'all been Missus Blain. I see you and Mister Blain got quite a herd of cattle. We counted a lot of them on the way over here."
"Fine, fine. Mister Blain and I are doing fine, and I think Lila is, too. She's a peach of a gal," said Missus Blain, a blue-eyed, matronly woman with black hair starting to turn gray.
Lila came back with the letter and handed it to me. "I don't know what it says. It's sealed up," she said, taking her former seat between us.
"Here you read it, Pete," I said, handing him the envelope.
"All right," and he tore it open. "It reads, 'Dere suns Ma and I hop you are in good helth wen you reed this leter. We lost the ranch to the bank last yere, wen sum crukid cattle byers took our catle and left the contry without payin' us. We coldent afford to mak eny more paymen on the morgij, so the bank tuk it back. we are goin to Sagrado New Mexco whair Ill be runnin a ranch fer a Mr Woolensack, a rich Englshmun. He sed it was a butaful layout along the Rio Grand River. You and Thad cumon to Sagrado and bring Lila with you. She's livin with the Blains Adam ran of and got maried and livs in San Antone. Ma sez be gud and carfle on the trail Yers Ma and Pa and Willie and LeGrand.'"
"Lost the ranch, huh? We oughta go after those crooked cattlemen and get Pa's money back," I said, angry on hearing that.
"Maybe we'll run across 'em over there in New Mexico," said Pete, but not believing it. Sighing, he continued, "We'll stay here a few days, if it's all right with Mister and Missus Blain." He eyed Missus Blain.
"I'm sure Bert won't mind. He's been holding a couple of horses that Mister Hawkins left behind in case you boys showed up and some of your old clothes. You can just make yourselves comfortable in the bunkhouse and then come on back here for dinner. Lila is turned into a wonderful cook and is a big help. She can stay here as long as she likes," said Missus Blain."
And that's the first chapter. Comments are more than welcome.