Category Archives: Historical Fiction

ROSE OF SHARON. Book #3 of The Huachuca Trilogy

Front Cover-50522b
ROSE OF SHARON, the third book in the Huachuca Trilogy, is a work of historical fiction set in the exquisitely beautiful Southeast Arizona Territory at the end of the 19th century. The Welty twins, Rose of Sharon and Jacob, are left alone after witnessing the murder of their parents until a wandering cowboy, Blake Harris, enters their lives. A new, fragile family emerges to face stressors of mental illness, another murder attempt, and clashes of culture and race. Jacob, burdened with a sense of guilt for his parent’s deaths, is drawn to Fort Huachuca and a military career. The passage of years finds Rose of Sharon developing her paranormal gifts, including contact with a fictional character from the future. Her precocious writing skills set her apart and, as with Jacob, she does not want to run the ranch. Loss, hardship and obstacles to her love for tri-racial White Buffalo mark her life path. Rose of Sharon’s story is one of struggles against all that would isolate her. Resolution comes in unanticipated and welcome ways.

 

EXCERPT FROM “SPRING RETREAT,” PART 3

RUSSIANS IN SONOMA

“But, Alexei, we have made a good life here. What is there for us back in Russia other than the ostracism of my family? You know they’ll never let you progress in the ranks there as you might here or in Sitka.” It wasn’t the first time Helena made the plea to her husband.

“My dear, I know best in these matters and you really must let me do what I think right. Hadn’t you better see to Monsieur du Mofras’ entertainment? I must see the Captain and get provisions on board for the Alaskan settlements. He already has my letter requesting transfer and will see that it gets on its way to St. Petersburg.” Having said his piece, Alexander Rotchoff, commandant of Russia’s southernmost settlement on the North American continent, left the room.

With a sigh that might have been of sadness, Helena prepared to greet their distinguished guest as he made his way toward the house from her garden. M. du Mofras was with the French legation in Mexico City and was making a tour of the coastal area. Alexei thought his motives were innocent, but Helena, a princess of the house of Gargarin, had grown up in the midst of household and political intrigue. She was suspicious. Dinner last night went quite nicely. She delighted in serving her best Bordeaux and the Frenchman was genuinely startled to see and hear her play from an original Mozart piano score. The distraction of an interesting guest would be more enjoyable if only Alexei would be more reasonable.

“Ah, Madame, I am not disturbing you?”

“Please, M. du Mofras, won’t you join me for tea? The samovar is always at our call,” responded Helena in her purest Parisian French. “Perhaps you know the story of our settlement?” asked Helena, as she poured. Last night’s dinner conversation had dealt with recent events abroad.

“Wasn’t it Captain Ruskoff who found the Ross Colony?”

“Yes, he came from Sitka to establish a garden for the Alaskan communities. He went as far south as the bay the Spanish call Bodega, but then he returned here.”

“Perhaps he found the soil and climate here would raise better crops,” said du Mofras.

“I suspect you’re right. Captain Ruskoff became a folk hero to our people, traversing the wilds on his one good leg and opening up new territories. He found friendly natives here who called the place ‘Mad Shui Nui.’ He got a bargain lease at three blankets, three pair of britches, three horses, two axes and some beads. I’m afraid it wasn’t any more honorable a price than the Dutch paid for Manhattan.”

M. du Mofras chuckled at the story and added, “Perhaps those items were worth more in 1812 than now, nearly thirty years later.”

An hour later, a mounted party of six could be seen leaving the fort: two Russian soldiers in front, Helena and M. du Mofras, Helena’s Pomo Indian maid and a male servant, burdened with picnic hamper and blankets. The soldiers and du Mofras were armed against the occasional bear or wild boar known to roam the coastal mountains. The afternoon passed quickly and, high in the hills, the party stopped to picnic. At Helena’s suggestion, Monsieur and one of the soldiers continued deeper into the country, leaving Helena to her private worries. Resting against a young redwood, Helena looked down on the fort, its surrounding orchards and grazing lands, to the sea.

“Oh, Alexei, can’t you see the wealth, the beauty, and the potential here! Thirty years, tui! That is nothing in the march of history. So, we devoured the otters and seals. Leave them be and they’ll be back. Let their Highnesses wear rabbit! The orchards are flourishing, we only need more. The soil and the fog may not be right for grain, but what of the cattle and sheep? We are a self-sufficient colony. There is little we cannot grow, make or build. And we have only begun to explore the Slavyanka and her primal forest.”

The heady wine, warm sun and her feelings overcame her. In her dream, Helena saw the history of Russia past and future. Blood ran, flags and crowns passed. Through the violence, the laughter and the tears, she saw one face clearly and it was Alexei’s. Her dream tried to awaken her.

“Darling, I’m here. Have you lost our guest?” teased Alexie.

Trembling and reaching for him, Helena spoke. “I was far away from here, in St. Petersburg, and there was much trouble and danger. But we were there together. Oh, Alexei, I’m so afraid.”

“Nonsense, Helena. It was nothing more than an afternoon’s bad dream. You will see. All your friends and family long for your return. I am sure your father will forgive our elopement. You are too precious to him for us to remain in exile forever.”

Helena gave up her effort to win him over. She missed her family and there was always the music and the ballet. She would return with him, but they must find a way to share their thoughts and feelings. She would insist.

The exuberant M. du Mofras and his guide returned soon after to find the Rotcheffs restored to each other’s good graces. The party followed the sun’s path, reaching the fort just as the sun took its plunge into the sea.

 *  *  *

 

 

Excerpt from “SPRING RETREAT,” Part 2

AILEEN’S STORY

At nearly six foot, Aileen Mary Shaver stood eye to eye with her husband. Her hair was the sort of red that gradually fades with the years. It was half as bright at thirty-five as when she was a young bride. Her hazel eyes remained clear and strong in color. Her sinewy frame turned any threatening fat to muscle. In a softer life, Aileen might have become matronly, but the hard life of the logging camp minimized that risk.

As the wife of the foreman, it fell to Aileen to supervise the company kitchen. Up at four, she directed the two Chinese hands in preparing meals for thirty men. She’d done all the work herself in the early years, but by the time she was twenty-seven with her seventh child due, Mr. Shaver went to the bosses. The bosses sent to San Francisco for the Chinese. In 1869, the gold fields and the City were flush with cheap labor. Chin and Wong were glad for the work. At first, they had only a smattering of English, but proved to be quick learners. Aileen found some respite and rescue from an early gravesite up on the hill.

Aileen’s seventh birth had gone badly for her, but the twins survived and no more pregnancies followed. The loss of eighteen month old Annie in ’65 and nine year old Seth, Junior, in ’67 had been hard to bear. It looked now as though the other children might make it safely to adulthood.

With little time to count her blessings, Aileen worked at a grueling pace from her early rising until after dark. Most foodstuffs were homegrown. Whether tending animals or garden, she was often out of doors. Her four room house was halfway up the hill and set apart from the mills
in Big Bottom. The smoke and haze lingered from March to October when the rains washed the sky clean.

“Oh, Mama, your Ohio washes were so crisp and clean, even in harshest winter! And your pure white Irish lace curtains! On my windows, they’d be Black Irish,” she thought with each turn at the washtub.

The town slid along the river with shanties braced against towering tree stumps. Folks called it Stumptown in the early days with good cause. Old timers like the Shavers built their houses on the surrounding hillsides to escape the mud and debris of the flats.

Most of the mill workers, loggers and men from the chair factory and fledgling tobacco farm were single. Barely twenty children were to be seen about town, though more and more women and infants were arriving on the weekly packet out of Santa Rosa. Aileen started teaching her own children almost from the cradle. After Annie’s death, she opened her parlor to all the camps’ children over the age of five. In time, there wasn’t a school aged child not attending Mrs. Shaver’s. By 1870, the church had been built and served as a school weekdays and Aileen was due to be replaced in September by a certificated teacher.
Today, the first Saturday in April, was Aileen’s special day. It was her day to walk deep into the forest, seeking out the wild mushrooms and bay. Later, she would search the fields and river bed for mustard, mint, arrowroot and wild asparagus. Leaving home before dawn, she followed the logging road into the ravaged forest. The road petered out about five miles from town and Aileen was ready to begin her search when she picked up the strong scent of the bay laurel.

“Lovely laurel, I spy you,
for sauces and mendicants I’ll brew.
Look you up and look you down,
I am here, there and all around.”

Laughing at herself for the silly verse, Aileen gathered the fragrant leaves. With a gunny sack nearly full of her treasures, she dropped to the ground and thought of napping.

“Aileen Shaver, you old fool, naps are for the very young or old or sick. But, then, today is different. No gardening, no teaching, no cooking or baking, no washing or tending or mending. Maybe just a short nap will do.” With a laurel pillow to rest her head on, Aileen looked to the sky. A bluebird darted about and a lone woodpecker was doing damage to an old tree.

“Must have lost your way, Mr. Pecker. Not many grubs to be found in this dark place. Go to the apple orchard and you’ll find a good dinner. Stay here and you’ll starve.” The woodpecker took her advice and flew off.

“I feel like I’m ten years old again and on the Ohio farm. Were there really days when I was free to roam, to read, to play and to do nothing?”

Drifting into her nap, Aileen’s eye caught a glimpse of a curiously shaped laurel tree. She was startled awake by recognition. “I know you, old tree. You are me. The storm knocked you over and down and now your back is arched from root to tip, but still you continue to grow. Tiny new growths remind me of the gifts of Annie and Seth. That branch, a different color and shape, reminds me of the uniqueness of Chin and Wong. Still another, reaching straight and strong to the sun, makes me think of my husband. He’ll be there, the companion of my final days. Laurel, you’ve taught me well.” Aileen rested as fully as her babies ever did.

She found the mushrooms along the pathway home. The sun was just going behind the hills across the valley as she climbed her own hill. The noises of home greeted her and Aileen welcomed the sounds.

Excerpt from “SPRING RETREAT”…A Short Story set along the Russian River, before it had that name.

“The days of my uncleanness are upon me, my husband. I go from you for a time, even as our son reaches his Days of Manhood. I will pray to Old Man Coyote to guide him in the trials to come.” Ni’ka made her statement as she gathered acorn meal and dried salmon into her feathered basket.

While it was unusual for her to leave the village, she had done so on rare occasions. The village was scarcely that: a collection of brush shelters, not destined for permanence. . A Dreamer Woman, she often retreated within herself, away from the Red Earth People.

The People were seasonally nomadic, settling in the oaken plains to gather acorns in the fall and then to remain through the winter. Spring would find them fishing the Shabaikai, or Snake, River or climbing the mountains to camp on the shores of the Sacred Lake. For Ni’ka’s group, spring usually found them following the Shabaikai through the Forest of Dark Giants to the Endless Waters, where fish and shells were more than abundant. Berry gathering preoccupied them at the edge of the cool woods and mountains in summer. Then, the cycle would start over again.

Ni’ka thought of these things as she made her way down river in the simple tule canoe, more commonly used on the Sacred Lake. The sun warmed her as the chill of winter lifted from the land. The great blue heron and a flock of snowy egrets watched her passing and were neither surprised nor fearful of her.

Coming to the place she sought, Ni’ka pulled her craft above the waterline and anchored it with heavy rocks. With a quick pace, she turned away from the river and headed into the forest. Ni’ka’s movements gave no hint of fear or revulsion for the myth of Evil Spirits in this darkened glade. It was late afternoon before she reached her destination, about five miles inland.

Alongside a thin creek, the giant tree she called “Old Friend” waited for her.At the base was a room larger than the brush shelter left behind that morning. Using a broom of ferns, she swept the place clean of rodent droppings and debris of five years absence. Filling her water basket and placing her food on high, she was satisfied by the completion of her tasks and settled in. She wouldn’t go far from the tree again until it was time to return to the People.

Sitting in the entryway, Ni’ka watched the darkness come quickly on the forest where dense treetops hid the setting sun. She listened for the rare sounds of animal life and was rewarded. A doe and her fawn came to drink at the creek and approached Ni’ka. They lay down near her, the fawn taking nurturance from its mother. The trillium, just outside the den, closed upon itself for the night.

Entering a suspended state, Ni’ka sought understanding, peace and renewal. Her son was passing into manhood and, with that passage, he would become her equal. She welcomed this strong muscled young man exuding the high spirits of youth . She mourned the loss of her baby, his buttercup soft skin, his deep trust. She remembered the seriousness of his infant gaze as his eyes followed her movements. How wise she was then, how quick, how able to meet his every need!

Ni’ka regretted the passing of her age of power. Now, her son was beginning to know the limits of her power to protect, to guide, to share. In coming into his own adulthood, he was discovering something of the frailty and powerlessness of the human adult. True, he had learned some lessons along the way, as when his friend, Ts’it, died, or when the People nearly starved during the Year of No Water.

She studied on the future. How could she keep him, but also let him go? The answer didn’t come readily. On the fourth day, sitting in her doorway, Ni’ka spied a grandmother sea trout making her way downstream. Ni’ka considered the ways of the salmon and sea trout. Each fights its way upstream in wild wintry waters. Then, spawning their young in near-glacial pools, their similarity stops. The salmon, exhausted by the task, dies, but in early spring the trout returns to the sea.

“I am as the sea trout. My young has spawned and grown. He has been just behind me in the creek of life. I can still guide him a ways yet. And as he catches up to me, we can swim companionably, side by side, past shimmering sands, warning each other of rough places and obstacles. When he passes me, as his strength and youth insist, I will be content to follow his lead. He may take me to new places and new ideas. I will not be able to follow him everywhere, but, then, I won’t want to. It will be enough to rest in my own quiet pool and enjoy his comings and goings.”

Ni’ka rested fully that night and returned to the People, her husband and her man-son on the fifth day.

MUSEUMS AND WRITING PART 2

Museum searches bring out the lingerer in me. I can’t get enough of the hidden and visible treasures alike.  Whether a tiny pioneer child’s dolly, the interior of an old Model T or a beautiful ball gown, I devour it all. At times I simply savor the experience and, at other times, I take notes and photos to help me remember the experience, especially if I think I’ve found something to use in my writing.

I’ve visited huge museums like the Field in Chicago, the former Ford historical artifact museum in Michigan, the Cody  in Wyoming, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Then, there have been a multitude of small museums, especially those scattered about small towns in the West. I believe it was a visit to the museum in Benson, Arizona where I found  Josephine’s  (HUACHUCA WOMAN) costume for the 1914 El Paso gala at the mayor’s house:

“I thought my new gown of ivory striped satin dipped in the front a bit too much, but the schoolboy grin on my husband’s face told I’d do, for a cow gal. That comforted me some. The gown was made by a Frenchie, name of Jacques Doucet, in the old style of the Empress Josephine. A red velvet jacket embroidered with delicate flowers kept the chill off. My new rope of pearls and carved ivory fan were birthday gifts from Peter, who looked as handsome as could be in his fancy duds. I was ready to lasso in any wild critters to come my way.”

Jacques Doucet 1853-1929

When I decided that Grace Pelham (BY GRACE) would make her way to Jane Addams’ Hull House, nothing would do but that I visit the place, source of inspiration for my first career in social work. Follow me to 1899 Chicago when Grace has had to change her name to Ginny Price as she eludes a would-be killer:

“Armed with instructions from Hilda (hotel maid), Ginny made her way to Hull House.  With several newer buildings complementing the facility, the still elegant fifty-five-year old mansion faced Halstead Street. Hull House was a sturdy brick and mortar reminder of what the neighborhood had once looked like. Other mansions had long since been broken into rooming houses where dirt and grime tore at worn paint. Shanties made of tarpaper and odd bits of lumber and tin didn’t look fit for the basest of animals. Factory chimney stacks puffed unrelenting stinky smoke. Ginny stood outside for a few minutes, finding refuge from the drabness of the neighborhood in the beauty of Hull House. Brilliant white pillars marched along the Italianate veranda where floor to ceiling windows looked out on the street. Great oaken doors invited the stranger in. Ginny smiled heartily and pushed at the heavy doors.”

Hull House, Chicago

As you wander museums, what do you imagine about the past?

Do historical figures jump out at you, demanding their stories be told?

Do you see your own family stories in the lives of those who have gone before?