Excerpt 4 (G): Mingo and Isabel (aka Elizabeth) spend the night in a dugout during a blizzard.
They had to duck through a low overhang then go down several steps to the door, but once inside, there was enough ceiling height for them to stand straight. The familiar aroma of musty stale dust and the cold, rank smell of weeks’ old wood smoke hit Mingo’s nose.
Surrounded by absolute darkness, relief washed over him as he absorbed the sudden remarkable calm. It was an eerie stillness after enduring hours of relentless wind and battering snow. His skin prickled and his scalp tingled with the abrupt temperature change.
“We need light.” He spoke aloud for Elizabeth’s benefit. He released her, and though she wavered on unsteady feet, she stood of her own accord while he groped beside the door until locating the tin can with matches and candles right where he expected to find them. Striking a match, he put the flame to the wick.
Dingy but adequate candlelight bathed the twelve-foot-square area. With a sweeping glance, he saw the old buffalo robe hanging over the plank bunk, a stack of firewood by the wood stove, a blackened coffee pot hanging on a nail, and a menagerie of canned goods on a shelf. Although the scuffed dirt floor showed some recent use, the dugout was unchanged since last he’d stayed just two years ago.
The dugout looks something like this one that is located south of Lamar, Colorado on US Hwy 287 and straight east of the old Augustine Stage/Freight stop across the highway. It’s also about 30 miles from where I live.
Excerpt 5: Mingo and Isabel (aka Elizabeth) are traveling south across the Texas Panhandle on horseback, and they stop at a place that holds bitter memories for Mingo.
Mingo stared into the gray light of the minutes before sunrise. Elizabeth reined in beside him.
“What is it? Why have you stopped?”
He didn’t answer.
“Tell me.” He continued to look ahead of them. “What do you see? What do you feel?”
She turned in her saddle, looking all around. “Well, I see scattered patches of bare dirt and grass through what’s left of the snow. It looks much like what we’ve already crossed—sometimes flat, sometimes hilly. Now, with more light, the shadows look like dark, bottomless pits. But I don’t feel anything. What is this place?”
“All night, we followed along Yellow House Canyon. When the light is just right, there are yellow dirt cliffs in the canyon that, from a certain distance, give the illusion of a town.” He made a wide, sweeping gesture. “And though you cannot see it, Buffalo Springs is near. It is a good place to rest for its water and grass, but it is a place we must avoid in case someone is watching.”
“But we’re low on water. Is there another source we can use?”
“Over the ridge and down the slope.” Mingo stared straight ahead, his thoughts taking him to a dark place in his mind he didn’t like to visit. “Cañón del Rescate,” he whispered.
She sucked in a startled breath. “We talked of it the night of the fiesta.”
“It is right in front of us and yet, even after all these years, I cannot bring myself to ride into that canyon. There is still much heartache here. The sorrow weighs heavy on my shoulders.” Memories of what he’d seen still woke him at night. Desperate mothers sobbing, screaming, and pleading as their children were torn from their arms. Images of the little ones, terrified, helpless and hopeless in their plight, others staring through lifeless eyes where they lay in the dirt, casualties of wanton killing.
“It is always with me.”
Isabel placed a hand on his arm. “Tell me, please.”
“It was many, many years ago. I was here with two compadres. We had cattle and horses to trade. Many guns and ammunition, and whiskey. We were young and without a care, and with no consideration to the lives of others. It was the first time—my only time—to come here. I considered myself an important man, but I was only a boy.” His laugh was a harsh, self-deprecating sound to his ears. “I soon learned what it was to be a man.”
Details he’d banished returned now. “I had heard of the women and children, but I could not believe it. Then, when I saw for myself that it was true—what some Comancheros were really trading…demanding ransoms for…” His words faded. He exhaled on a ragged breath. “It was terrible to choose. There were so many, and I could do so little. So very little.”
Cañón del Rescate (Ransom Canyon) really exists. It is a community just outside of Lubbock, Texas, but back when my story takes place it was a favored location for the ransoming (selling/trading) of captives between the Comanche and the Comanchero
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Writing the West one romance upon a time