Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stomp Boogie

Last year my blues detective novel Cross Road Blues was released by Perfect Crime Books. I had a great time writing it, and it's one of my favorite works. My intention was to write another novel about harmonica player-turned-private detective Roy Carpenter, and I actually have a couple more planned out and on my queue to get done in the next couple of years.

I decided not to wait that long, though, to check back in with Roy. I have released a short story for kindle called "Stomp Boogie" that picks up where the novel left off. I invite you to check it out- I'm including an excerpt below. If you're not a kindler, Cross Road Blues is available in paperback and on several digital platforms.



STOMP BOOGIE
Troy D. Smith

Nashville, 1957

It was a slow night at Malcolm’s, but it was turning into a busy night for me.
Malcolm’s was a nightclub in downtown Nashville. It was located a few blocks west of Capitol Hill, on Charlotte Avenue, and was what folks around town called a “colored joint.” It was a place you could hear some live blues, and drink enough alcohol to drown out the live blues that passed for your life. Charlotte Avenue had always been sort of the border for black people there in the Athens of the South—north of that line was where us colored folks went after we washed your car or cleaned your house, to rest up sufficiently to repeat those edifying activities the next day.
When I was growing up, back in the ‘thirties, Charlotte Avenue was a hopping place for black entertainment and commerce, but since the war that stuff had mostly drifted a few blocks north, to Jefferson. Which should tell you something about Malcolm’s, and the kind of musicians that played there. They weren’t good enough to play in a real blues town like Memphis, or Up North in Chicago—and even in Nashville, they were in a joint that was set square where the good times used to be.
That’s where I come in. I am one of those musicians. I had been playing harp at Malcolm’s for a couple of years, backing up whatever bozo was on the payroll for entertainment on any particular night. And I’d played with some doozies, let me tell you.  For most of that time I had been supporting my high-toned artistry by pumping gas in the daytime, a job I quit to go on tour with an up-and-coming—and as it turned out, batshit crazy—guitar player. Which is a story in itself. Let’s just say it didn’t work out like I planned.
Since then I’d been plugging away at a new day-job—owner, operator, and sole agent of the Mojo Detective Agency. And when I say day-job, I mean it more as a 24-hour activity. For the most part I spent the nights I wasn’t playing sets at Malcolm’s tailing adulterers, and sometimes getting a little side work from local insurance companies.
You know. Real Sam Spade stuff.
I hoped to someday make enough at one or the other of my little hobbies to afford an office somewhere. Or maybe a place to live, other than on my friend’s couch. One step at a time, as they say. And, undignified as my present way of life might seem, it sure as hell beat pumping gas.
So here I was at Malcolm’s, on a slow Wednesday night. I was at a corner table, nursing a whiskey sour like a crazy old lady on her last can of cat food. Partly I was waiting my next go on stage, but mostly I was working at my other job. I was just settling up with my most recent satisfied customer, a TV repairman who’d paid me to verify that his old lady had been switching somebody else’s dial. He was handing over enough dough to keep me in cigarettes and cheap bourbon for a spell.
I mentioned it was a busy night for me. Something had happened, soon after TV Tommy showed up at my table, that I had never before experienced since taking up this lucrative and exciting new profession. Rhodesia Bain, the walking mountain who served as bartender (no pun intended), came over to inform me that someone else was at the bar inquiring about my services. Two paying customers, living and breathing at the same time? Hot damn, at this rate I might be able to go back to chain-smoking.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sword & Circuitry: The Raven Saga

Twenty years ago I came up with an idea for a sci fi/fantasy/sword & sorcery trilogy... each book would be composed of four 20k-word novellas, and the whole thing would revolve around the Norse gods being technologically advanced aliens (already done by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) who were recruiting warriors from all around the universe to fill Valhalla, and give them an army to help fight the rebels within their own midst (not so Lee-Kirby.)
I wrote the first of what I envisioned as twelve novellas way back then... and never did anything else with it. I decided a few months ago to take a look at the old manuscript -expecting to discover that, with twenty years of hindsight, it would suck -but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the story held up.

So I did some revisions on Novella #1, did a more detailed general plot outline for the series, and wrote a second installment. And, might I add, had fun doing it... at this stage I am thinking of doing a couple per year till the saga is complete. The first two installments are now available for the kindle; I'm going to hold off on the print versions and release only the full-length books in that format.

So... if you like sword-wielding barbarians, and dragons, and Norse mythology, and elves and dwarves, and wolf-men of both the good and bad variety, and beautiful blue-skinned lady warriors, and technology that looks like magic to pre-industrial people, and grim mountains and desert citadels... I invite you to check these tales out.

#1 SWORD OF THE RAVEN

#2 COMPANY OF RAVENS  


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Gunsmoke Journal #3: Chester vs. Festus

In this installment of my Gunsmoke musings, I ask the all-important question:
Chester or Festus?
Which was your favorite? Which was the most help to Marshal Dillon?

It ranks in importance with other earth shattering pop culture decisions- who was your favorite Bond? Your favorite Law & Order detective? Your favorite Third Stooge? (for me it’s a close call between Curly and Shemp… I wish they could’ve been the Four Stooges! But I digress.)
First, a little background.
Chester Goode, played by Dennis Weaver, was a member of the original cast- and, like all the other originals, was a carryover from the radio program. On the radio version his name had been Chester Wesley Proudfoot, and he did not have the distinctive stiff-legged limp –that was introduced by Weaver. The limp is never explained; Chester does, however, mention serving in the army, so I always figured it was probably a war wound. The fact he got into the army suggests the limp came afterwards.

A common misperception: Chester was not a deputy. He wore no badge, and was described as “the marshal’s assistant.” It seems that he had been hired by Matt to help out around the jail; cleaning up, running errands, making coffee. However, Chester did often back the marshal’s play when apprehending bad guys –always taking a shotgun or one of the rifles from the rack in the office, never wearing a pistol.


In one episode (“Reward for Matt,” Season One), fearing for Matt’s safety, Chester surreptitiously took the marshal’s back-up revolver- “that old rusty Remington you keep in your desk.” Matt takes it away from him: “Sorry, Chester. A man has to kill his own snakes.”



Dennis Weaver left the series in the middle of the ninth season, having appeared in 290 episodes. He left to star in his own series, Kentucky Jones, which only lasted one season (but he had much more success later, with Gentle Ben and McCloud, and gave an excellence performance as trail-boss R.J. Poteet in the miniseries Centennial.)
The Gunsmoke writers gave no reason for Chester’s departure- one week he was there, the next week he was not, and he was never mentioned again that I am aware of. In fact, that tended to be the procedure on the show; new cast members were always introduced with an “origin” episode, showing them arrive in town, but when they left they were just gone without a word of explanation. The half-Comanche blacksmith Quint Asper, played by Burt Reynolds, is the only character I ever recall being mentioned again after they left (Festus: “Matthew, we’ve gone through several blacksmiths since the Comanche left.”)
Festus Haggen, played by Ken Curtis, was introduced in an eighth-season episode (“Us Haggens”), became a recurring character in the ninth season, and took over as Matt’s sidekick when Chester left –edging his predecessor out by appearing in 304 episodes. The apparently unlimited Haggen clan are sometimes referred to as Missouri ridge-runners, and Ken Curtis said he based the accent on someone he knew from his native Colorado… but said accent is very authentic Appalachian dialect.

Ken Curtis- a singer as well as an actor, and a former member of the Sons of the Pioneers –released two albums in the late ‘60s, singing and telling stories in character as Festus.

In one of the tales, “Ode to a Mule,” he tells of being a mule skinner in the Confederate Army, and specifically at the battle of Franklin in Tennessee. General Schofield (the Union commander) “was mighty hard on us Tennessee boys.” Festus came under heavy fire while trying to recover Confederate dead from Hood’s ill-fated charge- he survived only because his faithful mule Ruth carried him through the hail of bullets, succumbing herself once they reached safety. In gratitude to the mule who died carrying him to safety, he swore to name every mule he owned thereafter “Ruth,” no matter their sex.


The story tells us a lot about Festus. We can safely assume that the Haggen clan was comprised of East Tennessee mountain folk who migrated to Missouri at some point. Again, being from the area myself, the accent is perfect- my wife didn’t believe ye could be jobbed in the eye with a stob till she heard Festus say it too.
When we first met him, Festus was a man who had apparently spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law –like all his kin. His brother Jeff had been killed by a shotgun blast while trying to rob a stagecoach, and his twin brother Fergus had died of wounds received from a posse after a botched bank robbery. Festus first encounters Matt when they are hunting the same man- Black Jack Haggen, Festus’ uncle, who had abandoned the injured Fergus, stealing his horse and leaving him for dead. Matt and Festus strike up an uneasy partnership, catching the older bandit (who winds up shot dead by the marshal.)


We see Festus again the following season (the ninth)… trying to keep to the straight and narrow, he is now working in the Dodge area as a prairie wolfer. He shows up in town from time to time to trade in his hides, and winds up helping Matt more than once. For a very brief spell, Festus and Chester are both in Dodge- and they seemed to be fast friends.
After Chester leaves, Matt begins occasionally deputizing Festus and leaving him to watch over things when the marshal has to be out of town (this as-needed situation is first described in the season ten episode “Deputy Festus.”) Later, Thad Greenwood and then Newly O’Brien also serve as part-time deputies. Festus initially works part-time at Moss Grimmick’s livery stable, doing repair work to wagons (a skill he would’ve learned as a mule-skinner, no doubt) but eventually seems to be Matt’s full-time deputy, even doing the work of a deputy U.S. marshal (tracking fugitives in other states.) In the final season, Matt usually leaves Newly “in charge” –and, as we learn in the first TV movie, Newly eventually takes Matt’s place as marshal.

There’s the background. So who’s your favorite? I’ll say upfront that –while I like both characters –if I were the marshal and had to pick one I’d go with Festus. Here is how the two match up, in various categories…

COMPETENCE

Though Chester can be relied on in a posse, or for laying down covering fire… he’s not really a tough guy. He is hampered physically by his bad leg; he is also high-strung, nervous, fastidious, and a hypochondriac. One gets the distinct feeling he doesn’t wear a pistol because Matt doesn’t allow him to, figuring he’d get himself killed.
However, Chester is brave and determined… and as the show progresses, you can almost see the frustration in Dennis Weaver as he tires of being the gimpy sidekick and wishes for a more central, heroic role. He gets it a few times, in his last couple of seasons – catching some bad guys and solving some mysteries. The very last episode he appears in, “Bently,” features Chester figuring out who the killer is –only to be brushed off somewhat ignominiously by Matt, Doc, Quint, and Kitty. Not only do they not believe him, they are impatient with his antics, treating him like an idiot. Turns out Chester was right –the old farmer who had died leaving everyone to believe he had robbed and murdered Dave Bently was innocent; the bad-guy rancher who had really committed the crime (due to jealousy) tried to have Chester killed because he was snooping around too much, and accidentally killed his own young wife –who had been trying to warn Chester.

The last time we see Chester he is deeply shaken by the turn of events, and offers to escort the innocent man’s elderly widow to the stage, right after she learned that her husband had not been a killer and that Chester was the only one who had believed in him. In the last scene they are walking silently together to the depot. The more I watch that final scene, the more convinced I am that Chester just got on that stage with her and went someplace he’d be appreciated.
So I think in the final analysis Chester was more competent than the audience –or any of his friends –really realized.
Festus, on the other hand, was portrayed from the very beginning as a handy person to have in a shooting scrape or a brawl, as well as a talented tracker. If anything, he became more of a caricature as time went on –for some reason getting more scruffy and squinty-eyed after his first few seasons (Curtis also changed the character’s voice, making it deeper.) Toward the end of the series, the viewer could pretty much know that when Matt left town someone or other was going to knock Festus and Newly in the head and take over Dodge. Even then, however, Festus was presented as much more competent than Chester would have been –and many episodes were centered on Festus trailing desperadoes alone. And he was a hellion in a rough-and-tumble, apt to bite off that there hangy-down part of your ear.

From day one, Matt’s interactions with Festus demonstrated mutual respect and trust in his abilities, while his treatment of Chester was condescending and protective.
ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

BEING THE MARSHAL’S ASSISTANT
This was Chester’s official designation, and he was much better at the duties it entailed than Festus would or could have been. He always kept the coffee fresh, cleaned the place up (although I recall him grumbling once about Matt making him wash windows, which “ain’t no type of job for a man”), delivered messages, kept the prisoners fed, and so on. Festus, on the other hand, was seriously hampered by the fact he was completely illiterate… and he just wasn’t a tidy person like Chester.

ADVANTAGE: CHESTER

FASHION SENSE
Believe it or not, Festus wins this one… scruffy as he was on a normal day (and when he was prairie-wolfin’ he was even scruffier), Festus had something Chester did not.

A fancy dress shirt.
When the occasion suggests it, Festus foregoes his usual white shirt and goes with a sort of paisley one –he fastens the collar button, and even adds arm garters. The best Chester does is sometimes add a vest to his simple wardrobe.


ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

MUSICAL ABILITY
Chester sings to himself while he putters around the office –his favorite tune, which I don’t recognize, is about moving to Kansas. He also plays guitar pretty well, and blows a mean comb.
But he can’t compete with Festus. In his early episodes, Deputy Haggen occasionally unleashes that mellifluous Ken Curtis singing voice. He also, in those first few seasons he was on the show, frequently sings his own theme song: “Festus, don’t let no pretty woman make a fool of you… build yourself a herd, then you can cull one out if you want to…”
Plus, as THIS CLIP  from the aforementioned album shows, Festus can sing AND yodel:

ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

AMBITION
Both Chester and Festus are known for working hard when the occasion warrants, and for working hard to make sure the occasion doesn’t warrant. They’re also both cheap, and always on the lookout for a free drink or meal.
ADVANTAGE: DRAW

COLORFUL RELATIVES
We get to meet Chester’s “wild” brother Magnus, and the uncle who raised Chester after his father died, Wesley Goode (Magnus ran away and went wild when he was ten, never sleeping in a bed again. My guess would be that when Wesley’s brother died, he tried to take in both boys but Magnus didn’t cooperate.)

 In a first season episode, "How to Die for Nothing," however, Chester -after remarking that he was ten years old before he realized boys were supposed to have a ma -says he was raised up by Ben Cherry, a friend of his father's. When asked how long he stayed with him, Chester said "till he pegged out in his sleep one night, then I buried him in the ground and started out on my own." Maybe Uncle Wesley took him in for awhile, then he ended up with Cherry.
Uncle Wesley appears in a fourth season episode that was adapted from one of the radio episodes. Chester’s uncle shows up in town unannounced, to his nephew’s consternation; Chester had been writing home and saying that he was the marshal of Dodge City, and he had an assistant named Mister Dillon. Chester’s friends play along with the charade to help him save face. His uncle is impressed, for he too had a low opinion of his nephew’s competence:
““I had 11 nephews, and Chester was nowhere near the brightest. About number nine. Chester just borders on bein’ ignorant, I’d say… I never thought he’d amount to anything.”

Chester foils a robbery, proving he is not the klutz everyone takes him to be. Well, not completely.
This episode, oddly, keeps the original radio title: “Marshal Proudfoot.”
As discussed earlier, we also met Festus’ uncle (Black Jack) early on. The Haggens just keep coming (“there’s a sight of us around.”) We probably encounter over a dozen, plus we learn of many more via Festus’ stories (he frequently quotes his Grandpa Hawg Haggen.) There were so many, in fact, I’m not going to go into detail here and instead make them the subject of a future installment.
ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

ANNOYING DOC
Both Chester and Festus make a second career out of arguing with Doc Adams, often reducing him to dyspeptic sputtering.
ADVANTAGE: DRAW

FUN FACTOR
One thing that sets Festus apart in his first couple of seasons is his close friendship with the blacksmith, Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds.) It is a very playful relationship, showing us a side of Festus we rarely see otherwise. The episode “Comanches Is Soft” (Festus’ frequent rejoinder to the half-Comanche blacksmith), in which Festus and Quint go on a drunken, carousing adventure, is one of the funniest of the series.

“Mad Dog” is another favorite of mine, in which Festus is mistaken for a deadly gunfighter in another town… and also thinks he is dying of rabies, and decides he’d rather go out shooting (and biting) his enemies.
The funniest Chester episode (and one of the best in the series), by contrast, is “Chesterland”… in which Chester tries to satisfy his (somewhat accidental) fiancĂ©e by building a house out on the prairie. His housekeeping/homebuilding efforts are one hilarious disaster after another, and the girl was only after what little money he had anyway. So in the midst of the hilarity, there is still great sadness… and the humor with Chester, almost always, is along the lines of “Poor Chester… he really does try so hard, but he just can’t accomplish anything.” While often funny, that’s no fun.

ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

LOVE LIFE
“Chesterland” is probably the high point of Chester’s love life. He has a few unrequited crushes, gets taken advantage of a lot, and the one time he meets a woman who really does appreciate him –she throws him over and runs off with an outlaw, to keep the outlaw from killing him (“He Learned about Women.”)

Festus at least does have a steady girlfriend for awhile- April, who was introduced in the same episode he was and who appeared several times in the ninth season. There are also a few widder-women that take an interest in Festus, and sometimes vice-versa (Chester had an ill-fated widow adventure as well, and an ill-fated mail order bride.)

ADVANTAGE: FESTUS

That’s MY assessment- of course, I may be biased in favor of Festus, because he is the Gunsmoke sidekick I grew up with. When I talk to folks older than me, they tend to prefer Chester. I think that if they ever do a  TV or big screen remake of Gunsmoke –as they are about to do with The Big Valley and The Rifleman –they should use both Chester AND Festus, with Chester as the “marshal’s assistant” taking care of things at the jail and Festus as the chief deputy. That would be perfect.
What do you think?


A final note, about images- the screen captures I've used are from youtube. However, the first several episodes of Gunsmoke are available on DVD...



Try my own stories about the Old West:




And check out my previous blogs in this series:

Dodge City and Me

Marshal of What, Exactly?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Letter Home from the Civil War

I was born in Sparta, Tennessee, which is in an area of the state known as the Upper Cumberland. A year ago I ended a six-year sojourn at the University of Illinois, where I had been working on my doctorate, to return to my alma mater Tennessee Tech (in Cookeville) to teach history.

So far as I've been able to determine, every branch of my family was in the Upper Cumberland by at least the early 1800s (in some cases earlier still.) Quite a few veterans of the American Revolution were given land grants in the region in compensation for their service -and besides that there was no huge influx of emigration- so a lot of folks who are native to the area are descended from those first families.

Alvin York, the WWI hero played on the bigscreen by Gary Cooper in Sgt. York, was from Fentress County.

Bluegrass legend Lester Flatt -pictured on the left, with his longtime partner Earl Scruggs -was from Sparta. Even if you're not a bluegrass fan you've heard their music, if you've ever heard the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies.




Louis L'Amour chose to have his feudin' hill clan "The Sacketts" originate from Crab Orchard, down in Cumberland County...



...and Carthage is the hometown of a certain Vice-President you may remember.


The Upper Cumberland was devastated by the Civil War. There were no major battles fought here- though there were plenty of skirmishes -it was the bloody guerrilla conflict that made life miserable for the region's inhabitants. There was a strong pro-Union sentiment in the easternmost counties, and there were Union supporters scattered though the rest of the area as well.

The most famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Union guerrilla was Tinker Dave Beaty, from Fentress County. Beaty is on the right in this photo, with his friend Dr. Jonathan Hale.



The most prominent guerrilla on the Confederate side was Champ Ferguson, based in Sparta, who was hanged in Nashville after the war. There were a lot of other Confederate bands operating in the region as well -some more official than others- including those led by Oliver Hamilton (mostly from Jackson and Overton Counties), George Carter (Van Buren County), and Pomp Kersey (DeKalb County.) Here is a photo of Champ:



Earlier this month I attended the unveiling of a historical marker up in Pickett County, at the site where the Jonathan Hale pictured with Tinker Dave once owned a sawmill; Hale had hosted his annual Independence Day festivities at the mill in 1861, shortly after the war broke out -complete with a singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," reading of the Declaration of Independence, and prominent display of the American flag. This did not sit well with Confederate supporters; shortly thereafter Champ Ferguson burned the mill to the ground.

I wrote an article about Champ for Civil War Times, which can still be accessed HERE. (If you follow the link, the first line should say "40 year old man," not 20... that has bothered me for ten years!)

I also wrote a novel about Champ, Good Rebel Soil, in which Tinker Dave was also prominently featured;




What does all this have to do with a letter home?

Well, recently a friend (and distant cousin) of mine who has done a lot of genealogical research in the Upper Cumberland told me a fascinating story about one of my relatives. My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Boles, and her great-uncle James Boles -a constable in Gainesboro -had been murdered during the Civil War. My friend said I could get the details in the Jackson County court records, available online, so I did a search for his name. I found the murder details, but I also found him mentioned in another case- a dispute over the ownership of a tract of land.

James Boles' brother John -my great-great-grandfather- had, with their eldest brother William, purchased the land from a man named Hicks before the war. By 1876, all three brothers were dead and various people were contesting the land's ownership. As evidence that the property should go to the recently deceased John Boles' children, a letter and a will written by John in the middle of the Civil War was introduced.

John and James Boles rode with Oliver Hamilton, whose Confederate unit started out as unofficial partisans but eventually became the Fourth Tennessee (Confederate) Cavalry- they often coordinated with Champ Ferguson. I've seen no mention of William's activities, but since he died in his early 40s in 1864, I think it is likely he served with them as well.

To demonstrate how divided the region was, there was another John Boles in the area- those brothers' second cousin. He and his son were members of Tinker Dave Beaty's "Independent Scouts" -the pro-Union John Boles was actually married to Tinker Dave's sister. (Tinker Dave's first cousin, by the way, was my great-great-grandmother from a different line.) The Confederate John Boles barely scratched out a living in Overton County after the war; the Union John Boles became Overton County's state legislator. To the victor the spoils.


In 1863, things were going badly for Hamilton's Confederate cavalry. They were camped near Sparta- John Boles wanted to get home to Overton County to see his wife and children, but a troop of federal cavalry located in Cookeville stood in his way. Fearing his own imminent death, John wrote a letter to his wife and had a will drawn up, and asked his brother James to deliver them. It is possible that James was not permanently attached to Hamilton's group -he was apparently also serving as constable n Gainesboro at the time, and a later witness in the court case would testify that "James Boles was sometimes with Hamilton's men, do not know if he belonged to the service."

Here is the letter my great-great-grandfather wrote:

State of Tennessee.
White County.
March the 15th 1863.
Dear Wife and children,
I this morning with pleasure I write you a few lines to inform you that I am well as common and I hope that this few lines comes to hand that the may find you all enjoying the same Blessing and if George Abna [Abney] will tend the land if he will and let him have all of the land out at the Hix place and all on the creek but the lower field and I want you to tend it yourself if you can and if George don't move out there to the Hix place and Mart Gorden comes to let him have the house at the Hix place and the two hollow fields and the field around the house and I will tell you what I owe. [sic.] I owe Peter Hufines $5 and the cost and interest and the State cost in cost stayed [?] by Asel Duncan and Wm. Flatt and R. Darwin $5.00 and to Thomas Tabbert five dollars and six dollars to James Roberts and I want James Boles to make the right to me and to my heirs for the Hicks land and James I want you to do this without fail for I want my children to have the good of that land if I never get home myself. A few lines to Sarah Duncan and the children. I want you to remember me in all of my Troubles for I want to see you very Bad and the children. I am down here and it is hard times here for the lice is thick as hops and a man can't rest for them of a wit [?]. I would come home but the Cavalry taken us up and stop us at Cooksville some [?] more at present but remains your affection [ate] Brother until death. I was very sorry to hear that Job Johnson's wife is dead.

(signed)
John Boles


As you can see, the first part of the letter is all business, pertaining to the use of his land. But, as he points out to his brother, "I want you to do this without fail for I want my children to have the good of that land if I never get home myself."

And of course, I was most affected by  the lines "I want to see you very Bad and the children. I am down here [in Sparta] and it is hard times..."

The will that was drawn up the same day reads a good bit differently, with much better spelling and grammar, so one must assume he dictated it to someone who could make a more official presentation:


State of Tennessee.
White County.
Sparta, March 15 day 1863.
I, John Boles, want Asel Duncan to see that James Boles does make unto me and my dear beloved wife and children a good and sufficient warrantee title to a certain tract or parcel of land lying in Jackson Co., District No. 16, known as the Hicks place, for I made him the deed to said land as security to him to pay certain debts for me and I have paid him the money to pay the same debts, to wit, the Peter Hufines debt for $35, a judgement and cost and interest before Esquire McCue in Gainesboro, which deed was made by Thomas Hicks to James Boles for which land I have paid all of the money on the land myself. I don't know that I owe James Boles anything at all if I never get home anymore or get killed or sicken and die this is my last will and testimony. I am at this time in good health and in my right mind the day and date above written.

John Boles (his mark)




John Boles did not "get killed or sicken and die" during the war... he was the only one of the three Boles brothers to remain alive at the end of it.William died in November, 1864, and James was murdered in January, 1865 -in a dispute that arose when he was trying to auction off 93 gallons of brandy that he had to move quickly, for it "was in danger of being captured by Soldiers."

As a historian, I encounter documents like this all the time. It is always interesting to see how people reacted to the events that disrupted their lives, and find a common bond of humanity when one empathizes with their thoughts and feelings. But this is the first time I've come across such war-time documents that are personal to my family. The youngest child of John Boles -not yet born at the time the letter was written, and named James after John Boles' murdered brother -was the Grandpa Jim that my dad has regaled me with stories of, and who died only a few years before I was born. Just the other day, at Decoration Day at the Overton County church where so many of my father's kin are buried, an elderly lady said "Jim and Sally Boles! Why I knew them well!"


Knowing that makes the Civil War seem much more immediate.















Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Reading


Smashwords is running a great deal for the month of July, with many of the titles they carry only costing half as much as normal, or in some cases even less.

All you have to do is go to a book's smashwords website, and look underneath the "download" button to the right- you'll see a special code to enter that will enable you to get the promised benefit.


Several of my books are included (click on the links):

Bound for the Promise-Land (Spur Award winner)




Cherokee Winter



Red Trail



All Great Neptune's Ocean



Check 'em out!