Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Peacemaker finalist "Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill": excerpt

I was quite honored to learn that "Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill" is one of the finalists for the Peacemaker Award for western fiction, in the "best short story" category.

The story first appeared in the anthology Christmas Campfire Companion, published by Port Yonder Press, and was later released as a 99-cent ebook single.

It is about a group of "Exodusters"- ex-slaves who formed wagon trains in the 1870s and headed west to form new towns of their own, often in Kansas and later Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the new town these folks form in Kansas -Freedom Hill -stands in the way of a racist cattle baron, who will stop at nothing to maintain control of the area.

Here is an excerpt from the story:

I was eight or nine years old when we got on that wagon train headed West. It was one of those Singleton expeditions. Pap Singleton, he was an old colored fellow from Nashville, used to be a slave when he was young but ran off and made a good bit of money. Things was hard down South in those days—of course, they always have been for folks shaded like I am, but in some ways those days were even harder than slave times had been. The Union soldiers had all went home by then, you see, and the same folks were in charge again that had been running things before the war. And they were none too happy with colored folks, no sir. The U.S. government had promised us forty acres and a mule, but it was just empty air—and them old Confederates weren’t aiming to give us even bright promises. Singleton started putting together his expeditions, talking colored folks into coming West with him for a new start. And a good many of them did. Exodusters, they were called. On account of they were leaving the land of slavery, just like the old-time Israelites left Egypt, and heading toward a promised land—a land that was more dust than milk and honey, but sweet to their souls just the same.
            My daddy, he liked the sound of that. Painting it with Bible words made it even prettier to him, because he was always partial to the Good Book. His mama gave him a Bible name, Gabriel. During the war, he ran away from his old master and swam across the river to where the Yankee soldiers were. He joined the Union Army, and then it came time for him to choose another name for himself, a family name. A lot of those old slaves named themselves after their masters, but Daddy didn’t want any slave name. So he called himself after the River Jordan; he was born again, in freedom, just like being baptized, when he swum that river to the Yankee lines.
            I remember the day he first set me up in that wagon next to my mama, and we commenced to roll away from the only world we had ever known.
            “You remember them stories I told you, Danny, about the baby Jesus?”
            I nodded.
            “Them wise men,” he continued, “they followed that star a far piece. One of them was black as we are, at least I’ve heard it told that way. Anyways, freedom is a star, boy. It used to be the North Star, but I reckon we’re fixing to follow one that leads West. So say goodbye to Egypt, son. The Lord is out yonder, waiting for us to find him.”
            Singleton planted colonies all over Kansas and Indian Territory, and others like him did the same. Our little group, I reckon there was about fifty or sixty of us all together, we stopped at a spot near the banks of the Neosho River. We got the land off the government—it used to be part of an Indian reservation. We filed to homestead it, all according to law. It was my daddy’s notion to name our little town Freedom Hill; right away, several people pointed out that there isn’t any hill there. Shoot, there’s not even a rise.
            “Elevation don’t mean nothing,” Daddy said. “It’ll be a hill, once we get it built. We’ll be a city on a hill, just like the Good Book says, shining for the whole world to see.”
            There was a chorus of amens, and we all set to work building. It takes more than buildings to make a town, though, so after awhile we set to work voting as well. We elected ourselves a mayor, and a council; everybody agreed that to be a real town we needed a marshal, too, and everybody agreed it ought to be Gabriel Jordan, one-time company sergeant in the 13th United States Colored Infantry and hero of the Battle of Nashville. Daddy still had his old cap-and-ball revolver—he didn’t have a holster for it, so he kept it stuck in his belt. The town blacksmith made him a crude tin star. Daddy kept the badge in his pocket, since everybody knew who the marshal was. He never did go in much for what you might call symbols of authority, he didn’t like to draw undue attention to himself. My daddy was the most dignified man I ever knew, but he wasn’t burdened by a lot of false pride. Besides, it was mostly a ceremonial office. Freedom Hill never had much call for an actual lawman.
            Leastways, not until Bob Horner and his bunch rode into town.

Check out the whole anthology- filled with great stories:
Amazon (kindle, paperback, hardback)

Or just check out my short story: