Ok, so the look-inside feature isn’t bolted on yet, but the Adelsverein Complete Trilogy has gone live at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as of yesterday – and in Kindle and Nook editions. Now that it’s well-launched, I’m back to the next two projects: the sequel to Daughter of Texas – which will be called Deep in the Heart and be ready for launch at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, which will be held at the end of November. And just in case there is not quite enough to on all of that, Watercress Press is going to do a second print edition of To Truckee’s Trail . . . which I have wanted to do, both because it would be at Watercress and at a slightly lower retail price than previously . . . and because I had found out from a descendent of one of the real-life people that I wrote about – that he had actually been to California two decades before crossing the Sierra Nevada with the Stephens-Townsend Party in 1844. The character of Old Man Hitchcock, the mountain man and fur-trapper was painted as an entertaining teller of tall tales . . . but in this one instance he had been telling the absolute truth. So – the second edition in print will be out by mid-October. And one last thing – I’ve been asked, in person and via email, if there wasn’t a way to have the Adelsverein Trilogy translated into a German edition, as there would be a terrific audience among all those Karl May fans, who absolutely eat up anything to do with adventures in the 19th century American west. Anyone know anyone in the literary agent world who pitches to German-language publishers, and wants to negotiate rights to a German translation of the Trilogy? Any agent looking to explore that option would make out like a bandit, even at 15%. Fortunes in the book-world these days favor the nimble. It may be a bit of a niche market relative to American publishing – but owning a large chunk of a niche market is not bad.

He really wore  a black hat, this particular villain; he was known and recognized throughout the district around Fredericksburg and the German settlements in Gillespie County – by his fine, black beaver hat. Which was not furry, as people might tend to picture immediately – but made of felt, felt manufactured from the hair scraped from beaver pelts. This had been the fashion early in the 19th century, and made a fortune for those who sent trappers and mountain-men into the far, far west, hunting and trapping beaver. The fashion changed – and the far-west fur trade collapsed, but I imagine that fine hats were still made from beaver felt. And J.P. Waldrip was so well-known by his hat that he was buried with it.

 There is not very much more known about him, for certain. I resorted to making up a good few things, in making him the malevolent presence that he is in The Adelsverein Trilogy – a psychopath with odd-colored eyes, a shifty character, suspected of horse-thievery and worse. I had found a couple of brief and relatively unsubstantiated references to him as a rancher in the Hill Country, before the Civil War, of no fixed and definite address.  That was the frontier, the edge of the white man’s civilization. Generally the people who lived there eked out a hardscrabble existence as subsistence farmers, running small herds of near-wild cattle. There was a scattering of towns – mostly founded by the German settlers who filled up Gillespie   the late 1840s, and spilling over into Kendall and Kerr counties. The German settlers, as I have written elsewhere, brought their culture with them, for many were educated, with artistic tastes and sensibilities which contrasted oddly with the comparative crudity of the frontier. They were also Unionists, and abolitionists in a Confederate state when the Civil War began – and strongly disinclined to either join the Confederate Army, or take loyalty oaths to a civil authority that they detested. Within a short time, those German settlers were seen as traitors, disloyal to the Southern Cause, and rebellious against the rebellion. They paid a price for that; martial law imposed on the Hill Country, and the scourge of the hangerbande, the Hanging Band. The Hanging Band was a pro-Confederate lynch gang, which operated at the edges of martial  and perhaps with encouragement of local military authorities.

J.P. Waldrip was undoubtedly one of them – in some documents he is described as a captain, but whether that was a real military rank, or a courtesy title given to someone who raised a company for some defensive or offensive purpose remains somewhat vague.  None the less, he was an active leader among those who raided the settlements along Grape Creek, shooting one man and hanging three others – all German settlers, all of them of Unionist sympathies. One man owned a fine horse herd, another was known to have money, and the other two had been involved in a land dispute with pro-Confederate neighbors. Waldrip was also recognized as being with a group of men who kidnapped Fredericksburg’s schoolteacher, Louis Scheutze, from his own house in the middle of town, and took him away into the night. He was found hanged, two days later – his apparent crime being to have objected to how the authorities had handled the murders of the men from Grape Creek. It was later said bitterly, that the Hanging Band had killed more white men in the Hill Country during the Civil War than raiding Indians ever did, before, during and afterwards.

And two years after the war ended, J.P. Waldrip appeared in Fredericksburg. No one at this date can give a reason why, when he was hated so passionately throughout the district, as a murderer, as a cruel and lawless man. He must have known this, known that his life might be at risk, even if the war was over. This was the frontier, where even the law-abiding and generally cultured German settlers went armed. Why did he think he might have nothing to fear? Local Fredericksburg historians that I put this question to replied that he was brazen, a bully – he might have thought no one would dare lift a hand against him, if he swaggered into town. Even though the Confederacy had lost the war, and Texas was under a Reconstruction government sympathetic to the formerly persecuted Unionists – what if he saw it as a dare, a spit in the eye? Here I am – what are y’all going to do about it?

What happened next has been a local mystery ever since, although I – and the other historical enthusiasts are certain that most everyone in town knew very well who killed J.P. Waldrip.  He was shot dead, and fell under a tree at the edge of the Nimitz Hotel property. The tree still exists, although the details of the story vary considerably: he was seen going into the hotel, and came out to smoke a quiet cigarette under the tree. No, the shooter saw him going towards the hotel stable, perhaps to steal a horse. No, he was being pursued by men of the town, after the sheriff had passed the word that he was an outlaw, and that anyone killing him would face no prosecution from the law. Waldrip was shot by a sniper, from the cobbler’s shop across Magazine Street — no, he was shot from the upper floor of another building, diagonally across Main Street. He was felled by a single bullet and died instantly, or was shot many times and lived long enough to plead “Please don’t shoot me any more”. I have created yet another rationale for his presence, and still another dramatic story of his end under the oak tree next to the Nimitz Hotel. I have a feeling this version will, over time be added to the rest. Everyone who knew the truth about who shot Waldrip, why he came back to town, how the town was roused against him, and what happened afterwards, all those people took the knowledge of those matters to their own graves, save for tantalizing hints left here and there for the rest of us to find. The whole matter about the two men who may have actually fired the shot — or shots —  was kept secret for decades, for fear of reprisals from those of his friends and kin who had survived the war. This was Texas, after all, where feuds and range wars went on for generations.

 So James P. Waldrip was buried – with his hat – first in a temporary grave, not in the town cemetery – and then moved to a secret and ignominious grave on private property. The story is given so that none of his many enemies might be tempted to desecrate it, but I think rather to make his ostracism plain and unmistakable, in the community which he and his gang had persecuted.

29. July 2010 · Comments Off on The Gonzales Ranging Company · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Texas map

One of the challenges of writing about a frontier-era woman of fairly conventional background and 19th century limitations, and trying to keep it all exciting for a reader comes when you have to start tackling things like  war, politics, commerce, Indian raids, and frontier exploration adventures. All the above were happenings that only men participated in fully. Mostly, in order to write directly about them is to either tell of them through male characters, or to create/locate a female outlier, of some variety – perhaps a tomboy who dresses as a man, or an unusually determined woman following her husband or lover. Generally, women were on the fringes, watching from the sidelines, holding up the home-front and generally cleaning up afterwards; which makes the drama rather understated – since a lot of it will be happening offstage. For the current WIP I am having to fall back on Margaret Mitchell’s stratagem in the first half or so of Gone With The Wind, when it comes to the Civil War – that is, having male characters appear, breathless and exhausted, from the wings, and giving an account of the varied events to my leading characters, mostly wives and mothers, sitting restlessly at home and waiting for word. In this way I have dramatized elements of the Come and Take It Fight, the Grass Fight  . . .  and the siege of the Alamo. Kind of hard to find any fresh aspect or angle of that to write about: but when I was tackling the story of the rise of the cattle industry in Texas I also thought all of the stories had been told. Lucky for me, they haven’t been. To the larger world, the story of the Gonzales Mounted Ranging Company is a relatively small footnote in the Alamo saga, and the Runaway Scrape – the civilian counterpart to Sam Houston’s strategic withdrawal to East Texas, likewise.


These two elements are linked, however – and in a terribly dramatic way. Gonzales, the farthest west of the American grants and settlements in Mexican Texas, was also the nearest such settlement to the seat of Mexican civil and military authority in San Antonio de Bexar – seventy miles or so by road. Oddly enough, relations between the citizens of Gonzales and the Mexican government had been fairly amiable; Gonzales was the locus of the ‘peace party’ which favored accommodation, as much as possible – as opposed to the ‘war party’, centered in San Felipe, who touted independence and took a hard line in response to the ongoing ‘Federalist-Centralist’ dispute in the politics of an independent Mexico. That is, right up until the Commandant of the presidio in Bexar had asked for the six-pound cannon to be returned, and then all heck broke out.

Far to the west – and on the very edge of American settlement – Gonzales of the early 1830s was a tidy little town, a hub of entrepreneurial activity; settlers had brought their wives and families, the tools of their trade. They had qualified as generally good and law-abiding citizens of the places they had come from, and of their new town. They were settled and relatively prosperous – not easily driven to open rebellion which would put at risk everything they had build in five hard and dangerous years on the frontier. When William Barrett Travis sent out a plea for reinforcements for his tiny garrison, one of the first of his messages went to Gonzales. And Gonzales was the first to respond, sending thirty of their own. These were not newly-arrived volunteers from the United States, land-hungry, restless and ready for a fight: but men of family and considerable substance, relatively long-established in Texas, in comparison to those who they were going to join, behind the crumbling adobe walls of a former mission. Most left wives and large families behind them, although four of the Gonzales relief company were teenagers. One of them, fifteen-year old William King argued his way into the company even as they were departing, insisting that he could well substitute for his father  . . .  but his father was desperately needed at home.

A bare week and a half later, of course – the news arrived that the Alamo had fallen, and all the defenders were dead – including those leading men of Gonzales, whose remains were burned with all the other defenders (save one) in two large pyres on the Alameda by order of the victor, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Their widows and orphaned children hardly had time to grieve, for by then Sam Houston had been put in complete command of what passed for the Army of Texas. Sam Houston was not going to risk his lightly armed, ornery and quarrelsome body of some three hundred soldiers and militia volunteers out on the farthest edge of American settlement, in a place where they could be mopped-up and massacred by a larger and well-equipped Army. Santa Anna had all the advantage of the ground, of fast-moving and well-mounted cavalry, of experienced artillery and disciplined and professionally officered infantry. Santa Anna had just finished putting down rebellion against his authority in half a dozen other Mexican states, including Zacatecas, where his army was permitted to loot and pillage at will for two days.

Well knowing of Santa Anna’s reputation for reprisal against those he defeated, and realizing they would be left defenseless, settler families began to flee, even as Houston gave orders for his force to abandon Gonzales. Much of Houston’s baggage train was turned over to evacuate women and children; equipment and supplies were dumped in the river or burnt. The town of Gonzales was purposefully burned; Houston, knowing that Santa Anna’s force was at the end of a long supply line, wanted to leave a scorched earth, as he and his army retreated eastwards. He sent word to Colonel James Fannin, at Goliad, in the old Presidio of La Bahia, to fall back to the line of the Colorado River. Fannin, at best an indecisive man, boxed in by an inability to make hard decisions, left departing too late to save himself or the 400 men of his garrison. He was defeated in a pitched battle at Coleto Creek in middle of March; those who survived Coleto were executed on Palm Sunday, 1836 – again, by the order of General Santa Anna.

Holding a line at the Colorado River was not possible: Houston fell back again, upon hearing of the massacre at Goliad, and the refugees fell back with him. Conditions were not helped by it being the rainiest spring in years. Rivers and creeks were running high – which did put the pursuing Mexican forces at a disadvantage in pursuit – but intensified the suffering of the refugees. Many had left their homes on a bare half-hour notice, packing in haste and burying such valuables as they could not take with them. Their homes were abandoned to the elements. Pregnant women gave birth with no other shelter than their friends holding pieces of canvas over them. Houston fell back again – San Felipe, which had been the heart of the American colonies, having been established by Stephen F. Austin, was burned also to the ground, although by whose orders – or if by the pursuing Mexican column has never been quite clear. In the space of a month, all that had been built in ten years across a vast tract of the lowland plains of Texas was abandoned, empty, and burned-out. Some even thought, in despair, that Houston and his army, and the fleeing settlers would have no other choice but to take refuge by crossing back over the Sabine, the final river dividing Texas and Louisiana.


But in April, at a meadow at edge of Buffalo Bayou, near the present-day town named after him, Sam Houston saw his opportunity to strike, and took it. Perhaps sensing that his ragged and contentious little army only had one fight in them, he wished to make it where it would count, and where they had a better than good chance of winning – and in a brief 18 minutes they did.