Saturday, October 5, 2013
THE FORTY-NINERS (WEST OF THE BIG RIVER SERIES)--BY CHARLIE STEEL
I am honored that under the direction of Livia Reasoner, September 30, 2013, my book, THE FORTY-NINERS (part of the West of the Big River Series) was published by Western Fictioneers in digital format and as a trade paperback.
THE FORTY-NINERS follows three main groups who end up traveling to the gold fields. People went to the gold fields in California for many reasons, some to escape poverty, others for adventure, and some who were simply running away from their past lives.
The main protagonist is a white slave named Lance, living in St. Louis, Missouri. In the south and southwest, after generations of relations with female slaves, there were many captives who appeared as white as their masters. Following the “one drop of blood” rule, any slave who had documented proof of being black, Indian, or Spanish, regardless of skin, hair, and eye color, was still considered to be of that race, no matter their outward appearance. Such white skinned slaves were common, and are one of the many reasons abolitionists were so incensed as to call for the immediate emancipation of slaves and the end of all racial segregation.
In my story, Lance has reached his twenty-first birthday and has all he can take of slavery. He would rather die than face one more day without freedom and so he decides to run. Chased by a mounted slave patrol, their dogs pursue Lance to the shore of the Mississippi River. Lance swims into its choppy waves and disappears from the searchers. He grabs a rope of a sailing scow, which is hauling freight up the river and is greeted by its captain. The ship’s captain is Irish and taking one look at the stowaway, greets him with the following:
"The Saints be praised," exclaimed the Irishman, putting down the cup and crossing himself, "If it ain't the glory of Adonis himself!"
Lance stood in wet, thread-bare clothing that stretched tightly across his muscular frame. Every muscle was clearly outlined through a nearly transparent shirt, and snug-fitting pants. He did look like a living picture of Adonis—a figure of Greek mythology he had never seen or even heard of.
"My name's not Adonis, it's Lance. I'm hitching a ride and I won't cause trouble if you don't cause me none."
"Glory be! I'll not be sending you to the depths. I'd rather fling my own son overboard than the likes of you. Welcome aboard and if you be wanting work, I pay fair wages."
It turns out, that Lance, through a miracle of nature, despite bad food and a lifetime of whippings has grown up to be an extraordinary example of mankind.
For three weeks Lance works for the Irish captain loading and unloading freight. Discovering the freighter is returning to St. Louis, Lance quits his job and becomes a dock worker in Davenport, Iowa.
Starting from Davenport, Lance along with a new companion named Fast Eddy, face many challenges and adventures. One of them is to meet a westerner and buffalo hunter named Horse.
Together the three men load a wagon with supplies and head west. Once on the plains, Lance and Fast Eddy learn how to shoot and skin buffalo. One night, camped on a high hill, the following scene unfolds:
A terrific blast broke the quiet of the night, making dark into daylight, shaking the ground, and deafening the three men. Horse was immediately up and yelling.
"Lightning!" screamed the old man. "Knock those rifles down and push that wagon off the hill!"
More lightning strikes hit, one after another, and it seemed as if the night was gone. Arcs of light, too intense for the eyes to endure, lit up the sky. The dark image of the old man was brightly exposed as he stood knocking over the line of rifles. A lightning bolt struck the top of Horse's head. The bright electric flash tore through his body, smoke billowed, raised his hair, tore his clothing, and the bolt exited and traveled along the ground. In the flash of light, both Eddy and Lance, still on their bedrolls, clearly saw the gruesome sight. Then other lightning bolts struck, hit the wagon repeatedly, and fire erupted around an iron wheel. More smoke billowed and flames spread across the wagon.
Eddy hurried to Horse and then lightning struck again and Eddy fell. Lance jumped from his blankets and raced to Eddy, threw him over his shoulders and ran down the hill. At the bottom, he placed Eddy on the ground. They both lay prone as the lightning and blowing storm raged around them. At the top of the hill, grass was now burning as well as the wagon, and a wind blew at a terrific force, howling fiercely. Flames pushed down the hill and towards where the two men lay. Once again, Lance picked up his partner and in bare feet hurried away from the rushing fire.
A wall of flames headed toward Lance and he feared that it would over-take them. This was exactly as the old man had described. Lightning flashed once more at the top of the hill, a terrific fork of white hot heat, followed by deafening thunder. Then it was as if the sky cracked in two, and a cascade of water fell, drenching the flames. The water poured as if thrown from buckets and in a moment the dry ground turned to grease. Sticky mud slid under Lance's bare feet and he fell, Eddy coming down hard on top of him. The fall brought the other man to consciousness.
"What? What's happened?" asked Eddy.
"Lightning struck and knocked you out," shouted Lance above the sound of the wind and pouring rain. "It started a fire and I picked you up and ran."
They both stared up at the knoll and, despite the heavy rain; areas of grass, bushes, and the wagon were still engulfed in flames. As the rain poured on, they watched the fires ebb and then go out.
"Did you see the old man?" asked Eddy. "He . . . he was struck in the head. I saw the bolt go through him and then hit and travel along the ground. He fell and when I ran towards him there was smoke . . ."
"I saw it too," said Lance. "Let's wait the storm out and . . ."
A terrific wind blew and water struck their faces and stung. Both men lay flat along the ground and put arms over their heads to protect themselves. Then as quickly as it came, the storm moved off. Lightning strikes moved with it, and then further and further away, until it was only a distant flash and low rumble. The wind stopped and with it the rain. Both men sat up and stared into inky blackness. A few flashes more, a distant clap of thunder, and the storm was gone.
"Come on," said Lance, "maybe we can save the old man."
In the distance the sun slowly formed a thin orange disk on the horizon and the darkness fled. Clouds swirled above and began to quickly dissipate. Blue sky appeared and the sun began to rise. Orange rays were replaced with bright yellow. Daylight flooded across the land.
This concludes an excerpt from my book THE FORTY-NINERS, a short novel about three groups of adventurers journeying west and eventually becoming California miners.