In the third Oregon historical, Going Home, which will be published September 21st, the story begins in Portland, Oregon, before heading east of the Cascades. It is a love story but also about Oregon right after the Civil War. This was a particularly turbulent time in the United States and Oregon was no exception.
When I wrote Going Home, the Civil War was seemingly in my country's past, but several months ago, after a mass killing, it and the Confederate flag rushed right into the front pages. It became an issue that not only surprised me but gave me some concern about this book's reception-- where the hero fought for the South. Not a thing I can do about that though as the story is what it is-- whether it's politically correct at the moment or not. He had his reasons and I think those who read the story will understand that.
This is an excerpt from when Jed Hardman first got back to Portland.
From the looks of how she was dressed, the play in which she’d starred, she had grown even more successful in the years he’d been gone. She’d be even more unlikely to agree to go to a ranch in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, who was that man who put his arm around her? Was she married? Maybe with children?
Josh, his dark skin making his teeth show up even more as he grinned, said, “Argue it all out as much as you want, you won’t let this one go. We both know it.”
“Maybe or maybe not.” He took another long drag on the cigarette, finding no pleasure in it.
“Let’s get a drink,” Josh suggested.
Jed nodded, even though whiskey wasn’t going to do anything to make him happy. Josh was right also that he needed to settle it with Raine. If she was happy with someone else, he’d wish her well. Well, he’d do his damnedest to wish her well.
As they walked into a smoky bar, Jed wondered, not for the first time, what the attitude in Oregon was toward mulattoes, which would be his brother’s legal definition for those who needed such boxes for human differences. Not that it mattered much what anyone thought, considering he and Josh were armed and a head taller than most of the men in the room.
They leaned on the bar until the bartender came over. “Two whiskeys,” Jed drawled putting the money on the bar. The bartender looked at Josh a little curiously, but he and his brother were used to that. The drinks were poured with no questions.
“You boys are new around here,” a bald man with a wide girth said as he moved closer to them. Jed took a sip of his whiskey without answering. “Back from the war?”
“And that would be your business?”
The man smiled. “Just trying to be friendly.”
“Snooping into the business of other folks considered friendly these days?” Jed asked. He motioned to Josh for them to take their drinks to a table. The man followed and sat without an invitation.
“Just thought you might not know Oregon was in favor of freeing slaves.”
“That so?” Josh asked with a cynical smile as he sipped his whiskey.
“They set this to being a free state before we went into the Union. Way ahead, then had to redo it. Of course, can’t legally own land here.”
“Who can’t?” Jed asked.
“No colored folk.” The man grinned slyly. “We’re a real free state kind of folk.”
“What’s your game here, mister?” Jed asked.
“Friends call me Toddy. Todd Coen if you want to be formal and my game? Well let me think a minute on that one. It might be many things. You boys are new here, aren’t you?” Jed took a long draw on his cigarette instead of answering. “Just curious. Always curious about folks… Uh what are your names so we can keep this more sociable?”
“Not saying we want to be sociable, but Jed and Josh.”
“Guess you two are figuring I’d be one of those narrow minded types who’d block colored folk from their rights but no, I am not. What I am is a realist. I see the irony of life and can’t help but observe it. Like the two of you.”
“There’s an irony to us?” Jed asked as Josh headed over to the bar and paid for a bottle of whiskey, bringing back an extra glass.
Coen said his thanks before he took a sip. “You two have Southern accents, strong ones. Georgia maybe?”
“Asking a lot of questions can prove dangerous—in some places,” Jed said eyeing him coldly.
Coen grinned with real humor. Obviously, he didn’t easily take offense. “Guessing since you just showed up, war just ended, likely you fought in it, and wanted out of the South after it lost?”
Jed contemplated punching him. It would actually feel good to hit someone... for a moment anyway.
Coen looked curiously at Josh and then back at Jed. “So you came north and brought your freed slave.”
“Josh has never been a slave, Mr. Coen. He was a freeman from birth. And to stop more questions. He’s my brother.”
Coen laughed. “Well bless my soul. That’s something else. So you fought for the north?”
Jed shook his head. “No.”
“To keep slavery?”
“You are looking for a fight.”
Coen laughed. “Not with a man your size. No siree. Just wondered is all.”
“Well to satisfy your curiosity. I fought for the South. Josh and I were both in the war, in Jeb Stuart’s cavalry until he was killed at Yellow Tavern. then under Wade Hampton until the surrender and our parole.”
“You both fought for the South?” Now their new want-to-be friend sounded mystified.
“We fought for family and state.”
“I didn’t mean to offend by asking.”
“War is hell, stranger. It’s even worse when you go into it knowing it’s a lost cause, but I had family in it. Now all that’s left of that is Josh.”
“I still can’t get over you fighting though for slavery given...” Coen’s tone reflected his disbelief as he looked from Jed to Josh.
“Fought for a state’s right to leave the union. Fought to protect our neighbors and friends from an invading army. My father, my family, never believed in slavery and paid a salary with all workers free to leave. As soon as he bought it, my grandfather had freed all of the slaves working on his cotton plantation. Oh, how the hell is it worth talking about this? It’s over.”
“Not hardly. The bad feelings still here. Hate is strong, son. People are strange; how one day they’ll say one thing and then boom, the other side comes out. Dark and light. A lot of folks here won’t take kindly if they find you fought for the South.” His smile was wry. “Even more that you got a darkie with you.”
Jed smile was glacial. “You are betting on the wrong cards if you think I give a damn.”
Coen chuckled. “Nah, just figured you might need to know what you’re up against back here.”
“What’s your work, Coen?” Jed smoked studying the man and wondering at his angle.
“Make it Toddy. Coen sounds too much like my father. I’ve done a bit of this and that. You name it. I’ve done it probably. Sometimes I write pieces for the paper.”
“Hope this won’t be one of them,” Josh said with a grin as he sipped his whiskey.
“No, just was curious. Two big men like yourselves and now that you say it, I can see the resemblance, well it makes a man wonder about the story behind it—if the man’s a writer anyway. What brings you to Portland then?”
“Business,” Jed answered.
“And then you’re moving on?”
“You do sound like a journalist,” Jed said with a cold smile making it clear that’d be less than welcome.
“I’m not. I’m more a poet.”
“Well, Toddy, who pries into stranger’s business, I own a ranch, east of the Cascades, on the North Fork of the John Day River. We’re heading there next.”
“You didn’t stop by there first though? Something more important here than there? Whole thing makes a body wonder.”
“It’s nothing for a poem.” Jed’s smile was the one some had said looked mean. He felt mean.
“Never know what might be. Poetry is nothing but painting pictures with words. Might be there is a poem or a lot of them in you two boys,” Toddy said not looking intimidated.
“Well, you been giving me advice,” Jed drawled, “now I’ll give you some. Don’t ask too many questions or you’ll find yourself booted out of here.”
Toddy grinned. “I’ll remember that. So you going back soon?”
Jed put up one finger. “I had my reasons for coming here first. Among them, a need to go back there with supplies. I am not sure what will be left. Four years is a long time to leave a ranch.”
“I suppose it is nosy, but how’s it happen you have a place out there? Kind of unusual. That’s pretty remote country as best I know. Not a place a man would find by accident.”
Jed surprised himself by deciding to answer. Despite his nosiness, there was something likable about Coen’s persistence. “I came out in ‘59, bought it from a Frenchman.” He didn’t need to reveal the story of how that had come about. “He had been allowed to buy it as a reward for service, plus the fact it was wilderness. Not many wanted land out there. The deed is firm if that was your next question. He had built cabin and barns. I added onto the house, built corrals, stocked it with cattle. It was a good plan right up until the war interfered.”
“You read about all the Indian trouble over there?”
“You are just a fount of good news.”
“What Indian trouble,” Josh interrupted giving Jed a look, which was answered with a shrug.
“Paiutes, Shoshoni, some others been attacking and hitting settlers, anywhere they can. Military being all back east, fighting the War, left an opening. Oregon formed what they call the First Oregon Calvary, but I look to see that disbanded now with real warriors back. When we get some professional troops over there, those honed in battle, it should straighten itself out.”
“Oh yeah, professional killers, just what everybody needs,” Jed said with a grimace.
“Hey, boy, that’s what it takes sometimes.”
Jed had known about the problems with Paiutes and Shoshoni before he left, but he’d hoped for the best. The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs were peaceable with their own reservation. He hoped that was still the case. He was counting on it.
If Coen was right and there’d been a lot of trouble in his region, he’d be lucky to find anything standing when he got home. He wasn’t even sure Grimes and Jessup would still be where he’d left them, supposedly looking after the property and cattle. If he was lucky, the cattle would’ve spread to the brush and be there to be rounded up-- instead of in a grizzly, wolf or Paiute’s belly. At least, he had not assumed he’d be back quickly and had left money with a reputable lawyer to keep the property free of taxes or liens.
“You didn’t get much news about out here then?”
“Not a lot.” A war is all about it.
“Hear about the gold rush over your way?”
Jed shook his head, wondering what else could go wrong. The woman he had hoped would be waiting, even though he’d never asked her, looked to be taken. The cabin likely was burnt to the ground, cattle gone, and he’d have to start over. Now gold fever to take away any possible hired help. Perfect.