Monday, November 17, 2014
Now on Sale Through November 21st
The true story of a young couple hanged by greedy cattlemen to take over their land, as seen through the eyes of fictional character Susan Cameron, a single woman homesteader who leaves Missouri to find independence in Wyoming, where women have had the vote, served on juries and in public office since 1865. The following is an excerpt from the novel's first chapter:
Wyoming Territory: June 1, 1889
Susan Cameron awoke from her nap to the sound of gunfire. Bolting upright in her seat, she was surprised when two men rushed past as the train came to a jarring halt. Handguns were drawn and at the ready. Across the aisle, a small boy screamed in his mother’s arms. The woman glanced at Susan with frightened eyes as her young daughter crawled beneath the seat.
The connecting door burst open and an aging conductor signaled for silence. “Train robbers blocked the tracks. When they come aboard, give ‘em whatever they want or somebody's liable to get killed. You men keep your guns holstered. There's women and children on board."
Heart pounding, Susan removed most of the money from her reticule. Loosening the laces of her high topped shoes, she slipped the bills into the sides of each one. Her dress was then arranged to hide her ankles.
Gunfire ceased as three men entered the coach. Their sweat-stained hats hung low over their brows, bandannas hiding all but their squinting eyes. They were dressed like photographs Susan had seen of working cowhands.
"Hands up if you wanna live," the first man yelled in graveled voice..
The children screamed as their mother attempted to comfort them on the floor between the seats. She pulled their faces to her chest when one of the bandits yelled, "Shut them kids up."
Demanding that everyone stand, two of the disheveled men moved down the aisle, flipping open canvas sacks and ordering them filled. Susan got to her feet and glanced at the other passengers, whose trembling hands were held aloft. She and the young mother across the aisle were the only women occupying the coach. The other seats were filled with men of every description, including a number dressed as cowhands . She wondered if they were members of the gang.
"Empty your pockets," the first bandit yelled.. "And you ladies open your bags." He offered his canvas sack in one hand while waving his gun with the other. Susan sighed with relief when he walked past to the middle of the coach.
"Guns, money and jewelry," the second man said as he approached Susan's seat. His body odor made her recoil as he stood opposite her. Holding her breath, she emptied the contents of her reticule onto the seat.
"Single women can't afford jewelry." He wasn’t much taller than Susan and she curbed the urge to grab his gun.
"Where's the rest of your money? Maybe I oughta search ya."
"While you're doing that, I assure you the men in this coach will disarm you." Susan hoped her voice didn’t belie her bravado.
Grunting, he turned to demand cash from the young woman across the aisle. When she released her children, their screaming increased in volume until passengers' upraised hands were covering their ears. Placing the sack beneath his arm, the burly bandit stooped to reprimand the boy, who promptly bit his hand.
"What kind of monster are you, slapping that child?" Susan cried.
"Didn't do nuthin' to the brat." Shaking his injured hand, he moved on to passengers in the next row. Amanda Turner dipped her head and smiled her gratitude.
Susan drew a sharp breath. While the bandits were collecting their bounty, she wondered what had happened to the passengers who had rushed from the train. Imaging them lying on their backs, bleeding from multiple wounds, she shook her head to dislodge the disturbing image.
The third bandit stood guard at the front of the coach, waving his pistol while watching as passengers were relieved of their possessions. When his companions left the train, he fired a shot through the roof and ordered everyone down on the floor. Moments later they were back in their seats, watching the trio ride south through the sagebrush toward the mountains. As she took her seat, Susan heard a chorus of men’s low-voiced cursing.
The conductor mopped his perspiring brow. "Stay in your seats. We're lucky no one was hurt.." Susan yelled above the din. "Where are the missing passengers?"
The conductor turned back at the connecting door. "Gang members, ma’am. I just watched 'em ride off with the rest of the bunch."
"Why didn't they stay and rob us?"
"I reckon they didn't want anybody to recognize ‘em. They boarded the train down the tracks in Douglas, and probably robbed the adjoining coach. They were wearing masks when they left but I recognized their clothes." He turned and grumbled his way through the connecting door between the coaches.
Susan pulled the money from her shoes and returned the bills to her reticule. No one had warned her about train robbers. What had she gotten herself into? She thought of homesteading as a peaceful venture, and knew that other single women had proved up on land of their own. Could she carve out a living on her homestead, without being robbed? Wyoming Territory had seemed a panacea for a single woman seeking independence. The territorial government had granted women suffrage more than twenty years earlier, allowing them to not only vote, but serve on juries and hold public office. Those privileges alone had brought her to the territory.
Less than an hour later, the train whistle shrieked, signaling the conductor to announce their arrival in Casper. Tired of traveling, Susan rose from her seat, lifted her reticule and made her way down the steps. Standing on a makeshift platform were more than a dozen men, most of them in dusty, wrinkled clothing that must have slept in for quite some time. Several had missing teeth and stringy, shoulder-length hair. Horrified, she drew back when one of them offered his hand.
"Welcome to Casper, ma’am .”
No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy is an historical mystery-suspense novel available at: Amazon.com