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When Texan-born Josh Buckalew met Teresa, a young and beautiful Mexican woman, it was love at first sight. But with the Alamo recently sieged and destroyed, Josh knew this rosebud love would be unobtainable on account of the war thorns harrowing the country.
So the Buckalew brothers, Josh and Thomas, along with Josh's friend Muley, the man-child, come together with other Texans to protect their land at Goliad against the Mexicans who have just ravished the Alamo.
But what's at stake for Josh? Will he listen to his brother and become a war hero, eradicating Mexican control? Or will he follow his heart and take Teresa far, far away from all of the bloodshed?
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Elmer Kelton, author of more than forty novels, grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. For forty-two years he had a parallel career in agricultural journalism.
Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Among his best-known works have been The Time It Never Rained and The Good Old Boys, the latter made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones.
He served in the infantry in World War II. He and his wife, Ann, a native of Austria, live in San Angelo, Texas. They have three children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In his later years Joshua Buckalew seldom spoke of Goliad and the terrible thing which happened there. Even in his old age there were night when the memory returned in a dream and he would wake up suddenly with the cold sweat breaking, the horror as vivid as it had been in his youth.
Yet there was fierce pride in the memory too, for Joshua Buckalew ever afterward considered himself one of the original Texans. He had been a witness to the birth of Texas at Bexar and Goliad and on the marsh-bound prairie of San Jacinto. So, as each of his sons came of age to understand--and later his grandsons--he would tell them the story that they might share his pride in their heritage, and that they might realize and value the awful sacrifice other men had made for Texas.
Always, he began the story long before Goliad. He began it where it had begun for him, one early-spring day in Tennessee....
* * *
I could have whipped the Keefer brothers without even breaking a sweat, provided I took them one at a time. But the two together were a mite of excess. They had me staggering in the dust of the crossroads where Gailey's Grocery dispensed everything from harness leather and red calico to raw corn spirits in a jug. Dogs barked. Men and boys cheered and whooped and stood back to give us room. Entertainment was scarce in those parts--a horserace occasionally, a shooting match, a barn-raising or a dance. A good fist fight was usually certain to stir the betting blood. But nobody was betting this time. They could tell that I was fixing to get my plow cleaned good and proper.
I was twenty-one then, five feet eleven and tough as mule-hide. But that wasn't enough. I kept lashing out with my fists at Smiley Keefer and trying with my elbows to knock loose from Snag Keefer's heavy weigh on my back. Snag clung like a burr under a pantsleg.
I puffed, the breath coming hard. "This ain't noways a fair fight...I didn't go...to fight the both you."
"You got us anyhow." Snag tried to sink his teeth into my ear.
I shifted my weight and threw Snag off balance, sliding him onto his back in the dust. I landed with both knees in Snag's belly. I turned to see where Smiley was and caught a faceful of fist. These were plowmen, the Keefers, and a plowman's fists are as hard as a hickory knot.
I saw my brother Thomas edge through the crowd.
"Thomas!" I yelled. "Come and help me!"
Thomas was tall and strong, and he had a face that could be as grim as hangman. He was grim now. He sat himself down in an open spot on the porch and eased the butt of his Kentucky longrifle to the ground.
I never was one to beg for help. Both Keefers were rushing me again. Their weight brought me down and crushed the breath from me. All I had left was a bruised and angry spirit.
"Now, Josh," gritted Smiley, "let's hear you holler quit."
They twisted my arms. The shame of defeat was as bad as the pain. I threshed and pitched. Cloudiness came over my eyes. I heard a firm voice say, "Give up, Josh. You're makin' a fool of yourself." Thomas hovered over me.
I clamped my teeth together tightly to keep from hollering out. Smiley Keefer put more pressure on my arm.
Thomas Buckalew said, "All right, boys, the fun's over. Let him up."
The Keefers waited too long. Thomas grabbed a fistful of hair in each hand, then cracked their heads together. "I said it's over now!"
The Keefers let go and jumped back the way men will jump away from an angry bull that might come up fighting I arose, eyes blazing, but my knees betrayed me. I knelt, unable to stay up.
Thomas said flatly, "Git your rifle and let's be amovin'. Pa wants to talk to us."
It was a minute before I had enough breath to speak. "What for?"
"That colonel what's his-name from Texas has been by the place again. Pa's got that glow in his eyes."
Thomas let me struggle to my feet without help. He stood back, making it plain that he disapproved of my foolishness. The crowd was scattering. I swung around to glare at the Keefers, who leaned against the porch, still breathing hard. Snag was tipping a jug over his arm.
Thomas caught my sleeve and said roughly. "The mail has done left. You lost the fight; now let it go."
"You didn't even ask me how come I was fightin' them."
"I don't reckon as how I care. A man ought to have more pride than to git hisself stomped with half the settlement watchin', and laughin' at him."
"They were pickin' on poor old Muley Dodd."
"Everybody picks on Muley Dodd. Besides, I didn't see him."
"He was scared. Minute I hit Snag, Muley lit out arunnin'."
"Josh, you can't spent your life pickin' up after Muley. The Lord chose to short Muley on brains, and it's too bad. But it ain't up to you to be his everlastin' keeper."
"Somebody's got to help him. He can't help hisself."
I limped at first as we walked down the dusty wagon road, each of us carrying a Kentucky rifle. The late-afternoon sun slanted into our faces, for the Buckalew home lay west of the settlement. That was the way it had always been with the Bucklews: always west of the settlement.
Muley Dodd waited for us down the road, his hat in his hand, his eyes afraid. Short, stopped a little, Muley had the first whisker of manhood soft on his face. Ragged hair touched his frayed collar. He started talking when we were still fifty feet away. "Josh, I didn't go to leave you there. I didn't noways mean to run. The Devil got in me, and I was afeared. It was the Devil made me run."
Impatient, Thomas said, "It wasn't the Devil caused you to light out, Muley It was the Keefers."
I cut a sharp glance at my brother. "Hush, Thomas." I walked up to Muley Dodd and put my hand on his shoulder. "Don't fret now, Muley. It's done over with. They ain't fixin' to bother you again."
"You sure, Josh?" Muley brightened up. "Did you whup 'em good? You're a real friend, Josh. And next time there's a fight, I won't run away. I'll stay right there and help you."
It wasn't so, but I nodded like I believed it. "Sure you will, Muley."
We walked on down the road, us Buckalews, Muley standing and watching us with his hat still in his hand. Thomas said, "Josh, you know he'll always run. He'll be runnin' the last day he lives. You can't protect him forever."
We came to a field where a mule stood waiting in endless patience, tied to a stump. At the turnrow lay my wooden plow. I had hired out to old man Higgins for a spell of work the year before, and Pa had made me take my pay in this plow instead of cash. Pa had declared: "Every man needs a plow of his own, time he comes of age. Money is soon spent. But give you a plow and you got somethin' that'll serve you for years."
It was true, I would have to admit. But I'd always said I'd rather stand back and admire Mother Nature than scratch her face with the point of a plow. A man got almighty tired sometimes of working up and down the rows all day, staring an old mule in the rear.
Thomas said, "Better fetch the mule."
Thomas was only a couple of years older than me, but times he acted as if the difference was ten. With Thomas, day was day and night was night; wrong was wrong and right was right. You drew a line and you stayed on one side of it. You didn't step over it, ever. I wondered sometimes Where Thomas had inherited that stiff-backed way. It hadn't come from Pa.
The Buckalew home was of a mixed architecture. It had begun long ago as a log cabin but had been extended and enlarged with rough-sawed lumber through the years, as the lumber became available and the family fortunes had allowed us to buy or barter for it. At one time a lot of Buckalews had lived there. But gradually each came of age to go on his own. The boys went west, and the girls married off. Now there were only Pa and the oldest son, Lott, who was to inherit the place according to family custom. And there were Thomas and me.
Pa sat hunched on the hewn-log steps, puffing his pipe and taking his rest. He still worked hard, Titus Buckalew did. But it seemed like he couldn't take as much of it as he used to. He had worn out too many plows, outlived too many mules. He had cleared this land from virgin timber, by himself at first, then with sons to help him as each came along in his own due time. Lott had a large family of his own now.
Pa's old pipe stood black against the white of his beard as he started at me. I couldn't see any surprise in the pale blue of his eyes. "Mule drag you, Joshua?"
I never did lie to Pa. "No, sir."
"And you didn't fall out no tree. So I take it you been fightin'."
The old man frowned and knocked the pipe against the hard heel of his hand to jar the burned tobacco out. "If you got to fight, at least you ought to win."
"Next time, Pa."
His brow twisted into deep furrows, which came easy to him. "That Colonel Ames, he's been by again, talkin' to me about Texas."
Thomas said, "Pa, ain't it a little late in life for you to be thinkin' about faraway places any more?"
"Not for myself. It's you two that I been frettin' about. It's high time you had a chance to take and do somethin' for yourselves, like your brothers have done."
"You wantin' us to leave, Pa?" I asked.
"No, son, it ain't that I want you to. A man don't like sayin' good-bye to his young. But it's the way of life. You can see for yourself, there ain't nothin' left here for a growed man. If you ain't already got your land, you never will get it. What we got here will be just about enough for Lott, once I'm gone. Ever since the first Buckalew come across the big water, they've kept a-lookin' west. I done it, in my day. Your brothers have done it. Now I reckon it's your time."
My skin prickled with excitement. "You think we ought to go to Texas?"
"That's for you to say, not me. But Colonel Ames, he talks like it's a powerful good country for a young man to go and build him a life."
The weariness was suddenly gone from me. "Texas! I been hearin' a right smart about it. The Fancher boy went there last year, him and that Whipple girl he married. And the Smith family. And the year before that, old Henry Leech, only he died along the way."
Thomas nodded. The excitement was touching him too, which was seldom thing. "The Fanchers got a letter from their boy awhile back. He's right taken with the country, Pa."
Pa drew silently on his pipe, enjoying the tobacco. "The colonel, he says this Stephen F. Austin has got him a colony there, and he'll let a man take up more land than he could accumulate here in lifetime. All that land, just for the askin'. Of course, you'd have to build her from scratch, but us Buckalews, we always done that."
Thomas frowned. "One thing, Pa, you might not've thought about. Texas ain't in the United States. It's part of Mexico. Us Buckalews have been Americans ever since Grandpa froze his feet that winter with George Washington."
"Governments never did mean no awful lot to us Buckalews, son. We always been so far out front that they never was any bother to us. Anyhow, there's been aplenty of Americans gone there already. I doubt as you'll see much difference." He was silent awhile, studying first one son, then the other. "Something else: you're both of a marryin' age, and neither one has got you a woman."
Thomas shrugged. I didn't say anything.
Pa said, "Colonel Ames tells me a married man gets twice as much land in Texas as a single man. That's somethin' to consider. I don't except you're apt to find many unattached females down there. Best play the game safe and take one with you. A bird in the hand, as they say." He looked at me. "How about that Merribelle keefer, Joshua? She's been chasin' around you like a bear after honey."
I shook my head. "She'd be a burden."
"They all are. But think of that extra land."
"She's not the prettiest I ever saw. And I don't love her."
"Love wears off, and looks change. Main thing is that she can cook. You'd be surprised, too, how she can help keep your bed warm in the wintertime."
"Pa, I've tried her." All of a sudden I felt my face turning red. "Her cookin', I mean. She's not for me."
Humor flickered in Pa's eyes. He turned to Thomas. "How about you?"
"I've never seen a woman I'd marry."
"You always expect too much, Thomas, that's your weakness. You got to learn to bend a little. Women are human. There never was but one perfect man, and I doubt there ever was a perfect woman."
Thomas shook his head. "There's still none here I'd want to marry."
Pa shrugged. "Well, that's up to you. Down yonder, you ain't apt to find anything except Mexican girls."
Thomas said flatly, "I know we won't be marryin' one of them."
Copyright © 1965 by Elmer Kelton, renewed 1993 by Elmer Kelton
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Book Description Forge Books, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110812574893