Sons of Texasby Elmer Kelton
In 1816, Mordecai Lewis, a veteran of Andrew Jackson's Indian campaigns and battles against the British, moves his family into the western Tennessee canebrakes. But Mordecai, a born wanderer, is not satisfied with farming, and with his sons Michael and Andrew and some other backwoodsmen, he leads a foray into Spanish-held Texas to hunt wild horses and return the
In 1816, Mordecai Lewis, a veteran of Andrew Jackson's Indian campaigns and battles against the British, moves his family into the western Tennessee canebrakes. But Mordecai, a born wanderer, is not satisfied with farming, and with his sons Michael and Andrew and some other backwoodsmen, he leads a foray into Spanish-held Texas to hunt wild horses and return the mustang herd to sell in Tennessee.
Crossing the Sabine River, Mordecai's party encounters a Spanish patrol determined to repel all American invaders. After a bloody skirmish leaves their father dead, Michael and Andrew find their way back to their Tennessee farm.
Five years later, after the Spanish government in Mexico City has agreed to permit 300 American families to settle in Texas, the Lewis brothers have their opportunity to re-enter Texas. They ride to the frontier town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Michael falls in love with Marie Villaret, daughter of a wealthy French landowner, then cross the Sabine to find Stephen F. Austin, a Missouri entrepreneur in charge of the new American colony.
But the Lewises are considered interlopers and horse thieves and are dogged by a patrol led by the same ruthless Spanish offer who killed their father five years before
Sons of Texas is the first volume in a trilogy that follows the lives and adventures of the Lewis family through the era of the Alamo and Texas Independence under Sam Houston.
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Sons of Texas
By Elmer Kelton
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1989 Tom Early
All rights reserved.
FOR MANY years, mention of Texas sent a chill shuddering down Michael Lewis's spine. He remembered it as a wondrous place, new and immense and mysterious, shining in the sun. He remembered it also as a place of cruelty and cold terror, for it was there, when he was sixteen years old, that he saw his father's brains blown out by a Spanish officer who left the boy wounded on an open prairie to die alone in a wild and alien land.
HE KNEW but little of his forebears, for the Lewises and their kin were by and large a restless people who looked forward, not to the past. They were busy fighting and building and planting, then moving and fighting and building again; they had scant time to do more in the nature of keeping family records than to scrawl laboriously the names and dates of birth, marriage, and death in the front leaves of an ancient family Bible. Even the Bible, more often than not, was passed down only to the firstborn, along with the land and whatever other meager material possessions the elders' frugality, tenacity, and courage had managed to bind together.
So it was natural that Michael had no knowledge of the first of his Scotch-Irish ancestors who had turned their backs upon troubled Ireland and ventured boldly onto some treacherous seafaring craft which pointed its bowsprit westward toward a dark and little-known continent. They had been told that in this land a man could do as he wanted and think as he wished and worship God after his own lights, answering to no one except that God. Michael was but dimly aware that some of his earliest ancestors had landed in Pennsylvania when that had been a raw and forested wilderness, its rich dark soil stained again and again by the spilled blood of red man and white. The inhabitants changed faces, changed races, continuing an age-old combat for the right to claim the land's bounties.
He knew but dimly, from stories heard at his grandfather's knee, about his family's struggles to gain a foothold at the eastern base of the Allegheny barrier; of restless men whose contempt for authority and the pretensions of tidewater settlements kept pushing them southward and westward, finally up and over the mountains, then down onto the dark and bloody battlegrounds of Kentucky and Tennessee. They were a land-hungry people, the Lewises and their kin, each generation plunging westward in its. own turn onto new and challenged ground; fighting, registering their claims more often by the grave markers they erected than by ink scratchings on parchment records in some courthouse far to their rear. Even in the old countries, they had been borderers for generations that stretched back into antiquity, so that strife was in their blood.
They were — sometimes with contempt — called men of the cane, these Lewises and the buckskin-clad westerers journeying with them, leatherstocking men who pushed relentlessly through the canebrakes and the forests, always straining the western bounds of a new country. They were regarded by the book-learned and fashionable people far behind them as but little more civilized than the red men with whom they battled for elbow room. They knew ax and plow, but they loved the rifle more. They had learned from the agricultural tribes of Indians to grow corn, squash, and beans, but their preference ran more to game, more to the hunt than to the field. As the game thinned, and as courthouses moved west and slick-handed lawyers quibbled over such petty legalities as land titles, the Lewises and their kind, long accustomed to putting such niceties behind them, pressed on into places where no quality-bred lawyer or judge dared go.
Thus it was that the year 1816 found Michael Lewis in western Tennessee — a boy as some reckoned the years but a man in responsibility — slipping out of his blankets in the dark hour before dawn with a rifle that stood almost as tall as he did. He moved quietly to avoid awakening his older brother Joseph. He would rather go to the woods and hunt fresh meat for the family than join Joseph and the younger boys plowing and hoeing the field or chopping wood for their mother's fireplace. He always justified his abdication of more mundane responsibilities by reasoning that his was the best shooting-eye in the family, better even than that of his father Mordecai. He wasted little powder and lead in his self-imposed duty of keeping meat hanging in the open dog-run between the two sections of the Lewis cabin. If there was game to be found, Michael Lewis would find it. He seldom failed to bring it down with the old Pennsylvania rifle passed to him by his grandpa on his mama's side. Even Joseph would admit, however reluctantly, that Michael had the keenest eye and the steadiest hand, and that he should not waste such a talent on ax or plow at times when the larder was thin.
"He's cut in his father's likeness," Patience Lewis would say. Her eyes would turn wistfully to the open cabin door as if she expected Mordecai Lewis to appear there, where she had watched him leave months ago. Even in his own short life, Michael had helped his father build three cabins, each farther west than the one before it; but it seemed Mordecai stayed hardly longer than was necessary to put Patience in a family way. Then he was off again on some extended mission, some duty to General Jackson such as the fight against the English or the war against the Creeks or a campaign against the Seminoles. There was always, it seemed, somehigher duty to be met than staying home to plow the fields and tend the stock, to patch the cabin, or to meet the debts that kept building up. The boys were old enough to take a man's part, he would explain each time he packed his possibles and made ready to leave. Michael would watch the departure reluctantly, for he wished he could know his father better. There was no one after whom he would more gladly pattern himself. In many ways Mordecai Lewis was a stranger to him, more akin to the wild things of the forests than to his own family.
Mordecai seldom seemed to see what was right before him, for his eyes were always fixed on far horizons, his questing spirit seeking places others had not seen and had not had an opportunity to spoil. He knew no hesitation, showed no fear except that by his explorations he opened the way for others to begin the spoiling. He could only keep moving farther west, trying to stay ahead of those who leveled the forests and broke the primeval sod.
Materially the Lewises seemed to fare well enough without Mordecai, for Joseph was a good farmer and Michael an accomplished hunter. But Michael was troubled by the longing he often saw in Patience's eyes as she stood in the open door at dusk, looking toward the dark forests into which her husband had last disappeared. There were some needs her sons were powerless to fill.
Folks said Michael was already the image of his father, except for the twenty-odd years' difference in their ages and six inches' difference in their height. The height would be made up in due time, for Michael was still in the midst of that fast growth and change which comes upon a boy in his middle teens. He had his father's earnest and unwavering blue eyes, the same stern set to a jaw just beginning to show occasional need for the razor.
Dawn lighted Michael's way as he moved carefully into the woods, alert for quick movement, for sudden sound. The region was generally regarded as cleared of hostile Indians, but some still occasionally visited old hunting grounds, not yet resigned to their irrevocable loss. Children were taught to be wary of red men in the forest just as they were taught to watch for snakes that lurked in the weeds and thick grass. A major difference was that the snake never attacked but struck only in self-defense, whereas the Indian went out of his way to avenge old blood and retake what he regarded as his own. The settlers who had displaced him indulged in no introspection, no guilt, no need to justify their conquest. That would come later, from generations who had the safety and the leisure that allowed for such contemplation. These first invaders accepted what God had wrought and considered themselves His instruments for bringing Christian settlement into a heathen wilderness. They saw no need to question His judgment and they did not want to risk His wrath by doing so.
Michael looked up toward a rustling sound in a tree. He raised the long, heavy barrel of the rifle, then let it sag as a squirrel skittered across a branch, scolding him for his trespass. He would settle for squirrel later, if the day gave him no opportunity to level his sights on better game. A squirrel now would be small reward for a gunshot that might frighten larger quarry away. Squirrel made good eating; one just didn't provide enough to go around for the seven children Mordecai and Patience's love had produced.
Michael came at length to a small clearing where fallen trees had left a tangle of rotting deadfall timber. A series of violent earthquakes a few years earlier had knocked down vast stretches of timber, had changed the courses of streams and created lakes where there had been none before over much of this region west of the mountains. The Lewises had lived farther east then, and Michael had been shaken out of the loft where he had slept with his brothers over the dog-run. The earth's violent convulsions had left the cabin leaning dangerously and had flung his mother's old family Bible out upon the dirt floor, breaking its fragile spine. Patience had accepted this as a bad omen and reentered the cabin only to remove from it what was salvageable. With the help of her small boys and a couple of neighbors, she had built a new one. As usual, Mordecai had been absent. He had taken a large bundle of tanned hides to the settlement to trade for necessities, then neglected to return home until he had spent seven weeks searching the western territory for a likely spot to take up a new and "lasting" home. He had exhausted the necessities on the trip, so the family did without. That experience was hardly new.
Michael made his way over and through the deadfall timber, pausing often to stand stone-still and watch. Such little clearings were a likely place for deer to feed upon the regrowth shrubbery and the green grass, within a few swift bounds of heavy timber and its protection.
He heard a rustling noise behind him and turned quickly, bringing the rifle to his shoulder. A stone's hard throw away, a boy in a ragged homespun shirt and leather britches labored through the fallen timber. Michael lowered the rifle and let his anger build to a useful level while he waited for his younger brother Andrew to catch up with him.
"Andrew Lewis," he declared, "you are a vexation and a pain, follerin' after me thisaway. You've made enough racket to run off every critter in three mile."
Andrew, at fourteen still half a head shorter than Michael and spare in build, met his gaze with the unwavering blue eyes of all the Lewis clan, eyes that betrayed neither trepidation nor remorse. "Two of us can find more game than one."
"Two can sure enough run off more than one." Michael knotted a fist with his left hand — the right one had all it could do to hold the heavy rifle — and set it upon his left hip with all the assumed authority of the older brother. In his father's absence he took upon himself the welfare of his younger brothers and sisters when they were away from Mama and the house. Older brother Joseph had enough other responsibilities to fret him, worrying about the crops and livestock. "What if you was to run into a bear out here, or even Injuns? You ain't got a gun or nothin'."
Andrew gave no ground. Grinning, he drew from its scabbard a crude hunting knife his father had forged for him. "I'm armed."
Michael gave a long sigh of resignation. Self-doubt had never been an attribute of his father Mordecai, nor of the sons growing up in Mordecai's tall shadow. He declared dryly, "It's nothin' to be joshin' about. Now I wish you'd turn around and go back so I can find some meat for the table."
"I can help you look."
"I can find it without your help."
Andrew had a quiet and sometimes irritating way of laughing to himself. He could find something funny in an earthquake. "You ain't doin' too good a job of it." He pointed with his chin.
On the far side of the clearing a fleshy doe ventured out of heavy timber and into the edge of the grassy glade, pausing in midstride to look around, jerking her head from one position to another. She warily surveyed the clearing, gauging it for danger. Michael held still as two days dead and hoped Andrew was doing the same. He could not afford to look back, for even that slight movement of his head might grab the animal's attention.
The doe relaxed her vigilance enough to take a bite of grass, then jerked her head up again to glance around once more. Each time she bent, Michael eased his lanky frame downward and raised the rifle a little until he was on one knee, the end of the long barrel resting upon a fallen tree. He cocked the hammer, took a long breath, then a careful bead, and squeezed the trigger.
Through the black powder smoke he saw the doe drop to her knees, so he knew he had hit her. Then, quickly, she was back on her feet and bounding off into the timber.
"You missed her!" Andrew shouted with gleeful accusation.
"No, I hit her, but not through the heart. Come on, we got to trail after her." It occurred to him that in saying we he had accepted Andrew's unwelcome company. Well, when they gutted the doe the boy could help him pack the carcass home. Then maybe he would wipe that smart-aleck look from his face. Michael took time to reload the rifle, ramming a fresh ball into the barrel. Papa had once strapped him good for setting off into the forest without his rifle primed and ready for whatever came. Michael took to book-learning with some reluctance and difficulty, but a lesson a boy learned from the hot side of a leather strap would stay with him into manhood.
When they reached the spot where the doe had fallen, he pointed silently to a splotch of blood and took satisfaction from the quick nod of Andrew's head. There were times when spoken words were dead weight. Following the trail was easy at first because of the blood, but that thinned and disappeared after a while, and he had to rely on tracks. There came a point in the heavy timber that he could not find even a track. He stopped in frustration.
Andrew pointed. "This way," he said.
Michael hesitated. "How do you know?"
"Yonder the grass is bent a little, and there's a broken twig on that tree. Anybody can see that."
Michael had not. He frowned at his brother, wondering if Andrew's eyes were that much sharper. "Luck," he said.
"How do you think I found you?" Andrew demanded. "Papa showed me a right smart about how to foller a trail."
"All right, you find that doe."
Andrew went about it eagerly. Sometimes Michael could see what the younger boy found; sometimes he couldn't. He followed Andrew out of curiosity and a considerable amount of faith in his father's teachings. Andrew might not be quite the marksman Michael was, but he was a Lewis, and every Lewis seemed to have something he was particularly good at. The beginnings of Mordecai's rugged features already showed plain in his freckled face, as they showed in Michael's and Joseph's. The Lewis financial legacy might be slight, but the blood legacy was formidable.
A shot echoed through the woods, and Michael halted abruptly. A chill shuddered through his thin frame. He saw his own misgivings mirrored in his brother's widened eyes. His first thought was of Indians. Some had rifles, given them a few years ago by English agents when that country tried to reclaim the land George Washington and some of Michael's forebears had wrested from the crown. Michael did not have to signal for Andrew to drop to his knees and hide in the dense undergrowth.
He held his breath, listening. After a minute he heard a shout. "Come on a-runnin', you-all! Don't be so damned slow!"
No Indians talked like that. Michael pushed to his feet, suspicion building like a slow fire. He thought he knew who that voice might belong to. They were fixing to steal his deer.
"Hurry up," he said to Andrew, "if you want fresh venison before the buzzards get it."
They broke out into a clearing, and he had a clear view of the buzzards. They were named Blackwood, and three of them stood over his deer. One had just cut her throat to bleed her out and casually wiped the blood across the thigh of leather britches almost black with grease and dirt and God knew what all. Another nudged him, and he turned to look at the approaching Lewis boys with a frown that evolved quickly into a dark scowl.
One of the Blackwoods was a year or two older than Michael, about a match for Michael's older brother Joseph. Another was Michael's age, and a third was between Michael and Andrew. Michael had pegged them for sneak thieves as soon as one of the Lewis family's chopping axes disappeared from its block just two days after the Blackwood family started clearing a cabin spot two miles from where the Lewises lived.
Excerpted from Sons of Texas by Elmer Kelton. Copyright © 1989 Tom Early. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
Elmer Kelton is a native Texan, author of forty novels. He has earned countless honors including a record seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, Inc., an organization that has voted Kelton the greatest Western Writer of all time. He lives in San Angelo, Texas.
Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He 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. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years. He served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.
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I'm currently reading this book. It's a pretty good book with a pretty dark outlook. The section titled 'From the Publisher' is wrong in stating that Michael and Andrew travel back to Tennessee after going on a trip to Texas with their father. Michael is the only brother that goes with his father to Texas the first time.
This book was great a thrill to the end. Never underestimate the power of elemer kelton. I highly reccomend it!
This Book is a great start with the story of Early Texas and the problems faced on both sides (spanish and american). Kelton does a good job of storytelling and at times I found myself ridding next to the charecters with the same jitters they had. I would reccomend to all Western Readers.