In the fall of 1873, a wagon train of immigrants sets off from Kansas City, Missouri, bound for the Montana Territory. Leading the group is newly elected wagonmaster Jamie Ian MacCallister, a giant of a man and frontier legend who swears he can get them there by Christmas--come hell or high snow drifts. . .
Plagued by brutally harsh storms and rugged terrain, outlaws and hostile Indians, the journey will be the greatest challenge these pioneers will ever face. But when things look nearly hopeless, help arrives in the form of two unlikely saviors: an old mountain man known as Preacher and legendary frontiersman Smoke Jensen. Two hard-willed men who believe in the settlers' dreams with all their hearts--and who will get them to their destination by Christmas. Even if it takes a miracle. . .
|Product dimensions:||4.11(w) x 6.74(h) x 1.07(d)|
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western history library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
A Big Sky Christmas
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Kansas City, Missouri, 1873
People stood aside from Jamie Ian MacCallister. His sheer size alone would have prompted most folks to get out of his way. He was a head taller than most men and had shoulders as wide as an ax handle was long. Despite the fact that he was getting on in years, the comfortable old buckskins he wore bulged with muscles. Strength and power radiated from him.
Anybody who wasn't intimidated by how big he was might take a look at the weapons he carried and conclude that he was a man to step lightly around. Holstered on his hips were a pair of Colt .44 Army revolvers, the Model 60 conversion. Tucked under his left arm was a Winchester "Yellow Boy" rifle, also in .44 caliber. A hunting knife with a long, heavy blade rode in a fringed sheath behind the right-hand gun. Jamie was, in the parlance of the time, armed for bear, and those weapons would kill a man even quicker and easier than they would a big old silvertip grizzly.
But size and weaponry aside, the real reason most folks naturally left Jamie alone was the intensity of the gaze that came from his deep-set, eagle-like eyes. Those piercing orbs peered out from under shaggy brows and dominated his craggy, unhandsome, but powerful face. They had seen everything, the eyes seemed to say. Seen the elephant and then some. When angered, they could turn dark and threatening as a thunderstorm rolling across the prairie.
The thing of it was, when folks got to know him, Jamie's eyes could twinkle with humor or shine with compassion. He was every bit as big and rugged and dangerous as he looked, but his greatest strength was the magnificent frontiersman's heart that beat in his massive chest.
At the moment, he was striding down one of the streets in Kansas City, taking a look around on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon. He had visited the town before, but it had been awhile. The place had grown quite a bit from the rude frontier settlement that had started life as a fur trading post known as Chouteau's Landing. It was an honest-to-God city and even had a railroad bridge that had opened a few years earlier spanning the Missouri River.
Civilization, Jamie thought. He didn't mind it as much as some of the old-time mountain men did, but despite its advantages it would never be able to hold a candle to the prairies, the mountains, and the deserts of the West where he had grown up and lived his life.
He had left his rangy, sand-colored stallion Sundown and his pack horse tied in front of a general store to take his pasear along the street. He passed a big open area where dozens of covered wagons were parked. The teams were gathered in a large corral nearby.
Men worked on the vehicles, making repairs on things that had broken during the first part of their journey. Women stirred cook pots simmering on campfires. Soon it would be time for supper. Kids ran here and there, playing and enjoying not having to be in school like their peers who were tied down to one place.
A lot of immigrants traveled by train these days, since the completion of the transcontinental railroad a few years earlier, but there was still plenty of country where the trains didn't go. If somebody wanted to settle in one of those places, they had to travel by wagon, the same way other pioneers had done for decades.
Jamie supposed these pilgrims were on their way somewhere, although he hoped for their sake that their destination wasn't too far off. It was awfully late in the year to be starting a long trek anywhere. Travelers shouldn't cross the plains after winter settled in.
A group of riders jogged past him in the street. He glanced over at them, the longstanding habit making him take note of everything that happened around him. A man who had made as many enemies as he had over the years needed to keep a close eye out for trouble. That was one reason he'd stayed alive as long as he had.
The riders looked like they might be trouble for somebody, all right. There were about twenty of them, all roughly dressed and well armed. Even though Jamie had never seen any of them before, he recognized the sort of hard-planed, beard-stubbled faces they bore. Drifters, hardcases, maybe out-and-out owlhoots.
He felt an instinctive dislike for the men, fueled by the damage similar hombres had done to his family, but as long as they steered clear of him, he wouldn't bother them.
One of the men said, "My mouth's so dry I'm spittin' cotton, Eldon. How many saloons are we gonna ride past before we get to one that suits your fancy?"
The man riding slightly in the lead of the group turned in the saddle to frown at the one who had spoken. He was a tall, rawboned man with a lantern-jawed face and tufts of straw-colored hair sticking out from under a black, flat-crowned hat with a concho-studded band.
"Just keep your shirt on, Jake," he snapped. "We'll stop when I'm good and ready, and if that don't suit your fancy, you know what you can do about it."
The man called Jake grinned and held up a hand, palm out. "Whoa. Didn't mean any offense. You know I'm fine with you callin' the shots."
"You better be. It's worked out pretty good so far."
"That it has," Jake agreed, but Eldon had already turned back around and was ignoring him.
The group rode on down the street.
Jamie continued on his way, too, forgetting about the hardcases. In the next block, he paused to tip his head back and study the big fancy sign that stretched along the front of the building where he had paused. In gilt letters, it read CHANNING'S VARIETY THEATER. The building was fancy, too, with two stories and a lot of elaborate scrollwork and trim on its front. It had double doors with a lot of glass in them and a window where people could buy tickets to go inside.
Posters had been tacked up next to the ticket window announcing that a troupe of actors and entertainers headed by that noted thespian Cyrus O'Hanlon would be performing at the theater. Troubadours and terpsichoreans would put on a show, according to the poster, and after a moment Jamie figured out that was a highfalutin' way of saying singers and dancers. The troupe would also perform excerpts from famous plays through the ages, ranging from Sophocles and Aristophanes to the immortal bard of Avon, William Shakespeare himself.
There were pictures of the various players, including several women. Jamie knew that most people considered actresses to be little better than whores, an attitude that had always irritated him because one of his daughters was an actress and she was as fine a young woman as anybody would ever want to meet.
He might take in the show while he was in Kansas City, he told himself. If he stayed around long enough. Never could tell when he might take the notion to just up and go.
That was what he'd been doing for a while.
Ever since he had finished the grim chore of avenging his wife Kate's murder.
Over the course of several years he had tracked down and killed forty-four members of the gang of outlaws responsible for Kate's death. It had been a long, hard, bloody road he had followed, and the taking of it had drained something from him.
When his quest had come to an end, he could have returned to MacCallister's Valley in Colorado and settled down to live out his life on the ranch there, surrounded by his and Kate's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It would have been a quiet, comfortable life.
But that wasn't Jamie Ian MacCallister's way.
He had stayed home for a while, long enough to visit with all the young ones, then he'd slapped a saddle on Sundown, the horse he'd gotten from his son Falcon. Some folks considered Sundown a killer horse, but he and Jamie had come to an understanding and the stallion had served the big man well.
From Colorado, he had set out on a journey of memory, determined to revisit many of the places where he had been in his long life, places that were important to him. He'd started out by riding all the way down into East Texas, to the place where he and Kate had been married, where their first child, a daughter named Karen who hadn't survived infancy, was buried. Knowing that he might never get back there, he had found the grave site, carved a new marker for it, and said his final farewell to his little girl.
Then he'd turned Sundown's nose west, an appropriate direction considering the horse's name.
On across the Southwest he'd gone, adventuring a mite along the way. Then a great loop to the north and back down the Great Plains. Jamie had considered going all the way to St. Louis, then decided that Kansas City was far enough east for him. He could resupply there and he and Sundown could rest for a few days, then they would head back to Colorado.
Assuming something more interesting didn't come along first.
Dusk was settling down over Kansas City and lights were being lit in most of the buildings. None were brighter than those in the Bella Royale Saloon. The place was so big it took up an entire block, with its entrance situated on one of the corners. Gaily colored lamps hung along the boardwalks on both streets that flanked the double doors.
As Jamie paused to watch, a fellow in a swamper's apron went along lighting those lamps with a long match. Even though the doors were closed, Jamie could hear music and laughter coming from inside the place. Obviously, folks had a good time in the Bella Royale.
He had planned to return to the store where he had left his horses, put in an order with the proprietor for a load of supplies, and then ask the man for recommendations of good places to eat and sleep, as well as a livery stable where his animals would be cared for properly.
As he looked at the gaudy saloon, though, he realized that he had a thirst. It wouldn't hurt anything to wash some of the trail dust out of his throat before he got around to those other things, he decided.
Once Jamie had made up his mind, he didn't wait around. He strode across the street, opened one of the doors, and stepped into the Bella Royale.
Noise and smoke filled the air, along with the odors of beer, whiskey, bay rum, unwashed flesh, and human waste. The sawdust sprinkled liberally on the floor couldn't soak up all of that typical saloon smell.
Jamie's nose wrinkled slightly. Anybody who had ever taken a deep breath of early morning, high country air like he had thousands of times in his life could never be satisfied with this ... stench. But he could put up with it long enough to down a mug of beer. Then he'd go on about his business.
He had seen a lot of horses tied up at the hitch rails outside the saloon, so he wasn't surprised that the place was doing a brisk business. He recognized some of the men lined up along the bar as the ones who had ridden past him in the street a few minutes earlier.
The one called Eldon, who seemed to be their leader, stood with his back to the bar, his elbows resting on it as his eyes scanned the room. His gaze lighted on Jamie, but stayed there for only a second. Evidently he didn't consider the big man in buckskins all that interesting.
That was fine with Jamie. He walked to the bar, found an empty spot where he could belly up to the hardwood, and nodded to the apron-wearing bartender who came along to take his order. The man had a pleasant, round face that seemed even rounder because he parted his thinning brown hair in the middle and slicked it down.
"What can I do for you, mister?" the bartender asked as Jamie laid the Winchester on the bar. The man looked at the rifle, but didn't say anything about it.
"If your beer's cold I'll take a mug of it."
"Coldest in Kansas City," the bartender replied with a grin. "At least that's what they tell me. I can't say as I've sampled all of it to know for sure. That'd make a good hobby for a man, wouldn't it?"
"If he didn't have anything better to do," Jamie said with a grunt. He had always been plainspoken and didn't plan to change his ways.
The bartender raised his eyebrows and then shrugged. "Whatever you say, my friend." He filled a mug with beer from a tap and slid it in front of Jamie. "That'll be six bits."
"Think mighty highly of the stuff, don't you?"
"I don't set the prices," the bartender said as he spread his hands and shrugged. "I just work here."
Jamie took a couple coins from the buckskin poke he carried and dropped them on the bar. Then he picked up the mug and took a long swallow of the beer. It was cold and had a good flavor to it, to boot. Maybe it was worth six bits, after all.
"Are you callin' me a liar?" The loud, angry voice came from one of the tables where men were sitting and drinking, as opposed to the gambling layouts in the rear half of the big room.
Jamie barely glanced over his shoulder at the disturbance. Men got their dander up in saloons all the time. It went hand in hand with guzzling down cheap liquor. As long as the ruckus didn't have anything to do with him, he made it a habit to mind his own business.
Another man at the table said, "I didn't call you a liar, Ralston. I just said you'd have a hard time gettin' those wagons to Montana before winter sets in."
The man called Ralston smacked a big fist down on the table so hard it made the glasses on it jump. "And I'm sayin' I'll do it!" he insisted. "I'll have those pilgrims in their new homes by Christmas, by Godfrey! An' if you say I can't do it, then you're callin' me a liar!"
Judging by the loud, slurred quality of Ralston's voice, he was drunk. Jamie watched in the bar mirror as Ralston leaned over the table and made his point by jabbing a blunt finger against his fellow drinker's chest. That man swatted Ralston's hand away impatiently, and Ralston seized that as an excuse to start the trouble he obviously wanted to. He lunged out of his chair, fist cocked to throw a punch.
Jamie sighed, set his half-finished beer on the bar, and turned around. "Hold it!" he snapped.
Ralston stopped with his fist poised. He was a thick-bodied man with a round-crowned, broad-brimmed hat tilted back on a thatch of sandy hair. A soup-strainer mustache of the same shade drooped over his mouth. His face was red, the nose swollen from habitual drunken binges. "Who in tarnation are you?" he demanded as he glared at Jamie.
Good intentions to avoid trouble notwithstanding, Jamie didn't like the conversation he had just overheard. He stepped toward the table.
Sensing a possible ruckus in the offing, a lot of the saloon's patrons had quieted down to see what was going to happen. The girls who worked there, dressed in short, spangled dresses, moved well clear of the table where Ralston stood glowering at the big stranger.
Jamie didn't answer Ralston's question about who he was. Instead, he asked one of his own. "Did I hear you say that you're taking that wagon train to Montana?"
"That's right. What business is it of yours?"
"You're the wagon master?" Jamie's tone of voice clearly registered his disbelief and disapproval.
"Damn right I am! Jeb Ralston, finest wagon master on the frontier!"
Jamie's skeptical grunt made it plain how he felt about that claim.
From the corner of his eye, he saw one of the saloon's front doors swing open. A slender man stepped inside quickly and closed it behind him. He wore a black suit and hat and a collarless white shirt, and a pair of spectacles perched on his nose. He looked utterly harmless, and Jamie barely took note of him since nearly all of his attention was focused on Jeb Ralston.
"Look, I'm not trying to pick a fight," Jamie told Ralston. "But it's too late in the year to be starting out to Montana from here. You won't make it before winter, and you don't want to be up there on those plains when the northers start sweeping down from Canada."
Ralston sneered at him. "How do you know so much about it?"
"Because I've been there myself," Jamie said harshly. "I nearly died in a few of those blizzards."
"This doesn't concern you, old man. You'd better shut up and go back to your beer."
Jamie wasn't in the habit of backing down when he knew he was right. "If you start to Montana now, you'll be risking the lives of every one of those pilgrims."
"They paid me to do the job, and by Godfrey, I'm gonna do it!"
"Then they made a bad mistake by hiring a drunken fool like you."
He knew Ralston wouldn't stand for that insult. He didn't care. It was true, and Jamie Ian MacCallister was a man who spoke the truth.
Ralston's face flushed darker. His eyes widened with outrage. He drew in a deep breath, bellowed in anger, and charged Jamie like a maddened bull.
Excerpted from A Big Sky Christmas by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I usually don't read alot of western novels but this one was good. Tells about the people of the frontiers, hardship, unexpected events and life on the wagon trail. The wagon train encounter Indians where some were friendly and some just assume see the whole wagon train of people dead. Ambush from outlaws, unexpected death, to immigrants helping each other regardless of their heritage. Once they reach their destination on Christmas Day, they knew they were finally home. I would recomment this book to anyone who likes to read especially if you like western stories.
A good story with typical cowboys. A little too much with the cowboy terms and phrases but still a good read.
Good book about the old west. Characters are generally believable but the age of the main character, given the time period, made his actions not believable. However I did enjoy the book overall, as I ave enjoyed all of the books written by this author
Keeps my interest - every time I read a book by the authors!
Reviewed by Michelle Robertson for Readers' Favorite A Big Sky Christmas by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone is an adventurous, exhilarating Western novel, which introduces readers into the lives of American Frontier men and woman. A rough and tough frontiersman-drifter stumbles across a town in Kansas City, Missouri, only planning to stay a few days to explore the town, rest his horse, enjoy a meal, and rest himself. Unbeknownst to him, he would end up doing just the opposite of what he planned, and enter into the fast paced, hard living, wide-open frontier once again, but this time not alone. Life in America during the late 1870s in the Mid-West was not an easy one. The author depicts a time of hardship, rough terrains, guns, battle, raids, outlaws, pioneers, and Indians. The story provides readers with a vivid picture of different life styles, mannerisms, careers, religions, environment, and struggles that so many Americans often endured during the time of the "Oregon Trail." The author writes in a very personable, relatable style to portray the story, with its many different character types, remarkable plot twists, and compassionate love story. A reader will find the text, style, and contents, an easy read. Having never read the author's previous books, I was not familiar with some characters mentioned in other novels. However, this exhilarating tale of the Western frontier can be read alone with no prior knowledge of the author's other works. The book offered a great deal of emotion, different characters, and situations, thus allowing its audience to enjoy a delightful read.