Bold, headstrong, and passionate, the indomitable Kirklands struggle to survive in a treacherous, hostile land. From penniless settlers to wealthy mine owners to Denver’s regal first family, together—and separately—they pursue their dazzling dreams of love and glory. Through the era of the covered wagon to the rise of the western railroad, from the gold rush years through the golden age of the American West, In the Shadow of the Mountains is the breathtaking saga of a remarkable family who endured tragedy and hardship to build a glorious mountain empire.
“Bittner is one of those writers whose talent has grown over the years.” —Publishers Weekly
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David Kirkland headed his buckskin gelding into Bent's Fort. The horse was big. It had to be. David Kirkland was a big man, standing well over six feet, shoulders broad, chest solid. His fair skin was a ruddy reddish brown, tanned and creased by years of living under the open sky. He was twenty- five years old, and he had lived in and around the Rockies for thirteen years, ever since running away from an orphanage at the tender age of twelve.
He had ended up in St. Louis, then hardly more than a small settlement of log buildings. An old mountain man had taken him under his wing, and David Kirkland had followed the man into the Rockies, where he learned how to trap beaver for a living.
Since then, Kirk, as he was called by all who knew him, had wandered the open plains and purple mountains, his life more like that of an Indian than a white man. He loved the great alone, loved his freedom; and the life he led made him a man of courage and wisdom that belied his young age. The creases about his eyes and his big build made him appear older than he really was. His thick, wavy blond hair, bleached even whiter from the Colorado sun, peeked out from under his floppy leather hat in wayward wisps, and he sported a full beard, which was a light sandy color, and which was always a topic of curiosity to the Indians, especially the young women.
He led a second horse behind him, a spotted Appaloosa, which was loaded down with deerskins and wolf pelts he had gathered over the last several months while living alone in the Rockies. It made his heart heavy to realize he could not live the life he loved much longer. Things were changing; the number of white settlers at the fort only verified that.
The days of trapping beaver for a living were over. Both supply and demand had dwindled. It had been six years since the last rendezvous. Kirk missed those gatherings, the wild, good times with white and Indian friends after spending a long winter alone. He missed sharing stories, missed the wrestling matches the Indians loved, missed the horse races and shooting contests and the general camaraderie.
He hung on to those days by continuing to trap and hunt alone in the mountains, collecting deerskins and other pelts that could be sold at forts and trading posts; but the money he got for them decreased every year. He had to give serious thought to finding some other way to make a living.
Kirk blamed the changes on too many people coming West from more settled places in the East. This was no longer a land of just Indians and mountain men. Civilization was creeping into his West, and Kirk didn't like it, but he knew he could do nothing to stop it. Many of his old friends had turned to scouting and hunting for the emigrants, selling their services to wagon trains headed for California and Oregon.
At least his mountains remained untouched and unsettled. That was how he thought of the Rockies, as his own personal home. He was one of only a few men who still lived up there most of the time, usually alone, except for the times he was able to barter for an Indian woman to share his bed, cook for him, and clean his skins.
The last Indian woman he had lived with was Gray Bird Woman, a Cheyenne. She had been a quiet, obedient partner, and he would have gladly kept her with him, but she had missed her people, and he had taken her back to them.
That had been more than a year ago. He had spent the last winter alone, thinking about a young woman named Beatrice, whom he had met in Kansas City last summer. He had gone there in search of a more modern repeating rifle not sold anywhere west of the Kansas — Missouri border. He had spotted Beatrice working at the supply store where he bought the gun. She was taller than most women, and there were some who were prettier; but her trim figure and the way she had looked at him had caught his eye. He had considered getting to know the woman better, but the look in her eyes had spelled marriage and settle, two words that had sent him running back to the mountains. Now he couldn't even remember her last name, but he could still see her face.
Kirk struck an imposing posture, drawing stares as he rode through the courtyard of the fort, which was alive with activity. His intensely blue eyes scanned the scene; soldiers milling about in one corner; Indians everywhere, mostly Cheyenne; several men dressed in buckskins and moccasins as he was; some white families heading for California, or maybe Mormons taking a different route to Utah, or people headed into the Southwest. It seemed strange to see whites in these parts. Most stayed to the north, following the Oregon Trail.
Wagons clattered, and he heard the clang of a blacksmith's hammer. Bent's Fort was always a bustle of activity, but it seemed especially full and busy now. He had noticed more soldiers outside, and what looked like an entire army camp. People laughed and conversed, and one man sat in the shade of the fort's second-story overhang and played a banjo, entertaining the fort's visitors.
The voice of the man who sang sounded familiar. "Red McKinley, I'll bet," he mused. He headed his horse toward the music, removing his hat to wipe sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. July had brought its usual unbearable heat to the plains. He much preferred the cool mountains in summer.
He passed a group of Cheyenne playing a hand game and sharing a bottle of whiskey. He nodded to one he recognized, shouting a greeting to him in the Cheyenne tongue. Fast Runner was Gray Bird Woman's brother. The man gave Kirk a strange, dark look that surprised him. The Indian quickly got up and left his circle of friends, then headed out of the fort.
Kirk turned to watch him leave, figuring to follow and find out what was wrong; but just then someone called out his name. He reined his horse back to the right, and the big gelding snorted and shook its mane.
"Kirk! You worthless bastard, where in hell have you been keeping yourself!"
Kirk grinned, realizing he had been right. The man playing the banjo was James McKinley, better known to all as Red because of his orange-red hair and beard. McKinley sported buckskins like Kirk's, and was a long-time friend with whom Kirk had hunted and camped many times.
Kirk dismounted, quickly tying his horse to a hitching post. Then he turned to greet Red, who was younger than he by two years. The men exchanged a firm handshake. "It's been a long time, friend," Red said with a smile, a slight Irish accent in the words.
Red had come to America as a baby with his Irish parents, who had settled in New York. At an early age he had gotten the "wanders," as most mountain men called their peculiar "disease," and had struck out for the West, never to return.
"How have you been, Red?" Kirk asked with a wide grin.
"Doing all right. Mostly I've been scouting for wagon trains." He glanced at the skins on Kirk's extra horse. "I see you're still trying to make it hunting."
Kirk laughed. "Trying is right. I think I'm going to have to turn to something else, Red. The damn game is getting more scarce every year, and the price I get for these skins can hardly buy supplies for the next year."
"Hell, I told you four or five years ago we'd have to turn to something else, Kirk. You're just a slow learner. Come on over to the tavern. I'll buy you a whiskey. You're going to need it, friend." He turned to a young Indian boy and told him in the Cheyenne tongue to watch Kirk's horses and supplies. "Anybody bothers them, you come running." He handed out a piece of candy and the boy grinned and nodded, sitting down beside the animals.
Both men headed into one of the rooms of the huge stucco fort. Built in one great square, it held supply stores, a tavern, and even a restaurant where travelers could get excellent meals, including apple pie. On the second story of the buildings were rooms men could rent for the night, and watchtowers where guards kept a lookout for hostile Indians. Bent's Fort was a popular gathering place for anyone who traveled the West and Southwest along the Old Spanish Trail.
"What do you mean, I'm going to need the whiskey?" Kirk asked Red.
Red waved him off. "All in good time, friend." The man walked up to a bar made of cottonwood, practically the only kind of wood available in the area. The room was cool, the three-foot-thick stucco walls of the fort giving excellent shelter from heat and sun. The smell of whiskey, smoke and leather was pungent.
Red ordered a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. "Let's find us a table."
"How come soldiers are crawling all over outside?" Kirk asked as they found seats.
Red's eyebrows arched. "For God's sake, man, you been alone in the mountains again all winter?"
"Sure have. You know that's what I love best."
"Well, you're sure behind on the news. Hell, we're at war with Mexico."
"This is big, Kirk, the real thing. This time we're invading Mexico — going to them, instead of letting them come to us. Hell, they figure to add more territory to Texas and claim New Mexico and California before they're through. Oregon's already fixing to barter with England and declare itself a territory. Before those men in Washington are through, everything from the Atlantic to the Pacific will belong to the United States."
Kirk frowned, slugging down a shot of whiskey. "You know what will happen then. More of those greenhorns from the East will head out here."
"Manifest Destiny, our leaders call it. The United States is practically 'ordained' to claim and own everything between the two oceans and between Canada and Mexico proper, only they aim to reduce Mexico's northern border a mite." Red laughed lightly, pouring both of them a second shot. "Yes, my friend, things are changing fast. We've got to change with them. Me, I've turned to scouting, but I don't even know how long that will last. You mark my word, someday there will be railroads out here, and people won't use wagons anymore."
Kirk shook his head. "Railroads way out here? Never! I can't imagine those noisy things chugging through the plains, their damn whistles and black smoke scaring away everything in sight, spoiling the peace and quiet. Hell, they'd chase away the buffalo, and they'd scare the poor Indians half to death."
"Well, nothing would surprise me anymore." Red took another drink. "Before I take on another scouting job, I'm thinking of going down to Mexico and getting in on some of the action. Want to come along?"
Kirk shook his head. "I've got no interest in any damn war with Mexico."
Red leaned back and took a cigar from his pocket. "Well, I was thinking maybe I'd need you. You saved my life once. You might come in handy in combat and do it again. Fighting Mexicans will be a little more dangerous than fighting Indians. They'll have better weapons."
In a land where a man's life was almost constantly on the line, friendships ran deep — and they shared a special bond. Kirk had fought off six Crow warriors once to save Red, who had already been badly wounded; then he had taken an arrow from the man's side and burned out the infection, staying with him and nursing him until he was fully recovered. That had been four years ago.
"You could have gone off and left me, Kirk," Red said soberly. He lit the cigar. "You had a chance to escape before those Crow moved in on us. I would have just been another casualty, probably never missed and never found. Our kind die like that every day, and you knew it."
Kirk shrugged it off. "I did what any man would have done."
"Not any man, Kirk — only the really good, honest ones. I'll always owe you."
Kirk poured another drink, feeling embarrassed. "You'd have done the same for me."
An awkward moment of silence followed.
"What will you do from here?" Red asked then. "You won't get much for those skins out there, I hate to tell you. The time has come when a man's got to earn himself an honest living, and we're both getting to the age when we ought to think about settling."
Kirk stared at his whiskey glass, oblivious to the din of voices in the crowded room. His mind was in the mountains, where all was quiet, and a man was master of his own fate. He could smell the crisp, mountain air, pungent with pine and wildflowers; he could see the vivid blue sky; feel the rushing, cold waters of sparkling clear streams and lakes; see the vivid colors. He recalled the awesome power of the mighty Rockies, a magnificence to the immobile granite that made a man feel insignificant.
"I don't know," he finally answered. "Like you say, things are changing. I don't want to change with them. I want to stay in the mountains. I might do just that."
"Ah, Kirk, you have a lot of living to do yet. You can't spend the rest of your life in those mountains."
"Sure I can. I'll build myself a little cabin and go get myself an Indian woman when I'm in need of one, live off bear meat and deer, cut wood for fires. What's wrong with that?"
Red shrugged. "Nothing, I suppose. I just happen to believe a man's got to do more than that with his life, that's all. And I think civilization is going to move in and take over your prairies and mountains, my friend. Men like us, we have to be ready for that. You've got to flow with the tide, Kirk. My father used to always tell me that. I thought he was just preaching then, but I've come to realize he was right."
Kirk met his gaze. "I don't call marching off to war flowing with the tide."
Red laughed. "Maybe not. But it will be an adventure, and we love adventure."
"Fighting Indians and bears is plenty of adventure for me."
"I don't see anything good ahead for the Indians, either. More and more whites are coming out here. You know what that will mean for our red friends. It won't be like the days of the rendezvous, when all we wanted to do was trade with them and share in games with them, buy their women for a night. It's a new breed of whites coming out here, Kirk, and they've got no feelings for the Indians, no understanding of them, no desire to be friends and share the land with them. They'll want the land for themselves, and to hell with the Indians."
Kirk shook his head. "I'd fight on the Indian's side."
"Maybe. Depends on what is at stake at the time."
"What do you mean?"
Red drew on his cigar. "Well, what if you settled, had a family — married a white woman; and then Indians attacked you. A white man settles, he starts thinking the land belongs to him. He changes."
"Not me. I'll never change, and I'll never settle."
Red grinned slyly, and Kirk scowled. "You trying to tell me something, Red McKinley? What did you mean about that remark earlier — that I'd need a drink? Seems to me like you've been skirting around something ever since we came in here."
Red took the cigar from his mouth. "Well, I offered to have you come with me to Mexico. You'd better give it some thought, my friend, or you might find yourself more settled than you'd like. You see Fast Runner when you came in?"
"I saw him. He jumped up and ran off before I could say a word to him."
Red nodded. "He and the rest of his clan have been camped here for a week, hoping you'd show up like you usually do this time of year. You dumped Gray Bird Woman off here last year before you went to Kansas City, remember?"
Kirk sighed. "I didn't 'dump' her. She wanted to come back. She missed her people. I would have gladly kept her. What difference does it make?"
"I think I'd better let Fast Runner and Gray Bird Woman tell you. She's married to a Cheyenne warrior now — Standing Bear."
Kirk nodded. "He's an honored man among the Cheyenne. She picked herself a good husband, and Standing Bear chose a good woman."
"I expect so. But I don't think he figured on inheriting a couple of half- breed pups along with her."
Kirk paled. "What?"
Red poured him another shot of whiskey. "You'd better take another slug of this stuff," he told the man. "You'll need it."
Kirk shoved the glass away. "Gray Bird Woman had my baby?"
Red sighed. "Not just one ... two. Twins. I've been here about a week, but I haven't seen either one. All I know is what Fast Runner told me when he was asking if I knew where you were. Standing Bear wants to keep the boy. You know how the Cheyenne are about children, especially sons. But he thinks a half-breed daughter is worthless. Nobody else in the tribe wants her. They want to give her to you. Fast Runner says she's about four months old already. They've been waiting here, hoping you'd show up."
Kirk stared at the man in astonishment. He reached for the glass he had shoved away. "You're right," he told Red. "I do need this." He slugged down the hot whiskey, his mind whirling with indecision. A child of his own flesh and blood! It was a strange feeling. He had never given much thought to having children of his own, never thought he would care one way or another. Yet suddenly, the knowledge that such children existed gave him a strange, warm, almost proud feeling. He caught Red's look. "What the hell would I do with even one baby, let alone two?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In the Shadow of the Mountains"
Copyright © 1991 Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn’t put it down! Richly drawn characters entwined with the early days of Colorado,s history, it,s all here. Love & hate, drama, action and adventure will keep you enthralled from beginning to end. Prepare to have some late nights reading!