Today I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Michael L. Ross’s latest released novel, The Founding, as part of a blog tour hosted by The Coffee Pot Book Club. The Founding is the third and final book in Michael’s series Across the Great Divide.
Will and Robert had never done a drive before. Charlie placed them as outriders on opposite edges of the herd. The more experienced hands were either at the front or the back of the herd. At the front, the men were called “pointers,” and their job was to guide the lead cows and head off any stampede. At the back, the hands kept the stragglers known as the “drags” moving to prevent the herd from stringing out in a line from Pueblo to Raton. The two groups kept the cows evenly spaced so that there was no more than half a mile from the leaders to the last. Will pulled his bandana high over his nose to avoid breathing dust and cattle dung. Dusty and Lightning ambled alongside the herd, Lightning nipping at the heels of any cow that got adventurous. They were to keep the cows close together, bunched, the edges of the herd about forty yards apart. The early spring morning had a blue bowl of a sky without a cloud as the sun pushed its way above the horizon, illuminating the path south toward Raton Pass.
Will felt peaceful. Riding a horse into the unknown was what he’d done most of his adult life. The road ahead to Texas seemed full of promise. He reflected that God brought people into your life at just the right time. Charlie seemed like a gift—only eight years older than Will, but listening to him was an education. Charlie was a man of dreams who turned them into actions. Will decided he’d spent too much time on regrets in his own life and not enough enjoying the moment and looking forward. The cows lowed and complained their way down the trail. Gazing across the herd, he tried to see if he could make out Pa through the dust. It was early in the season yet, and a spring snowstorm wasn’t out of the question, but today the crisp morning was a delight. Will guessed it might be fifty degrees.
It seemed there was always something moving him on: the war, prison, an attempt to find peace, the love of a woman, the need to care for his Pa. Where was God leading him? He only knew that digging in the dirt and lusting after gold wasn’t where he should be.
The whistles and calls of the other cowboys combined with the hypnotic plodding of the cows as they climbed south following the river toward Trinidad. They should reach it by the third day and then begin the hard climb to the top of Raton. At about eleven o’clock, they stopped to let the cattle graze. When the cows began to lay down, the hands got them on their feet and moving again.
Around the campfire in the evening, Will and Robert listened to the other cowboys’ tales and reminiscences. Some had made the journey with Charlie before.
One hand with a red beard told of being separated from the herd and surrounded by Comanches, escaping by night. Another told of a sudden snowstorm, leaving them without grass for days. The cook pulled out a harmonica and played a lively tune. Then Charlie gave assignments for the next day. The pointers and the drag crew never changed, but the rest rotated along the edge of the herd and switched sides each day.
“We’ll try to cover twelve miles a day, except when we get to Horsehead Crossing in Texas. At that point, the cattle will have been without water for three days. As soon as they smell the river, there’s no holding them back. We’ll try to control the stampede, but don’t risk your life,” said Charlie. “For you new men, don’t take your boots off, keep your horse hobbled nearby, and don’t touch anyone without talking to them first. Keep your pistol and rifle in easy reach. Now let’s get some sleep, except for you on the first watch.”
Will grew used to the routine, day in, day out. Occasionally a cow became too weak to continue, and they had a steak that night. More often the fare was beans and flapjacks.
Will spread his bedroll near Robert. They looked up at an infinite night sky spread with diamonds.
“Pa, it’s a new moon tonight—look at all the stars!”
“It’s something all right. But it also means that cattle thieves can move unseen. Best sleep while you can. They’ll wake us around midnight. My pocket watch said it got light at about five this morning.”
Two men, two dreams, two new towns on the plains, and a railroad that will determine whether the towns—one black, one white—live or die.
Will Crump has survived the Civil War, Red Cloud’s War, and the loss of his love, but the search for peace and belonging still eludes him. From Colorado, famed Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight lures Will to Texas, where he finds new love, but can a Civil War sharpshooter and a Quaker find a compromise to let their love survive? When Will has a chance to join in the founding of a new town, he risks everything—his savings, his family, and his life—but it will all be for nothing if the new railroad passes them by.
Luther has escaped slavery in Kentucky through Albinia, Will’s sister, only to find prejudice rearing its ugly head in Indiana. When the Black Codes are passed, he’s forced to leave and begin a new odyssey. Where can he and his family go to be truly free? Can they start a town owned by blacks, run by blacks, with no one to answer to? But their success will be dependent on the almighty railroad and overcoming bigotry to prove their town deserves the chance to thrive.
Will’s eldest sister, Julia, and her husband, Hiram, are watching the demise of their steamboat business and jump into railroads, but there’s a long black shadow in the form of Jay Gould, the robber baron who ruthlessly swallows any business he considers competition. Can Julia fight the rules against women in business, dodge Gould, and hold her marriage together?
The Founding tells the little-known story of the Exodusters and Nicodemus, the black town on the plains of Kansas, and the parallel story of Will’s founding of Lubbock, Texas, against the background of railroad expansion in America. A family reunited, new love discovered, the quest for freedom, the rise of two towns. In the end, can they reach Across the Great Divide? The Founding is the exciting conclusion to the series.
Praise for The Founding:
“Michael is an excellent storyteller and has done a wonderful job depicting Luther, and the other black characters in this book. He has done his homework and depicts many historical facts about Nicodemus in a most enlightening and creative way. It has been a pleasure working with someone who has made a concerted effort to get things right.”
~ Angela Bates
The Nicodemus Historical Society and Museum
Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories.
He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University.
Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past, as well as articles for the Texas Historical Society.
Across the Great Divide now has three novels in the series, The Clouds of War, and The Search, and the conclusion, The Founding. The Clouds of War was an honorable mention for Coffee Pot Book of the Year in 2019, and an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories, along with making the Amazon top 100 paid, reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly. The Search won Coffee Pot Cover of the Year in 2020, and Coffee Pot Silver Medal for Book of the Year in 2020, as well as short listed for the Chanticleer International Book Laramie Award.
Book Title: The Founding
Series: Across the Great Divide: Book 3
Author: Michael L. Ross
Publication Date: 12 June 2022
Page Length: 480 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Biographical Fiction