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Two days ago, I was sitting on a slatted wood bench in the Santa Polomia train station in Lisbon waiting for the night train to Madrid. The well-worn often varnished oak slats were bolted on either end to two identical molded cast iron supports incorporating two feet and a back. It is a familiar design of unknown origin and age but found almost any place in the world.

I am convinced train passengers, at least here in Portugal and Spain, are less stressed and more acceptable to their situation than passengers in airports anywhere I have been. Airport passengers seem to wear worried frowns and obvious apprehension about the status of their fight, weather conditions, and a multitude of other potential problems that could have an effect on their flight being on time. Trains here seem to leave on time with little mystery or uncertainty for the passengers, who even running to catch their train before it pulls out are smiling, save those few dragging children.

While I sat people watching, one of my favorite pastimes as an octogenarian, at least 85% of those passing by had smiles. I can’t recall seeing that in any airport in recent years. Santa Polonia was a great place for people watching. I arrived about 6 hours early, tired of walking the neighborhood of my hotel. The building and facilities of the station are as worn as the bench I was on but there were several people cleaning so, although not spotless, the place was as clean as any of the airports I have been stuck in lately.

Another advantage is no standing in a long line to be X-rayed, or scanned, or groped. At the largest train station in Madrid, Atochoa, where I had to transfer on my way to Seville, my luggage did have to go through a machine, but I didn’t have to take my computer out of my backpack, or empty my pockets, or take off my belt. As an old guy I haven’t had to take off my shoes for the past 8 years. Eventually I tired of people watching in Lisbon, put my luggage in a locker, cost 6 Euros, left the station, wandered the neighborhood, found a nice little restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of glasses of a very nice red wine. Then wandered back into the station to gather my luggage and board my train about 15 minutes before it left.

I word of caution. A first-class Euro rail ticket doesn’t provide a 1stclass seat or berth on any train. You have to make a reservation ahead of time. Something I tried to do from the states but was unable to navigate their computer system to get it done. There were no 1st class berths available for the night train and I still had to pay 29 euros for the required reservation in tourist class. Almost 12 hours in a lurching, often stopping, 6 X 5 cell with two bunks and 3 strangers. I was not able to stretch out in the bunk, my feet and head were jammed into the walls. I should have opted for a seat in tourist class since I didn’t get any sleep in the birth. I was assigned a top bunk, impossible for me, but the guy assigned the bottom bunk was a graduate student from Mozambique. He switched with me and I took him to the bar car for some beers. A very affable young man. The first class accommodations appeared significantly better, but the bunks were about the same size. In Madrid I paid another 29 euros for a 1st class seat. 

Tomorrow I embark on the bike tour I booked for 6 days and 5 nights riding from Seville to Granada. Should be a blast.

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

Defender of the Texas Frontier is a work of historical fiction set in nineteenth-century America, which was penned by author David R. Gross. As the title suggests, this Texas-based novel focuses on the exploits of the Texas Rangers, who defended the ordinary people from raids by Comanches and bandits from the Mexican badlands. At the center of this group is real-life soldier John Coffey Hays, known as Jack, who joined the Rangers at a very young age and rose amongst the ranks until he became a fearless and admired captain. The novel follows Jack Hays’s exploits and supposes his psychological journey, and why he became such a pivotal figure in Texas history.

Mixing fact with fiction is done in such a skillful way by author David R. Gross that non-fiction fans are still sure to enjoy this retelling of Captain Hays and his rise to fame and reputation. I enjoyed the peppering of the text with authentic and well-researched history, but there are also moments when the author allows himself to play, especially with the younger Jack in his formative days amongst the Rangers. Military buffs are sure to enjoy the many defensive exploits which are recounted, and the camaraderie amongst Hays’s men, who would later go on to be reputable heroes and leaders in their own right. Overall, Gross has produced an immersive and interactive history novel which stays true to life but also heightens the action. Defender of the Texas Frontier is a recommended read for all history and western novel fans.

David R. Gross

Defender of the Texas Frontier: A Historical Novel

iUniverse, 242 pages, (paperback) $13.99, 9781532071560(Reviewed: August, 2019)

Review by Blueink reviews:

John Coffey (“Jack”) Hays was the most famous and charismatic of the Texas Rangersduring his tenure in the mid-1800s. In this meticulously researched novel, David R.Gross brings Hays’s story to life as narrated by his best friend, John Caperton andvarious other friends and enemies of the heroic lawman.

At 19 years old, Jack and John leave their homes in Tennessee and arrive in Nacogdoches, where Jack begins to establish his reputation by killing the town bully in self-defense at the local saloon. The bully is the first of many to meet their maker shortlyafter making Jack’s acquaintance.

This is a violent time in Texas, as settlers advance on lands previously held by the Comanche and/or the Mexican government. After joining a group under the command of respected leader “Deaf” Smith, Jack quickly rises through the ranks to captain, thencolonel, of what became known as the Texas Rangers.

By copying the tactics and violent cruelty of the Indians and Mexican military, Jack and his men are successful in wiping out many threats to the encroaching settlers. One ofthe amazing facts the author discloses is how Jack’s troop kept being disbanded because of insufficient funding; yet, when they were needed, the same men who hadn’tbeen paid before came back repeatedly, just to serve with Hays.

Some of Hays’s and his Texas Rangers’ exploits in this episodic novel are so similar that they border on repetitious. However, such similarities merely emphasize Hays’s remarkable career and make one wonder how he possibly survived. Gross doesn’tmince words when describing the atrocities Jack and his men visited on their enemies,and some will be shocked that the “good guys” were every bit as sadistic and vicious asthe Comanche warriors and Mexican army.

In all, Defender of the Texas Frontier is a fascinating window into a little-understoodperiod in America’s past, as well as an absorbing story about one hero’s westward expansion.

Also available as an ebook.

David R. Gross’s dramatic retelling of a historical legend, Defender of the Texas Frontier, captures an era as it follows a young man’s rise to hero status.

Nineteen-year-old John Coffey Hays missed fighting in the battle for Texas’s independence. Full of vim and vigor, Hays joins up with a ranging patrol to defend the Texas border. So begins his storied career, which spans close to two decades. Along the way, Hays leads a ragtag group of men and forges an elite squad known as Rangers. Hays and his Rangers defend the US while skirmishing with both Mexicans and local native tribes. As his exploits become legend, Hays continues to affect change in Texas that ripples outward.

Hays’s story is entwined with the Texas Rangers’s origins. Known as the toughest and most judicious lawmen in history, the Rangers are shown starting out as a rough group, but becoming a power to be reckoned with. With strong attention to historical detail, the narrative shows how Hays learns and evolves while helping his men do likewise.

The book’s tone blends textbook dryness with drama and reads like an embellished historical document. The story unfolds through two primary perspectives: Hays’s, and that of his childhood friend, John. The focus shifts back and forth between the two, with highlights given to other important characters, too. These character transitions round out the narrative, allowing each character to give it their own touch. Hays’s commander and the commander of the tribal army are two of these: Hays’s commander comments on tactics, military prowess, and his personal life, while the tribal army commander highlights the respect between the Texans and the tribe as both defend their lands. It’s an interesting dichotomy that enriches the narrative.

Frequent dialogue tags are almost unnecessary because of the distinctiveness of the characters’ voices, whose subtle vocal tics make their discussions engaging and individualized: one character, despite being able to converse in fluent Spanish, speaks Spanish with a southern drawl, and words like “Mexicans” come out as “mesicans.”

This fictionalized version of Jack Hays uses key events from his life to build up the legend, enjoyably following him from his youth into his established adulthood. It is an artful take on Texas history.

Defender of the Texas Frontier fleshes out a Texas legend with aplomb, setting him in the midst of an engaging historical adventure.

Reviewed by John M. Murray 
July 29, 2019

Just Released!

Just Released!John Coffey Hays is just nineteen when he arrives in the town of Nacogdoches Republic of Texas in 1836. Moments later when a man is killed, none of the witnesses dispute that Jack acted in self-defense. Despite his young age, Jack is a man who commands perhaps just as much fear as respect.

Although Jack is too late to enlist in the fight for Texas Independence, he soon joins the ranging company of Deaf Smith and begins a thirteen-year history of defending Texans from raids by Comanche bands and Mexican bandits. When he is just twenty-three, he is made a captain of the Texas Rangers. As he becomes known as a fearless fighter, Jack leads a group of men who will follow him anywhere and under any Continue Reading »

The Homestead Act of 1862

When the Southern states seceded and their Representatives and Senators abandoned Washington D. C. in 1861 the Republicans and other former Free-Soil advocates passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The purpose of this law was to expand the homesteading requirements of the Pre-emption Act of 1841 making it easier for loyal citizens of the Union to claim land and thereby expand the concept of the “yeoman farmer”. Andrew Johnson, George Henry Evans and Horace Greeley were the primary advocates and leaders of this effort.

The law provided that any citizen of the Union could claim 160 acres of public land if willing to settle on the property and farm the land for at least five years. A three-step process was required; 1) file an application giving the boundaries of the land and pay the required fee, 2) improve the land and 3) file for a deed of title after five years. The applicant had to be a citizen of the U. S. or have filed an intent to become a citizen, be at least twenty-one years of age or the head of a household. This last stipulation enabled single women and widows to make application. The only other requirement was that the applicant had never taken up arms against the government of the U. S. After the fourteenth amendment freed all slaves, former slaves could also file a claim.

In 1866 the Southern Homestead Act was passed by Congress and signed into law. This law made it possible for poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers living in the Southern states during Reconstruction to become landowners. It proved to be not as successful as anticipated because, despite low fees and other costs associated with taking up a claim, such as the purchase of tools, transportation to the claim, seed, livestock, and other necessities, most potential applicants were unable to move from where they were mired in abject poverty.

Initially immigrants, farmers with no land of their own, single women and all citizens or persons who had filed a declaration of their intention to become a citizen qualified for “free” land. With time the requirements changed. Slaves became qualified after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. South Asians and East Asians born in the U. S. were qualified after the Supreme Court ruled on the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark lawsuit in 1898. However, by 1998 almost all high-quality farm lands were claimed. For immigrants entering the country legally during the 1890’s most had to file a declaration of their intent to become a citizen to be admitted. During this time the bulk of the immigrants were from Europe. Immigrants from Asia were largely excluded. Immigrants from Africa were permitted but very few applied.

The research into land acquisition is for an upcoming book.

The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850:

America’s early wealth derived from land, huge amounts of it. The land was, of course, usurped from indigenous peoples who, according to the accepted dogma of the day, could not possibly utilize all the lands they claimed. This attitude was made more palatable because of the decimation of the indigenous population by diseases they had no acquired immunity to, genocide, and serial relocation to remove them from contact with the ever-increasing influx of immigrants who had little hope of owning their own land in the countries from which they came.

Most citizens living in the Northern states believed the future of America depended upon individual farmers who owned and operated their own farms. Southerners, in general, especially the owners of slaves, wanted to be able to purchase large tracts of land and use slave labor. The concept of the “yeoman farmer” derived from Jeffersonian concepts, powerful influences in American politics in the 1840’s and 1850’s. These ideas gave rise to the Free-Soil Party from 1848-1852 and to the “New” Republican party after 1854. Southern Democrats fought against, and managed to prevent the passage, of proposed homestead bills. Their fear was that free land would attract both European immigrants and poor Southern whites to the west. The balance of power would then shift and force the end of slavery.

The availability of huge tracts of apparently empty land provided the government with the ability to populate those lands, collect taxes, and grow the economy. People in financial trouble, or just looking to improve their lifestyle could obtain free, or at minimal cost, large portions of land from which, if they were willing to struggle and work hard, they could support a family and gain the numerous benefits of being property owners.

The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 enabled settlers to claim lands (320 or 640 acres) in the Oregon Territory consisting of the current states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Wyoming. During that time period one man, with the help of his family, could realistically plow and put into crop production between 40 and 80 acres. The Oregon Territory land was granted free of charge from 1850-1854 after which it could be purchased from the government for $1.25 per acre until the law expired in 1855.

The Donation Land Claim Act was proceeded by the Pre-emption Act of 1846:

This law was designed to “…appropriate the proceeds of sales of public lands… and to grant “pre-emptive rights” to squatters already occupying federal lands. The law was most used by early settlers in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. The law provided that squatters who were actually living on or had made improvements to lands owned by the federal government could purchase up to 160 acres for no less than $1.25 per acre, at a public auction. If a particular tract of land was not claimed it was auctioned to the highest bidder. The squatter had to be the head of a household, a citizen of the U.S. or an immigrant intending to become naturalized, and a resident on the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months. As usual enterprising people devised a multitude of strategies to circumvent the restrictions, not excepting perjury, to obtain land or otherwise game the system for speculation.

The Pre-emption Act also provided that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Michigan, or any state admitted to the Union after the Act became law, to be paid 10% of the proceeds from the sale of these public lands. To preserve ownership of the claimed land, and gain title to it, the claimant had to live on it, or consistently work to improve it, for a minimum of 5 years. If the land remained idle for six months the government could reclaim it. This was rare. The Act helped establish the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.