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Posts Tagged ‘Mexican-American War’

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.

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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

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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 (more…)

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Charlize and I spent two days in the San Luis Valley trying to visit the places I identified while doing research for my historical novel MAN HUNT. The book is a fictionalized account of the intersecting lives of Tom Tobin, a frontiersman and the Espinosas, a family of New Mexicans. After the Mexican-American war the entire village in which they lived lost their communal property and became destitute. The Espinosas responded by turning to robbery, murder and a bloody vendetta against the Gringos.

Many of the places mentioned in the book were identified and described in historical accounts and records made during the lives of these real people. Several years ago my wife and I visited Taos and passed through some of the places I talked about in the book, but at that time I had no idea I would be writing about those venues in the future.

The reconstructed Fort Garland sits on the original site of that fort and some portions of the original buildings remain, along with historical records of what the fort actually looked like when it was an active army post. It was as I pictured it from my reading and study of existing drawings. The museum at the fort provides insight into the lives of the soldiers who were posted in that wilderness outpost. Charlize and I drove from Fort Garland south to Taos. Along the way I tried to identify the location of Tobin’s Trinchera ranch, but other than the general area where it was I could not identify a specific site. We passed through the town of Cochilla near where Tobin had a farm and kept his family. Nobody I asked knew where that farm had been located.

The museums at the homes of Governor Bent and Kit Carson were as I remembered them from our previous visit. I drove several back roads around Arroyo Hondo and even stopped to ask some local folks if they could direct me to the site of Turley’s mill, a prominent landmark of the book. I couldn’t find it and those I asked couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Maybe they just didn’t want another nosey tourist poking around in their neighborhood.

The next day we continued our hunt to identify some of the sites where the Espinosas did their deadly deeds, without much luck. Time and the new positioning of roads and highways have changed the landscape. Late in the afternoon we gave up that activity and made a side trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was interesting and informative. The natural forces of water flow, wind, the location in front of a mountain range with the necessary configuration to direct the prevailing winds and the geological rift effect all combine to create and maintain a reasonably large area of pure sand dunes. The size and shape of these dunes are in a state of constant change. The largest dune is over seven hundred feet above the floor of the valley. Charlize considered the place nothing more than a huge sandbox for her to frolic in.IMG_0099

The following day we drove over La Veta Pass and again I was unable to locate the landmarks described in my research on the nefarious activities of the Espinosas. This was explained on the eastern side of the pass when we saw a sign identifying the old La Veta Pass road. It took a different direction than the paved highway we were on and probably different than the wagon trail in use when Tobin was active in the area.

The changes of landscape, experience and life style of the people who live in the various environments we pass through seem to be a recurring theme of this odyssey. It seems I to focus on the changes during my lifetime piled onto the historical changes I have read about. Perhaps this is not so unfortunate. I find thinking about places and the events that occurred in those places in the past more comfortable. I don’t have to deal with things as they are now. As many have said to me and I have repeated too many times to count; growing old ain’t for sissies.

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