Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin. That’s all Gerald, son of a free black man and an Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.
New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential.
To make either dream possible, Gerald needs to earn something more than a scratch living. The only way to do that is to trap beaver. It’s a tough way to earn cash and the wilderness is an unforgiving place.
Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Author Information: Loretta Miles Tollefson grew up in the American West in a log cabin built by her grandfather. She lives in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, where she researches the region’s history and imagines what it would have been like to actually experience it. She blogs about her research and other aspects of Old New Mexico at lorettamilestollefson.com.
When Gerald tops the low rise and sees the mule-drawn wagons strung out along a rutted track across the prairie, it takes him a moment to adjust. After five days walking westward, he is still absorbing the healing beauty of the wind bending the grass, the bulk of buffalo in the distance. The sweep of the land has been a balm to his eyes. So the eight mule-drawn wagons jolting along the rutted trail below are a bit of a shock.
A loose collection of mules and horses meander to one side. Gerald stops, considering. Approaching the train is the sensible thing to do. It’s pure luck that he hasn’t encountered any Indians so far. But he isn’t quite ready to give up the silent grassland, regardless of the risk to his light brown skin.
Then a long-haired man with a wind-reddened face canters a chestnut-colored horse out from the wagon train. A firearm is braced in the crook of his right arm. Gerald moves toward him, down the slope.
The man on the chestnut reins in at a safe distance, rifle still in a position to be easily lifted and fired. Gerald stops walking and lifts his hands away from his sides, palms out.
“Ya’ll stranded?” the man calls.
Gerald takes off his hat, runs his hand through his curly black hair, and shakes his head. “Headed west.”
The man turns his head and spits. “Lose yer ride?”
“I figure my feet are more dependable.”
The man snorts. “And slower.”
“They also give me a lower profile, out of Indian sight.”
The other man nods begrudgingly, then jerks his head toward the caravan. “Wagon master says come on in, he’ll trade ya for a mount ’n some food.”
“Where are you headed?” Gerald asks.
“Santa Fe, where else?”
“I’m hoping to reach Don Fernando de Taos.”
“Same thing, pretty much. North o’ Santa Fe a couple o’ days.” The man jerks his head toward the wagon train again. “Young’s got a mercantile there.”
“The train master. Ewing Young. He’s been merchanting, bringin’ in goods from Missouri, selling ’em, then goin’ back fer more.” The chestnut stirs restlessly. “Come on in an’ he’ll tell ya himself.”
If he refuses, they’ll suspect him of trouble and who knows where that will lead? Gerald nods and follows the horseman toward the wagons.
As he gets closer, a tall, powerfully built man wearing fringed buckskins and a broad-brimmed felt hat walks out from the lead wagon. . . .