Chapter 37: The Storm that Brought a Deafening Calm
Early 1872 – Galena, Virginia
“Though her mortal body is not present with us, being reposed among the wild splendor of Wyoming Territory, her spirit will always reside within our hearts. The memory of our dearly departed mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend, Flower Kincade Farragut, will live strong and deep among us forever.”
The minister finished his eulogy, whereupon he opened the podium for any of Flower’s friends or relatives to say a few words. William, Anna, and Oliver all rose in turn to speak of the fond memories they had with their mother and aunt. When it came time for Hope to speak, however, she could barely hold back the flow of tears.
“My mother was . . . she was the very best friend I had. Even when my husband passed away, and . . . my—my children were not present with me, my dear mother was always there for me. I will be ever grateful to her for that and I will cherish her memory forever,” she finished on a great sob.
The rest of the Kincade clan exchanged sorrowful glances. They all knew the pain and grief poor Hope had gone through with losing her husband Owen to a freak accident and then losing her children—though not in death, the experience as painful as if they had perished in flames before her very eyes. Thankfully, Hope’s relationship with Samuel had greatly improved in recent years, but that did not make all the hurt from before simply vanish, especially with the fact that Maria had not been heard from in years.
“I do wish Samuel had been able to make the funeral,” Anna murmured to William as they left the church and passed through the quiet graveyard toward their buggy.
“As do I,” William agreed. “It might have given Hope some much needed strength and consolation in this difficult time.”
“Hope says he is still living in isolation,” Oliver joined in from behind, holding a squirmy Cora Mae in his arms. “He refuses to leave or have many visitors.”
“As well I can understand, I must say,” William replied. “The thought of living in quiet solitude with the freedom to live and do as I please is an enticing one.” At a not-so-subtle shove from his wife, he amended with a shaky laugh, “I mean, with you and the children there as well, of course.”
The two families paused in front of their buggies, parked side by side.
“Any word about Maria?” Azalia inquired softly. She glanced toward the door of the church, where Hope was receiving condolences from the minister’s kind wife.
William shook his head gravely. “Nothing.” After a pause, he continued in a low tone, “I know that she had committed some serious crimes against the state, not to mention the heinous acts she was involved in with the blacks during the war…” He pressed his lips tightly and rubbed his head. “The authorities are no doubt seeking her incarceration. But I do not know what has happened. Perhaps we may never know.”
The cousins regarded one another solemnly, but the increasingly wild antics of the restless children required them to be on their way. They would all be gathering at Hope’s home for a meal, a final celebration of their beloved matriarch’s life.
The last original Kincade to make this country their home had finally been laid to rest.
August 1872 – Wyoming Territory
A young escaped convict had been moving gradually along the western territories, terrorizing settlers and fellow criminals alike. What surprised most when they found out the convict’s identity was the fact that this now infamous name was that of a woman.
Veronica Kinley, she was known by. Not many knew her real name, and perhaps that was how she wanted it. With the alternate identity she’d adopted upon herself, Maria had severed any remaining ties to her former life and family. Plus, it made it easier for her to stay undetected from any nosy detectives or peace officers still assigned to her case.
Word was she’d escaped the Kansas State Penitentiary in January, leaving a bloody and gruesome trail of bodies behind her, and had gone West, eluding her pursuers and undertaking a campaign of terror with her half-mad behavior and merciless methods.
Though her twin, Samuel, was still greatly immersed in his life of solitude, bits and pieces of the real world beyond his small farm slipped through the cracks here and there. He did not regularly read newspapers—the few that actually made their way out to his remote region of Wyoming, that is—but every so often, he found himself with the curious urge to know what was happening out there.
On just such an occasion, Samuel happened to read an editorial in a copy of the Rocky Mountain News, a paper published in Denver by a man named William Byers.
He read the description of the escaped convict and newest female terror of the West, his eyes widening in complete shock as she began to feel more and more familiar. When he saw the crudely drawn likeness of her face, most likely taken from her prison file, his fingers trembled around the paper they were holding and a tear slipped from his eye.
Then he read the name below the picture that confirmed his fears.
It was his sister—or what was left of her—the twin he had held dear to his heart even after she had made her choice to go the way of destruction. The fact of her imprisonment and subsequent escape was not what surprised him—it was the abject madness the artist had captured in every line of her face, the stony set of her mouth, and the stark blankness in her eyes.
Maria, his once beloved sister and friend, was now a stranger to him, unredeemable, irreconcilable, lost to him forever.
Samuel threw the paper down and tried to distract himself with his accordion, and then his violin; he’d taken to playing on his instruments for hours at a time and it seemed to bring him peace like nothing else.
This time, however, he couldn’t seem to focus or lose himself in the rhythm of the music. Finally, he grabbed the paper with the article, crumpled it up, and threw it in the fire. After watching it disintegrate into ashes, he left the house and went on a long, long walk.
November 15, 1872 – Dublin, Virginia
My Dear Etta,
I hope all is well with you and your family. I am sorry it has been so long since my last letter. Life seems to never give me a break these days. My brood of sons is growing up and they are just as wild as—if not more than—I’m told William and his brother were as boys.
William has recently taken up cartooning, alongside his oil paints, and reckons himself to be the next Thomas Nast. He was quite engrossed in the recent campaign and re-election of President Grant and the accompanying Nast cartoons which humorously depicted the rivalry between Grant and Horace Greeley, which I’m certain served as a great deal of inspiration for William’s new endeavor. His mission now is to have his cartoons as regularly published as Nast’s. I would laugh at that, except for the fact that several of his cartoons were actually good enough that the local paper agreed to publish them. So I am compelled to take his new passion seriously, and I am not entirely convinced that it won’t someday bring us a small fortune.
Timothy, my young man, has begun to follow in his father’s footsteps and sits in his room drawing at all hours of the day when he does not have schoolwork to attend to. He is quite the studious lad, though, and is now taller than I—can you believe that?! How they do grow. He spends a good amount of time with his favorite cousin Seamus as well; the two are surprisingly close, considering their apparent dissimilarity: my Timmy is more reserved and dark-haired, while Seamus is endowed with a temperament to match his fiery hair. It is quite fun to watch Timothy come more alive when he is with Seamus, and Seamus, as his more thoughtful side is encouraged around Timothy; the two bring out each other’s best qualities.
Randy and Frank are shooting up just as quickly, and are thick as thieves with their boyish shenanigans. I cannot turn my head for a minute without them falling into some mischief or other.
One more thing I feel I need to tell you: You know that I had secretly mentioned to you and Azalia last spring about my activities with the women’s suffrage movement here in Virginia. I have become more active in my local association and recently was elected to the position of Treasurer. I have not yet told William; he thinks I’ve been attending the Ladies’ Aid Society meetings. Somehow I cannot find the words to say it and, truthfully, I am unsure of what he will think. Not that he would be against the civil rights of women—I believe he would be in favor—but the fact of my heavy involvement. I would be more than just involved, truth be told. I would love to lead a rally of my own; I feel so strongly about this matter. I shall inform you of future developments.
I am greatly looking forward to seeing you all soon, I hope, at Thanksgiving, and if not then, at Christmas.
Give my love to James, Chadlynn, and little Scottie.
Your loving cousin-in-law, and sister in spirit,
January 1873 – Chalfin Springs, Colorado
I am so dreadfully sorry we could not make it to Virginia for Christmas. I can well understand your busy life, as work on the ranch has increased ten-fold since last year. James has purchased a new herd of cattle and intends to grow our herds to triple their size by this spring once the heifers begin calving. He is determined to have the largest cattle ranch this side of the Mississippi, I believe.
What with ranch work and taking care of the children, I hardly have time to write letters these days. I mostly cook meals, supervise Chadlynn’s schoolwork (we do not currently have a school close enough to send her to), and watch Scottie, while also assisting James and his ranch hands with milking the smaller herd of dairy cows and feeding the main herd of beef cattle, as much as I have time for. James and I fall into bed each night with no energy left for more amorous activities. Chadlynn is now old enough that I have put her in charge of the care of the chickens and our goat, which she has adopted as her own pet. James and I had considered slaughtering the goat next year, but I think we will reconsider that and keep her solely for milk.
I must confess that I still worry some for Chadlynn. Though her dreams have begun to wane in frequency, she still occasionally wakes up in fits of tears and terror, even crying out to her father and I sometimes. Just two nights ago she confessed to a horrible dream of a woman gone mad who traveled the country slaughtering innocent victims in cold blood. Oh, Anna, the look in my poor girl’s eyes as she told it to James and I with violent shudders . . . I wish more than anything that I could bear these nightmares in her place. Why must they be so dark and foreboding? A young girl should be dreaming of soft starlight and endless blue skies . . .
In regards to your suffrage work, I must commend you, not for the fact of its secrecy, but that you are determined enough to give your all to a cause you believe in so strongly, despite the challenges. I am reminded of my days riding for the Pony Express, when I threw caution to the wind and simply lived for the thrill of adventure and danger, letting the miles disappear behind me among clouds of dust. Ah, I miss it in many ways, but I speak honestly that I would not give up the life I have now for anything. I love James with all my heart and he is so good to me, more than I deserve; my little woman Chadlynn, and even Scottie now, though born under duress, have both become my whole world and reason for existing. But alas, I wax long and am surely tiring your busy self with my flowery words.
I will conclude by saying that I wish you the best in your endeavors. I recommend that you broach the topic to William as soon as you can, but use wisdom and caution in choosing the time and place to tell him. I’ve heard that women in Wyoming have already won complete voting rights, four years ago now. One can only wonder how that has happened, with the rest of the Union holding so rigidly to their old-fashioned ways. Perhaps it has to do with the fact Wyoming is not yet an official state of the Union, thus, less encumbered by more rigorous legislation. As we in Colorado Territory have still not managed to be admitted to statehood either, I am curious what the women here could accomplish in comparison with our sisters to the north. I believe I will speak to James about the matter and look into whether we have a suffrage association anywhere near us. I am interested in lending my aid to this cause.
All my love to you and yours,
Etta Mae Kincade
May 1873 – Wyoming Territory
The woman halted her mount at the edge of a green meadow. Giving the loyal mare a pat on the neck, she dismounted, leading the horse to the verdant grasses. She’d rest here for a while, perhaps overnight, before heading into the town to mark her next target, preferably a Northern sympathizer.
The bank? The local mercantile, maybe? Those reticent shopkeepers were known for hoarding large amounts of cash overnight before making their deposit in the morning. It was definitely an easier job than a bank. Lighter security and easier to control the outcome. She knew that from personal experience gained over the past year and a half.
People expected a bank to be robbed at any given moment, but not always so with a shop or mercantile. Those arrogant, stuffed-up proprietors turned into yellow-bellied suckers the minute they saw the flash of steel. It was all too easy to threaten their families to keep them quiet, and then she had a ready-made cash flow the entire length of her stay in town. If it required a few dead bodies to maintain silence, she didn’t much care. She’d do whatever it took for her freedom. They would never report her to the local sheriff until she was out of town, and by then, she was long gone.
A perfect set-up.
A whinny of a horse from the trees opposite her position alerted her to a lone traveler who appeared to be bedding down for the night. The bearded man looked worn and dusty, but he had a refined look about him and she glimpsed a fat saddlebag slung over his arm as he unpacked his loaded horse.
She grinned. Tonight, she’d feast.
Straightening her simple riding gown and securing a bonnet over her neatly coiled hair, she took a moment to assume the mien of a modest pioneer wife who’d recently lost her husband. Then she crossed the flower-strewn meadow, hardly giving thought to its wild beauty.
The traveler gave a start when he became aware of her presence.
“I apologize, sir,” Maria began, a single golden tear poised at the corner of her eye, “I did not mean to startle you.”
“It is all right,” he ventured, still frozen mid-process of lighting his small campfire. “Ah, do you need assistance, ma’am?”
“No, indeed, sir, I shall be on my way back toward town soon. I only ask that you lend me the comfort of your fire a moment.”
“Of course, ma’am. Take your time.” He hesitantly finished lighting the kindling and blew on it to enflame the larger sticks.
“I have come here to mourn my dead husband,” she continued, sniffing loudly for effect. “He was buried just over there.” She gestured toward the meadow with a delicate nod of her chin.
“My condolences, ma’am. Has he recently passed?”
“Yes.” She looked down at her hands, folded demurely in front of her.
“A fine location for burial,” the man said.
That was unexpected; Maria tilted her head curiously. “How so?”
“You’ve not heard the story about that meadow?”
She shook her head.
“Strange, being that you are a resident of the town.” He shook his head as if dismissing the thought. “Anyway, the story I’ve heard is that an old woman was traveling here with her nephew a few years back. After peacefully watching the sun set in the west, she breathed her last and was buried in the meadow, under a tree at its center. Her name was Flower. Since then, wildflowers have claimed the entire meadow as if in tribute to the pure soul resting beneath.” He paused and appeared lost in thought.
Maria blinked several times, thoroughly disarmed in that moment. For several minutes, she lost the crazed look pervading her being beneath the façade, and a genuine tear beaded in her eye. One could only surmise the content of her muddled thoughts.
But then, she looked to have gained a hold of her nearly escaped emotions once more. Before the tear could loose itself from her eyelid, she wiped it away firmly and a wooden smirk came over her face.
“What a lovely story,” she crooned before drawing out her long-toothed knife and stalking toward the unsuspecting man.
Three months later, still somewhere in Wyoming Territory . . .
Samuel settled down in his easy chair, ready to enjoy a tranquil evening with a book and a cup of tea. He’d been reading through the works of Henry David Thoreau, one of his new favorite authors. Thoreau’s thoughts on solitude and transcendentalism intrigued and inspired Samuel, giving him hope that he would someday find his own true peace and solace.
He was distracted from his reading by a noise outside. Setting down his copy of Walden, he rose and grabbed the rifle over the mantle, not willing to take any chances with the possibility of bandits or horse thieves. He’d lost one of his favorite mares that way just last month.
Blowing out the candles, he crept out the back door and rounded the corner toward the barn. In the dim light, he could see that his horses had been startled by something. Then, a figure dashed from the barn to the chicken house.
“Stop where you are!” Samuel yelled, but the man ducked behind the building. Samuel gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. This intruder apparently wasn’t going to be taken easily, but he would not be getting away from Samuel tonight. He began to stalk the man; his better knowledge of his own farm gave him the advantage.
As Samuel leaned out from his spot just inside the barn, the intruder let a shot loose.
Samuel muttered a curse and whipped his head back inside. He readied his repeater rifle, the Winchester Model 1873; he’d been lucky enough to secure one of the newest guns on the market just the week before. He hadn’t even fired it yet past a few practice rounds. Despite his newness with the firearm, Samuel was confident in the gun’s superior abilities. He knew it wouldn’t let him down.
He fired off a shot to distract the intruder. Then, leaving the shelter of the barn, Samuel managed to reach a spot behind a tool shed midway to the chicken house. He maintained complete silence and after a minute, heard the squawking of frightened hens coming from the other building.
He grinned. He had this scumbag over a barrel.
The intruder fired again, thinking Samuel was still at the barn. Samuel heard a muffled, guttural laugh utter from the man’s lips, and shuddered slightly. The guy seemed to be partially mad.
When there were no return shots, the man must’ve figured something was up, and cautiously made his way out of the coop.
Taking aim once more, Samuel let his eager rifle rip loose and shot two bullets, one right after the other. He’d been aiming for the man’s arm or shoulder, but he must’ve had luckier aim than he thought. Blood oozed from two wounds in the intruder’s lower abdomen.
The man let out an anguished moan and sank down against the building.
Samuel rose and put up his rifle; no one could survive those wounds. He slowly crossed the yard, needing to have a closer look at his would-be thief.
The injured man was holding a hand to his stomach, twisted with pain, but he looked up at Samuel as he approached. The full moon illuminated Samuel’s face. The intruder’s eyes widened.
“S-Samuel, i-is that . . . you?”
Samuel froze to the spot. The voice was not male, as he’d thought. The intruder was a woman. She was dressed in rough men’s clothing; from a distance he’d assumed the figure was that of a man.
But how did she know his name? And why was she staring at him as if he were the devil himself?
Samuel leaned forward to get a better view and finally recognized the face behind the madness and trail dust. She was so altered, so—so . . . but it was her. Agony pierced his heart as the awful truth rammed its way home.
She shook her head with trembling, rapid breaths. “No, it can’t be . . .” She let out a choked laugh. “I don’t have a brother anymore . . .” Her voice faded into silence.
“Maria!” Samuel shook her shoulders. “No, no, no, no, no . . .” Blood soaked his hands as he vainly pressed them against the wounds. His voice broke as great sobs tumbled free to mingle with his words. “Please, sister, don’t go. I’m here for you, always here for you. I’ll protect you. I won’t let anything bad happen to you . . . Maria!”
Her eyes fluttered shut and her body stilled. As Samuel laid his forehead on her pale, clammy cheek, he felt as she let out a long breath and did not breathe again.
If one had looked upon the scene from a distance, it would have appeared as a heartwarming vision of a man embracing a woman under the light of the full moon.
A panic had struck the United States, starting in New York and spreading down the Eastern seaboard, eventually affecting the western states. Financial trouble in Europe had led to investors selling off their bonds and investments in America, particularly with the railroad, leading to banks closing and companies going bankrupt. The effects of the Panic would be felt in a depression for years to come.
Lower class working men and women felt the brunt of the economic slump. The Kincades and Farraguts encountered their share of troubles from the Panic and were forced to adjust their lives accordingly.
William had heretofore been making an impressive sum from his paintings and, more recently, his cartoons, but with the financial strain all around them, people were not buying art like before, not enough to live on, anyway.
With his background in dentistry, William eventually found a job working as a medical aide at a local hospital. It didn’t pay much, but at least it was enough to scrape by in these hard times, along with money Anna made taking in laundry and seamstressing jobs from whomever would pay her. Even Timothy helped bring in extra money doing odd jobs and errands for those who needed the help.
In the nearby Oliver Kincade household, times were similarly difficult. Oliver struggled to find writing or journalist opportunities, and not many were willing or able to publish his works these days. Even his frequent publisher, Edward Dutton, had been forced to temporarily shut down his small publishing house. Azalia helped where she could, but her days were busy with their five children and everything that came with running a household.
Finally, Oliver broke down and found work in a local meat-packing factory. He still toiled away at his beloved books and stories whenever he had the chance, collecting an impressive repertoire of manuscripts that lay dormant, waiting for their time to shine in the sun of public acclamation.
By mid-March of 1874, circumstances for Oliver and Azalia had once again improved, so much so that Oliver quit his factory job and told Azalia of a plan that had been formulating in his mind.
“Do you remember that famous photographer, William Henry Jackson, who went on an expedition to Wyoming a couple years ago and took all those incredible photographs?”
Azalia nodded, though a knowing look came in her eyes. “My, I cannot guess where this is leading,” she said playfully.
“You know me too well, love.” Oliver laughed. “Yes, I’d like to go there myself, and, if you don’t have objection to it, take Seamus with me as well. But I was thinking: how about we take a family trip to see James and Etta first, and you and the younger children can stay with them while Seamus and I go up to Wyoming?”
Azalia’s smile turned eager. “Yes, let’s! We’re long overdue for a visit. Plus, this house now has the smell of ham permanently embedded in it. I cannot wait to escape it.”
“So you have mentioned from the day I started that job. I will inquire with Hope as to Samuel’s precise location, and perhaps we can drop by his farm as well.”
“It is settled, then,” Azalia announced, then went to tell the children the exciting news.
Oliver and Seamus had a grand time basking in the wild splendor of Yellowstone. They were entranced at seeing with their own eyes the majestic sights that they’d only seen in monochromatic photographs before. Oliver captured his own share of photos, albeit, in his opinion, less refined in quality to Jackson’s.
Fifteen-year-old Seamus was living out all of his wildest fantasies of being a great explorer and adventurer of the American wilderness. Oliver taught him what he knew of shooting a rifle and they managed to shoot enough small game to sustain them for the entire trip. They were fully satisfied in both body and soul by the time they emerged, father and son, from the mountain passes and thick forests, and made their way southeast to Samuel’s farm.
April 4, 1874
My dearest Aza,
I have distressing news to share, but first: do not be alarmed. Seamus and I are both in fine health. My news is regarding Samuel, whom we are now visiting, and his twin sister, Maria.
Yes, I have news of Maria. When Seamus and I arrived at Samuel’s farm, he was in low spirits, lower than I’ve ever seen a man. I thought he was nigh ready to throw himself off the nearest cliff. I was frightened for him, Azalia. He was like a dead man walking, barely finding breath to draw into his corpse of skin and bones. He would not rise from bed, would hardly eat a bite. Finally he roused himself enough to tell us the story.
One night last August, he was alerted to something or someone on his farm and went out to discourage or dissuade the intruder by any means possible. After a short showdown, Samuel ended up shooting the intruder twice in the stomach. The intruder was quickly dying, but Samuel went to get a closer look, and, horror of horrors, Azalia, the intruder was not a man, but a woman bandit, none other than his own twin sister, Maria.
Samuel said that several months before, he had seen a newspaper article that said Maria had been imprisoned following the war, since ’66, but had escaped in January of ’73. She had turned half-insane and was killing and pillaging without mercy. He had not told anyone what he had read, as it was too painful for him.
Oh, Aza, I weep as I write this. He shot his own sister, and buried her with his own hands. I cannot comprehend the agony and grief he must have been feeling all this time, with none to comfort him. It has been eight months since that event. How has he been surviving? I can only guess that his animals and farm, which depend on him implicitly, have been his saving grace. He was always the softhearted one for creatures in need. Yes, including his sister.
. . .
Azalia, it has been several days since I wrote the above. I was hesitant to send the letter before I found some measure of serenity in my own mind, as well as a more positive ending to this tragedy, if there was one to be had.
The day after I wrote that first part, a young black man showed up at Samuel’s farm. He introduced himself as Samuel Martin, and claimed that his mother told him that Samuel—our Samuel—had saved his mother’s life almost fifteen years ago. I was skeptical, but after Samuel broke from his stupor, he confirmed that this is indeed true.
He had not told any of the family of this story either. It happened in October of 1859, when John Brown attacked the U.S. arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Samuel happened to come across Eloise Martin, who’d been injured in the fighting, and brought her to a doctor where Sam—we are using this nickname to distinguish the two—was born several hours later. Eloise named her son after the man who saved her. Samuel.
It is a fantastic story. I wonder at the secrets poor Samuel has been keeping for so long. At any rate, young Sam seems to have done wonders to Samuel’s spirits in the short days he has been here. Seamus has taken to him as well and the boys have been spending much time together on the farm. Sam shows great promise in tending to livestock and crops. I do not know where he gained such knowledge, but I only hope it was not on a slave plantation. I understand he is a natural-born freeman, since his mother was freed several months before his birth. However, I don’t know what circumstances have been like for him since then.
Sam told us all last night, as we gathered around the great fireplace in Samuel’s cozy home, that he had been searching for the man who saved his mother, and his own unborn life, for two years. His mother, Eloise, was searching with him initially, but tragically passed away six months ago. Sam forged on alone, and his perseverance has been rewarded handsomely.
He seems determined to stay on with Samuel, and I am relieved that he won’t be alone any longer.
I must end this now before I use up all of Samuel’s writing paper. Samuel has given his permission to share the contents of this letter with the rest of our family. He desires to mourn Maria’s life with us all, and has consented to travel to Virginia soon for a proper funeral. His soul is broken, Azalia. Yet I have hope he will one day find healing.
I will send more news when I have it, but for now, Seamus and I plan to stay here another week at most, whereupon we will journey back to Chalfin Springs.
I hope you do not mind the delay much. I know you are enjoying your extended visit with Etta and the children.
All my love,