Book Excerpt

"Navajo Sunrise"

by Elizabeth Lane

Excerpt from "Navajo Sunrise"

Bosque Redondo, New Mexico

March, 1868

Miranda Howell hunched wearily on the seat of the U.S. Army buckboard, her slim body bundled into the folds of her thick woolen cape. The cold spring wind stung her cheeks and peppered her face with alkali dust. Two weeks from tomorrow would be Easter Sunday, but nothing about this desolate sweep of country made her feel like celebrating.

“I didn’t realize New Mexico would be so cold,” she murmured, her eyes scanning the treeless horizon. “It’ll be dark soon. How much longer before we reach the fort?”

“Not long. ’Bout an hour, I reckon.” The pimple-cheeked young corporal was one of nine soldiers who’d drawn the duty of escorting the major’s daughter the 175-mile distance from Santa Fe to Fort Sumner. The other eight rode guard on the wagon, four strung out in front and four bringing up the rear. Their rifles lay across their saddles, loaded and ready. For coyotes, they’d told her, exchanging furtive winks.

In the early hours of the journey, Miranda had made an effort to smile and be pleasant with them. But after four long days of travel she was too tired to be sociable. Her eyes stared across the desert landscape, which glowed like brimstone in the light of the setting sun. A lone crow screeched harshly as it passed overhead, then flapped down behind a clump of rocks, where, judging from the odor, some ill-fated creature lay dead.

What could have possessed any sane group of men to build a fort in such a dreary place? Miranda wondered. For that matter, what was she doing here? She could have chosen to spend the holiday with Phillip’s parents on Cape Cod. Their seashore estate would be beautiful this time of year, and they had made it clear that, as their future daughter-in-law, she would be more than welcome. Why had she chosen to spend the next two weeks a thousand miles from nowhere, with the rough and taciturn father she scarcely knew?

“We ought to be seein’ Navajos afore long,” the young driver said. “They got their diggins’ all over the flat.”

“Diggings? You mean to say they’re miners?” Miranda asked, trying to imagine what might lie beneath such barren, lime-encrusted earth.

“Miners? Them Injuns?” The young driver snorted contemptuously. “Shucks, no. They dig themselves holes in the ground to keep out of the weather—lessn’ they can find some old hides or sheets of tin to put up for a shack. Why should the lazy buggers mine or farm or even hunt when they can live on handouts from the good old United States Government?”

“You mean, they have no houses? No means of employment?” Miranda asked, horrified.

“Hell—” the young man swore, then broke off and began again. “’Scuse me, miss, but they’s Navajos. An’ Navajos got their own ways of doin’ things. General Carleton, afore he got his butt—’scuse me again, miss—afore he was dismissed from runnin’ this place, he got the idea of havin’ ’em build big adobe apartment houses like the Pueblos got. Right smart idea, if you ask me. But the Navajos, they wouldn’t have none of it. Wanted to live apart in their own kind of houses, little round huts they call hogans. Finally Carleton just threw up his hands and told ’em to go ahead! But did they build any hogans? Did they build anything a’tall? Look around you!”

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