In Dark Voyage of the Mittie Stephens, Spur Award- and Western Heritage Award-winning writer Johnny D. Boggs recreates the fateful February 1869 voyage of the Mittie Stephens, a sidewheel steamboat bound from New Orleans to Jefferson, Texas.
Passengers include Bobby Randow, a former Confederate cavalry officer plagued by short-term memory loss; Laura Kelley, a frightened widow fleeing authorities after burning down her plantation to keep it out of the hands of carpetbaggers; ex-slave Obadiah Denton, the ship’s carpenter and musician fleeing his haunted past with his family; Constantine Ambroise, a young lieutenant in charge of transporting a $100,000 payroll to the Federal barracks in Jefferson; and provost marshal Julius Siegel and his assistants, including affable Hugh Valdez -- who may or may not be what they seem.
Based on actual events, Dark Voyage of the Mittie Stephens is part Western, part Mystery, and an insightful recreation of the era of steamboat travel
and the post-Civil War mood in the Deep South.
Excerpt from The Dark Voyage of the MIttie Stephens:
Creeping clouds blanketed the bright moon like a shroud, covering the City of the Dead in darkness. The deep blackness came as an answer to Bobby Randow's prayer as he squeezed between two tombs, one granite, the other marble, and tried to catch his breath, afraid the men trying to kill him would hear his heart pounding. Gripping the butt of the Dance revolver in his right hand, Randow listened, chancing a quick glance skyward, knowing the clouds would soon pass, and the cemetery would be bathed in moonlight.
He'd die here in this century-old, above-ground graveyard, die in the midnight fog, die violently and alone, and no monument would note his passing, no newspaper would publish his obituary. No one would know he was dead, not even his mother, except his killers -- and the catfish feeding on his remains after his murderers disemboweled him, filled his insides with stones, and sank his corpse into the Mississippi or Pontchartrain.
Well, it was his own fault. No one else to blame. He had tossed in his ante in a crooked game because of greed, decided to become a criminal instead of a wandering gambler, justified it with claims that the Yankees owed him plenty for four years of suffering, for the deaths of his father and brother. $100,000 in gold had lured him, but some deep-seated honesty, or the quiet Episcopal morality inherited from his father, had broken its spell, and he had tried to back out of this deal. Randow could have left New Orleans, simply slithered out of the city like a serpent, and would have been sitting in the saloon on a sternwheeler heading upriver now, dealing draw poker, but he had decided to face his comrades, tell them why he wasn't going through with the plan. Southern pride. Texas stubborn streak. Lunacy. Whatever the reason, it had likely gotten him killed.
He had known that was coming, too. That's why he had cleaned and loaded the revolver before leaving his hotel, why he had placed six percussion caps on the Dance. Most men, scared of blowing off a toe, kept the nipple underneath a revolver's hammer naked. The memory caused him to check the pistol by feel, for the night remained black. His thumb rested on the cocked hammer, finger twitching inside the trigger guard. He had fired three rounds, put two bullets in Victor Desiderio's stomach when the shooting commenced, sent another shot chasing three other killers. Or had he pulled the trigger four times? He bit his bottom lip, tried to concentrate. His memory kept fading. He --
Hushed voices. Moments later, footsteps tapped the stones lining the cemetery's path near Randow's sanctuary. Then silence.
Randow lifted the .44 and waited. The clouds cleared, and the moon, just a couple of days past full, soaked the thickening fog and cold, damp houses of the dead. He pressed his body against the granite tomb, and pushed wet bangs off his forehead. Somewhere along the way, he had lost his hat.
"There he is!" bullet's whine followed the shout. Randow crouched, pivoted, and answered the shot, firing blindly. Two rounds left.
"I saw it."
Too late he realized his error. That hadn't seen him, couldn't have, until he panicked, and they spotted the muzzle flash. It had been a bluff, not even a good one if he had played his hand smart, shown a fip's worth of patience. Rifles cracked repeatedly, lead chipping the marble tomb, ricocheting off it and the granite over his head, behind him, in front of him, peppering the cramped quarters, and a fear swallowed him that he had not felt since 1862, when he had been caught in the Federal enfilade at Corinth. Death had hovered near him that day, and again this night. Instinctively, Randow covered his face with his arms, though only the grace of God could protect him now.
Copyright 2004 by Johnny D. Boggs
Dark Voyage of the Mittie Stephens
“... delightful entertainment, which combines elements of the
traditional western with an Orient Express-style whodunit and a Titanic-like romance.” -- Booklist
“Based on a real disaster aboard the Mittie Stephens, this novel supplies suspense, a love story, betrayal, loyalty, bravery, and deceit wrapped up in a tight plot supported by wonderful, three dimensional characters and a sense of place that evokes the smell of burning cotton bales and the screams of terrified passengers.” -- Roundup