In the desolate desert of southern New Mexico Territory, young Smith Munro works with his father at a lonely stagecoach station on John Butterfield's Overland Mail route -- "1,051 miles from Fort Smith," Smith's father says, "460 1/2 from Fort Yuma. And six inches to Perdition."
This is Soldier's Farewell, a relay station in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Apache country.
It's late 1860, and the Munros are far removed from everything, including a growing conflict, and perhaps war, between the Northern and Southern states.
There's nothing to worry about, Conner Munro keeps telling his son, even though tempers between passengers flare, even though a war would threaten their job with the stage line.
When Smith's older brother, Julian, arrives at Soldier's Farewell, the threat of war hits closer. An Army officer stationed in California, Julian tells his father and brother that he is being reassigned -- somewhere in the East.
Yet Julian is also carrying a deep secret, and is part of a plan in which bloodshed is inevitable, a plan that will bring that Civil War to New Mexico, threatening to tear the Munro family and Soldier's Farewell apart.
Excerpt from Soldier's Farewell:
July 25, 1865
“And Cain talked with Abel his brother,” the verse in Genesis reads, “and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother ....”
For four years now, that bit of Scripture has been echoing through my head. Four years, better than four, actually, I’ve envisioned myself playing the role of Cain, justifying premeditated murder.
I am not my brother’s keeper. Nobody could keep a tight rein on Julian Munro. Not me. Not even Pa.
Four years of hatred, abomination for my own flesh and blood, four years of torment. Four years watching this miserable stagecoach station in the middle of nowhere turn to dust, watching me mutate into fugitive and vagabond. Four years waiting for a war to end, waiting for my older brother to dare show his face - never once accepting the fact that he could very well have been slain by some enemy’s bullet, by grapeshot, or fever, or ... maybe ... a broken heart.
No, for four years it has been written in my own broken, blackened heart that it would be me who rose up against my brother.
“... and slew him.”
Hard words, I’ve been told. Bitter words. Wrong words. Too much for a boy not even seventeen.
“El diablo posee este lugar,” Tori pleaded with me. “Always, it maldecido. It kill you, too, if you no leave. Get out, Smith. Salir. ¡Por favor, para el motivo del dios, debes irse, para tus el propios motivo!”
She had been crying when she said all that. The last time I saw her, close to a year and a half ago. Strong words, perhaps even the right words, coming from a young girl’s mouth, but, like me, she had been forced to grow up quickly. Lieutenant Julian Munro had seen to that.
If you’re reading this note stuck inside this diary, you have arrived at Soldier’s Farewell. Not much to look at, is there? You’re at North Latitude 32 degrees, 21 minutes, 23 seconds, West Longitude 108 degrees, 22 minutes, 16 seconds - we learned that from Pa - or, once, what seems like a lifetime ago, 33 1/2 hours from Franklin to the east and 41 hours from Tucson to the west - Mr. John Butterfield had chiseled those numbers into our heads. That had been during the running of the Overland Mail Company along the old Ox-Bow Route, from Tipton, Missouri, all the way to San Francisco, California, twice-a-week (each way) mail and passenger service covering 2,800 miles in less than 25 days.
The Ox-Box’s no more. The war ended that, left Pa busted. Once this place bustled four nights a week. Now ....
Well, it’s like Pa used to tell us: The only sure bets in this country are wind and dust. Which is all you’ll find now. That, and crumbling ruins. And the dead.
You’re 1,051 miles from Fort Smith, 460 1/2 from Fort Yuma. And six inches to Perdition. Pa always said that, too.
Pa - he was born Wallace Conner Munro, but most folks called him Conner, or Mister Munro - used to tell us lots of things. He even said, fairly often, that a Scot from Boone County, Missouri, by way of South Carolina and Mississippi, could depend on his sons. Julian proved him wrong.
Reckon I did, too.
According to the family Bible, my name is Innis Smith Munro, but folks have always called me Smith, which came from Ma, Ainsley Smith Munro. She died three days after I was born, but Pa never blamed me for her passing. Nor did Julian, eleven years my senior. I’ve heard stories about fathers and siblings hating the child whose birth led to the mother’s death, but that was never the case with us Munros. No, that hatred burned itself into our blood a dozen years after Ma was called to Glory.
Pa often said Ma would have thought of me as God’s blessing, what with, between Julian and me, there being three stillborns and two baby girls who never lived more than a month. Every once in a while, Pa’d even call me a blessing.
Or maybe, like Tori Velásquez called this place, a curse.
The diary tells the story. I’m leaving it behind for whoever happens across it. In this accursed place, though, I would not tarry. Not that there’s anything to keep anybody here.
Copyright 2008 by Johnny D. Boggs
New Mexico Magazine: "Following or betraying one's loyalties and duties -- and the consequences of such choices -- lie at the heart of this well-paced, action-filled, and surprisingly affecting story of the West."
Booklist: "Boggs ... showcases his talent for period detail, atmosphere, complex characters, and the ability to evoke a stark landscape."
Tucson Weekly: "Ultimately, Soldier's Farewell is a tale of two brothers falling far short of what their father expects of them, and what they expect of each other. This is another fine novel by one of today's better writers of Westerns."
C.K. Crigger, Roundup: "Johnny D. Boggs brings the confusion of this era and these characters to life in thought-provoking, heart-rendering style. One of the best books I've read this year."