What would drive a woman in 1828 to head west across the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains, risking death among hostile Native Americans, brutish mountain men, and wild animals? Why, the same reason as a man, of course–freedom.Like fur trappers of the early western frontier, Kathleen is a misfit. Growing up in the Irish slums of Boston and watching her mother die giving birth to a dozen children, Kathleen has decided to escape into a career as a school teacher, free of men; but when she sets out along the Santa Fe Trail for distant Nuevo Mexico, she finds that dry powder and steady aim are as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic–
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At midmorning of the next day, an old barefoot Mexican led a small grey donkey hitched to a cart full of lumber, kegs, and a slab of slate to the front entrance of Kathleen’s school. When she stepped out of the schoolhouse to greet him, he doffed his battered straw sombrero and, with a wave of the hat at the cart, announced in a soft grave voice the delivery of supplies for Kathleen’s schoolhouse. When she thanked him, a gentle smile creased his dark, weathered face. Pulling a leather draw pouch stuffed with gold and silver coins out of his hat, he presented it to her and asked where he should unload the supplies.
Motioning for him to follow, she stepped into her schoolhouse and pointed where she wanted the various materials. Then declining her offer of assistance with the same quiet dignity, he set about hoisting rough cut boards, heavy kegs of nails, and the smooth, dark slab of slate with his thin, calloused hands, carrying them inside the building and setting them down without so much as a clatter. When he finished unloading the cart, he turned with hat in hand to her once more and asked if there was any other service she required of him. She asked him whether he knew all of the American traders with families in Santa Fe, and he told her there were ten such families. She asked if he would inform these families that school would open in three days, and he nodded. When she thanked him, he bowed his head for a moment, then straightened and wished her good fortune with her school. With a soft chirp to the burro, he led it away.
Kathleen stood on the short front porch of the schoolhouse and watched the old man make his solemn barefoot way down the street until he turned a corner and disappeared from sight. And she knew that in Santa Fe she had met at least one true gentleman.
Born in Alaska in 1952, Robert Temple grew up a military brat across the United States. After a three-year hitch in the 82nd Airborne, he received a B.S. in journalism from the University of Florida and an M.A. in English from Florida State University and then taught creative writing, composition, and literature at several Florida colleges. While teaching, he and his wife also raised and bred Suri alpacas for eighteen years. Throughout his teaching career, Robert kept writing, publishing the novel NCOs and numerous short stories, winning several awards for fiction. Today, he and his wife, Sheila, reside in Talking Rock, Georgia in the Appalachian Mountains.
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