Scalp Mountain, first chapter

I’ve written four novels set on the Texas frontier.

This excerpt is from Scalp Mountain’s first chapter.

If you like it, you can find it for sale, both digital and print, at Amazon.

Chapter One

Colum was sitting on a rock, shoving beans and tortillas into his mouth, when the vaquero told him strangers were in Janos, the nearest village, stalking house to house, searching for a redheaded American.

Men on horseback chased cattle across a plain, calves bawled, and wood smoke curled up from branding fires, sweeping north on the wind.

The vaquero stared at spring grass pushing up through rocky ground.

“What do these men look like?”

“Jefe,” boss, “they are Tejano, like you.”

Snatching his hat from his sweaty forehead, Colum wiped his skin with his grimy cotton shirt sleeve. His red hair slid past his ears and clung to his neck. He used one freckled hand to scrap dirt off the other.

I could kill them before they know they’re dead, he thought, shoot them from behind the same way they plan to drill me. Or I could hire a vaquero to side me, face them from the front and avoid the rurales coming for me, after.

Or I could run again.

At the last thought, hollowness like a sun-stretched desert filled him, an unwillingness to take one more step, ride one more mile with the banshees howling behind. There’s no end to it, on the jump, my bones crumbling from the long trail, sleeping with one eye open, living on beans until I gag at the scent of them.

My life is no use to me.

“I thank you for telling me,” Colum said. He fished two pesos from his pocket, holding them out for the other man.

“No, Jefe, I don’t want nuthing,” the vaquero said, not moving. He had holes in his boots, where leather would have protected his toes.

Colum waited.

“Señor, I have heard of a place.”


“This place is in Tejas,” Texas, “a valley, a..un paraíso.”

“A paradise?”

“Yes. Mens don’t go to this place. You mares would get fat, like me,” the vaquero said. He patted his stomach and tried to grin. “Water runs from mountains. Puro.”

“You’ve seen it, have you?”

“My compadre told me. He was there.”

Gray hair fell over the vaquero’s bloodshot eyes. Tiny blue moles dotted his face.

“Where is this paradise?”

“Near El Paso Del Norte, two days.”

“What’s your name?”


“Panfilo, leaving here, it’s four days to the Rio Grande.”

“Pues,” well, “this is a good horse and you got three mares.”

I have good stock. Colum’s Appaloosa stallion, white with dark gray, spotted hindquarters and dark mane, stood a few feet away, tearing grass from the ground and gulping it down, his head swinging from side to side, greedy for the best parts.

“It’s a hide out? Not that I need one, mind you.”

“This country is sierra, nobody go there.”

“Why are you telling me about this place, I took your starving mother some groceries? You wouldn’t be making some extra pesos by luring me away from this rancho, by any chance?”

“I want to go with you.”

Oh. Let’s see, this man has been with me four weeks. He came in late, after dark, hat in hand, begging for a job. Aye, he has the running look, he needs a way to cross the river, and thinks he can trick me into riding north with him, watching his back. He has spun this place from fairy dust.

Still, Colum could see the valley in his mind, and he had never wanted anything more in his life; pastures filled with springing Appaloosa foals, waking in the morning knowing he was home, in a house he built with his own hands, believing the coming day would be like any other, like yesterday, like next week. He could feel desire on his tongue and it tasted like cabrito, goat meat, cooked over mesquite, melting in his mouth, resinous with smoke and fat.

If the manny here is lying, perhaps I can find another place for myself, he thought, imagining Texas with a rapture he usually reserved for horses and women.

“Tell the peons to load a burro for us, and I will pay the haciendado for the goods. We need corn for the stock, spare horseshoes and nails, a hammer, tortillas, side meat, canned stuff, rope, cartridges for my Winchester and for that Spencer you’re carrying, and anything else you can pack.”

“Yes, jefe,” boss.

“I’m guessing you can shoot, but can you cook?” he asked the squat vaquero, throwing himself on the stallion

“Yes, jefe.”

Other books by Julia Robb

Del Norte

The Captive Boy

Saint of the Burning Heart

Julia Robb published the ebook edition of Scalp Mountain in 2012. Copyright by Julia Robb. All rights reserved. Digitally printed by No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information write

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