Letter Home by Jacqueline McGuyer by Jacqueline McGuyer - Read Online



After leaving seminary in Scotland against his father's wishes, a young boy lands on the shores of America in 1859. In 1861, he gives up his British protection and with six of his friends, joins the Confederate Army. The boy marches for months through mud and rain, travels standing shoulder-to-shoulder in crowded trains. They take rear guard so often they call themselves the DRAG—Damn Rear Ass Guard. A Yankee bullet explodes in his left ankle at The Battle of Seven Pines. The doctor takes his left leg in Richmond Virginia. He's a man now, he takes a wife. An explosion at Browns Island Laboratory takes the son of his wife's best friend. The army takes her friend to jail for instigating the Richmond Bread Riots. He takes his wife home to Texas. After building his church, He must now decide his fate as a pastor, husband, father and son. Will the mail finally take William Copeland's Letter Home to Scotland?
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ISBN: 9781611603866
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Letter Home - Jacqueline McGuyer

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Published by


Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052


Copyright Ó 2013 by Jacki McGuyer

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-386-6

Cover Artist: Gemini Judson

Editor: Dave Field

Printed in the United States of America


To all my sisters and brothers at University Baptist Church in San Antonio. Without their prayers, I would never have been able to stick around to finish this book.

Dear Reader,

Years ago, my husband and I found a riveting journal in the attic of an old house we bought. I remember sitting there for hours reading about a young boy who had come to America from Scotland in 1859, hoping to find adventure. How cliché, I told myself. Yet, there I sat with his story in my lap. The boy had given up his British protection to join the Confederate Army in 1861. I read actual accounts, in his handwriting, of life on the battlefield. I rode standing up on crowded trains with him, marched for months in the rain and mud with him. I watched as he tried to drag his friend into the trees at the Battle of Seven Pines. I saw a rifle ball explode in his ankle as he passed out from the pain. Now he was a man married to a beautiful woman. But there was nothing cliché about the dangers of Richmond Virginia in 1863, so he took his wife back to Texas.

After setting the journal aside for so long, I was finally compelled to write William Copeland's Letter Home.

Chapter 1

The HMS Brighton reached the pier in Indianola, Texas in June 1859. Young William Copeland stopped at the top of the gangplank. He closed his eyes, and breathed in the humid salty air; he wanted to savor the moment. His beloved Scotland was slowly becoming a memory somewhere past the Gulf of Mexico, over the vast ocean beyond. Adventure and a new world lay ahead.

Hard jabs in the middle of his back, followed by an angry voice. Get movin’, Boy! Can’t ya see yer in the way?

Behind him, a mass of humanity pressed to disembark, so he hurried on. At the end of the gangplank, he stepped aside and set his carpetbag down, picked up his coat, and threw it over his shoulder. He found himself standing on a broad, long dock. A large fisherman hustling his catch backed into him. William almost dropped to the boardwalk. The brown man smelled like a mixture of garbage, sweat and whiskey. He wore a red bandanna under a large straw hat with a wide sweat-stained brim. The ends of his black mustache nearly touched his shoulders. He shoved William out of the way.

Sorry, William said, but I need ta get me bag.

The man went on hawking his big fish and gave the bag a hefty kick toward William. William noticed the whiskers on the huge creature the man held were every bit as long as those on the man.

The heavy thick planks on which William stood traveled what seemed like miles out into the brown water of the Gulf in one direction, and led to the town of Indianola in the other. About a half mile away on either side, he saw two more just like it. On all three, wagons, sailors, Indians, drunks, and immigrants of all stripes bustled along in both directions. He even passed a pen full of cattle.

After he’d walked along for a minute or two, he stopped. Huge wooden crates scraped along the dock. Next to him, he watched two large black men with sweat running down their shining faces, and muscular torsos, tie a thick brown rope around a wooden box while they loaded cargo onto the ship he had just disembarked. Another large crate swung precariously overhead, and a fat white man yelled profanities as he leaned over the deck.

Hey, Red. Move out the way!

William slapped his hand to his chest and yelled, Who, me?

Do ya see any other red-haired fool down there? Yer in the way, boy, git goin’!

William grabbed his bag and began to wind his way through the turmoil on the dock. The diversity in this new land amazed him. When they’d stopped in New Orleans, trees and forests covered the shores of the waterfront. Here, on the Gulf of Mexico, it seemed the horizon stretched on forever. What little vegetation the good Lord decided to bless this place with seemed to be scrubby brush hugging the buildings in the small town ahead of him. He thought it looked more like an outpost than a town.

So this is Texas. Maybe I should have stayed in Louisiana.

He marveled at the constant traffic of all manner of boats as they pulled in and out of the port. To his eye, the docks seemed to march out into the Gulf at least two miles. Compared to the Levee of New Orleans, to William, Indianola seemed quiet. In New Orleans, he’d seen a fleet of immense river steamers moored in tiers four or five deep, beyond them, masts fading away in the distance. Women in colorful dresses, and parasols, flirting with gentlemen in high hats, and morning coats, slave traders auctioning off handsome strong bodies to the highest bidders. He had an idea that other cities like New York or Boston’s commerce exceeded that of New Orleans, but William knew nowhere was it more colorful or exciting.

Here in Indianola it was different.

On a bale in front of William sat a huge black man fanning himself with his straw hat, no shirt. Sweat clung to his dark brown skin. The man was thick in the trunk with massive legs and arms. Another black man with a shining baldhead wearing a sweat-stained shirt of an unknown color, a gold earring and an enraged look on his face stepped between William and the man on the bale, and began yelling at the big man in a language William didn’t understand. He felt a tug on his coat. He almost fell over but a fellow with a long brown beard caught him and drug him backwards. This ain’t gonna be pretty. Y’all better stand here with me, boy.

Aye, this isn’t so quiet after all.

At the same time, the huge man who sat on the bale drew one massive leg back and slammed his foot into the man in front of him. Baldy fell back, cursing. Even though it was in the same foreign tongue, no mistake, it was cursing.

A crowd began to gather, looking for excitement and bloodshed; they weren’t disappointed. The big man on the bale stood and drew a huge curved knife. The other man jumped up as fast as lightning and drew his own. Both blades glisten in the sun. Gulls circled and cawed overhead. William’s heartbeat quickened. He didn’t want to watch, but couldn’t turn away. His mouth turned dry. Something moved up his back and caused the little hairs on his neck to stand up, his gaze fixed on the action.

The two men circled one another. Sweat dripped from the large black man’s bare chest. The shorter bald man’s wet shirt clung to his muscular body. Both spoke in low guttural growls deep in their throats as they jabbed at each other with their knives, clenched white teeth a stark contrast against their dark skin. Soon their bodies, their blades, and the boards beneath them were slick with blood.

Suddenly two burly white men came running down the pier. One carried a gun, the other chains. The man with the gun pointed it at the fighting men and yelled, Drop them knives and hold still. I don’t care which one of ya I shoot. The blades hit the bloody boards as the two black men raised their hands in the air.

The audience who had gathered to watch backed away like the tide moving from the shore. William noticed the man with the gun had a wooden peg where his right foot ought to be, and one eye looked straight ahead all the time. His face appeared leathery from many a year of sun and salt air. He wondered if he’d lost his eye and his foot at the same time.

Kenos, git the shekels on these men. They ain’t a gonna be seein’ daylight for the rest o’ the voyage.

William watched as they hobbled back toward the ship from whence they’d come. He gazed back at the man with the beard. What happened?

Who knows, but y’all sure came close to gettin’ in the middle of it.

What language were those men speaking?

Jamaican, I think. Sometimes when these captains stop over in Jamaica to pick up cargo, they fill in their crew with locals. When the man with the brown chin whiskers turned, William noticed he wore his hair pulled back in a braid that trailed down his back like a fat brown snake until it reached the top of his belt. New Orleans came back to mind; maybe he’d made his judgment too quickly.


Excitement seemed to be the news du jour, or even the news of the moment in this new land.

Where’s yer folks, kid?

Dundee Scotland.

I thought ya had a strange way a talkin’. Ain’t y’all a bit young ta be travelin’ around on yer own?

Aye, I think I can care for my self. I’ve traveled across the Atlantic alone.

How old are ya?

Seventeen years.

What’s yer name?

William Copeland. What’s your name, sir?

I’m called Charlie, Charlie Sweet.

As they shoved, scuttled, and hustled along with what seemed a steady stream of humanity, wagons, and animals, William found the company of Charlie Sweet made things move along much faster. When they finally reached shore, the town looked larger than he’d first thought—but not by much.

Been nice knowin’ ya, said Charlie. I have to go to work now. Unless, that is, you’d like to come along. See those wagons over there? We’ll be leavin’ about sunup. If y’all want a job, we’ll be glad ta have ya. Just be there about five.

I think I’ll just rest a while and fix on what my best options might be—look around from this vantage point, get a feel for the town, so ta speak.

Charlie put his right hand out and William took it. You think about it, William Copeland. We’ll be takin’ some equipment to the mill at Waring. Nice little town, Waring. I think you’d like it. If you change yer mind, be at the wagons before sunup.

Thank ya, Charlie, I will.

As the crowd scattered, William sat on a crate beside the pier and watched. He set his bag on the sandy ground and laid his coat on top. It surprised him to find the humidity as intense here as in New Orleans—even without the heavy vegetation. At least here, the Gulf threw a breeze from time-to-time to cool him off. He watched people spread out in different directions.

A family crossed the dusty street and stepped onto the boardwalk in front of the hotel. The mother carried a toddler, who fought hard to get down. While at the same time, she held the hand of a girl about five-years old, who also didn’t want to be controlled. Father had both hands full of luggage, as did a boy who looked to be about the same age as William.

William hurried across the street to see if he could help. Here, let me take some of those bags, and I’ll get that door, he said.

Oh, thank you, Mother said.

The father jerked his head toward William and grimaced. Excuse me, young man, who do you think you are? Please, be on your way now.

But Paul, we—

Shut up, Belle. Get your children inside and don’t argue with me. I hate it when you argue with me.

The man turned on William and said, Now go away, I hate it when people try to butt into my business.

Aye and I only wanted to help, sir, William said.

From across the street William watched the man and his son disappear behind the door of the hotel. He shook his head It must be sorely uncomfortable for you, Belle, to live with a man who hates so many things.

He tugged off his boot and pulled out a wee leather pouch. The money inside didn’t amount to so much as he’d hoped. Down a little farther, on his side of the street, he noticed a wagon covered with a white canvas dome, and another, which looked more like a utility wagon. He saw Charlie Sweet climb into the back and pull the flap down.

His stomach growled.

William tucked the pouch into his pocket and pulled his boot back on. He threw his coat over his shoulder, picked up his bag, ambled on toward the wagons. Better to work for my supper than to spend the wee tad o’ money I have left. Aye, Waring is most likely as good a town as any to start with.

* * * *

The next night, William lay on the warm desert sand with his coat under his head for a pillow. Over by the wagon, he could see Charlie and Dell Houston talking softly with their feet toward the campfire, which now had gone out, its embers glowing red in the darkness. While sitting around the fire earlier, William had learned that Charlie and Dell had met on a steamship. It seemed Dell had always wanted to go to college, but had limited funds, so he chose a small Methodist school in east Texas. The year he graduated a huge scandal erupted involving a local pastor.

The whole thing got me thinking, he said. I always had a keen fondness for games of chance, not a good hobby for a minister. Therefore, I went out looking for something else.

Dell had dark curly hair and dark watery eyes with long lashes, and an innocent round face that would have been perfect for a pastor. Dell had a straightforward way of speaking to go with that perfect face. He was also born with one leg three inches shorter than the other, which limited his options somewhat.

Now Mr. King, the man who owned the boat, was a good business man, Charlie said, He didn’t mind Dell having a game now and then. Said it was good entertainment. But one night Dell got a little greedy and won a little too much. The customer accused Dell of cheatin’. Mr. King asked Dell to leave. I left with him. He put us off in Port Isabelle in ’57 and we made our way to Waring.

William had been surprised to learn about Dell’s education in religion. William studied theology at Edinburgh University. His father wanted him to be a teacher of literature like him. Da didn’t want him to come to America either. He was an all around disappointment to his family. So much so, none of them even came to see him off at the dock when he left Scotland.

When he closed his eyes, William could still feel the ocean moving beneath him as he had on the deck of the ship. Of course he wasn’t suppose to be on the deck of the ship, but he and another boy, Aaron McCune, who was also traveling alone, would sneak up there when they could. Below, it appeared to William as though when the need for extra floor space to accommodate more passengers arose, they just built another deck. William stood six feet tall and he had to creep around in a stooped position if he wanted any exercise. They packed in more than two hundred people down there in tiny little cots and hammocks lined up side by side. Men women and children all crammed together. William’s friend, Aaron, had left the ship in New York along with most of the Irish and Italian immigrants. The rest of the Irish disembarked in Boston. A number of Germans and Polish stayed on the ship along with him, until they reached Indianola.

Now William lay on the warm, sandy floor of this strange desert, with his arms under his head, watching horsetail clouds sweep across the zillion stars, the same stars he’d watched while lying on the deck of the ship.

He remembered the first time he’d seen the stars on a clear calm night at sea. As though he was in the midst of creation itself when God had said, Let there be light. Then He tilted a bowl, and blew the stars and moon from within. With one great hand, He swept the empty cosmic void with mystic jewels and galaxies. At sea, William couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began because of the reflection of the stars on the never-ending ocean. But here he could make out a dark horizon in the distance, where tomorrow they would move from the heat of this desert floor to hills with trees and forests, as quickly as turning the page in a book.

* * * *

Hey wake up there, Scotty. William felt a shove in the middle of his back. He could see the dark purple sky behind the eastern hills where the sun lay in wait to start the day.

Charlie says he wants to make it to the hills by midday, Lanky Wallace said.

The first thing William noticed about Lanky was his almond-colored eyes; they held a permanent smile, the color of his hair matched precisely. He was only a couple years older than William, who took to him right off. Lanky stood at least a head taller than William, well over six feet. His nose hooked like the beak of a bird and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down on his scrawny neck when he spoke. He was as skinny as a fence post. Although he had a good humor and worked hard, he stayed to his self. Unlike Charlie, Lanky put his sentences out in proper English even though a wee twang of Texas hid behind his words. William decided there was a bit of education there somewhere.

The smell of coffee finally got William moving.

After breakfast, they struck out. The sun had still not risen, but William could see the outline of the trees against a purple sky on the hills ahead. He marveled at the strange Saguaro trees with their arms held high, every one different from the next. He wondered why God would make all these plants so thorny and prickly in this quiet deserted place. From what was he protecting them?

Charlie drove the big wagon, heavy with parts for a steam engine; some saw blades and other paraphernalia they had unloaded from the ships coming from the East for Mr. Appleby’s mill in Waring. Lanky rode behind the big wagon on a saddle horse in case the wagon bogged down. William rode on the chuck wagon with Dell. They reached the road, if you could call it that, before noon.

As they climbed the first hill, William’s thoughts of a lush forest faded quickly. Beneath the wagons were limestone rocks in hard dirt. Great crops of rocks stood beneath huge oak trees shading large portions of thirsty brown grass with their canopies of grey-green leaves. Small scrub oaks grew thick along the trail while groups of pole pines spread sparsely throughout. All along on the floor William saw the same prickly pear cactus he’d seen in the desert below. Many other trees and vegetation grew over the hills and valleys, but everything seemed dry, cracked, and dusty. He longed for the humidity of the coast.

They bumped along for two or three hours until they came to a shallow gorge with a stream running through. We’ll stop here, Charlie said, unhitch the horses and let ’em get a drink and rest for a while.

I’m gonna take the rifle and find us a bird or a rabbit for supper, Lanky said, I won’t be long.

Don’t dawdle. I wanna be home by this time tomorrow, Charlie yelled as he slid down a slight hill toward the stream ahead of the two horses he led.

William unhitched the horse from the chuck wagon, led him down the small incline to the water, and stood beside Dell who sat in the water, clothes and all, washing off. After a while, way down stream, William saw movement. At first, he couldn’t understand what he was looking at. Animals. Big animals. A lot of them. Hey, Dell, what do we have down there?

Dell shot up out of the water and grabbed the reins from William. Charlie, look downstream.

What’s wrong? William asked.

Buffalo, Dell said. If they smell us, they’ll stampede.

"Won’t they turn around and go in the other direction, away from us?

No, son, they’ll run the way they’re facin’. Charlie started back up the incline with his horses. Dell followed with the chuck wagon horse, and William grabbed the mane of the saddle horse, pulled himself astride and rode him up the incline bareback.

Didn’t know you could ride like the wind, Master Copeland, Dell called.

Aye I love horses.

The earth seemed to shake beneath his feet and William heard what sounded like thunder. As Charlie predicted, the buffalo came down the gorge in their direction. Only a small herd; it didn’t take long for them to pass. William rode back down into the gorge and watched as they disappeared upstream, amazed how such spindly legs could carry such broad strong bodies. It hadn’t seemed as though they’d heard or sensed anything at all to cause a stampede. They’d just started running.

Finally, William turned to go back to the trees and the wagons where Dell and Charlie were hitching up the horses, when a blow struck him in the back.

He lost his breath, fell from the horse and struck his head on a rock.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a brownish pink tongue behind white teeth surrounded by a sweaty brown face. The eyes were wide, black, and fierce, the whites streaked with tiny red veins.

William wanted to bring a hand up to his head where he’d struck it when he fell from his horse, but he couldn’t because the Indian he’d read about in books was sitting on his belly with his knees pressed tightly against his forearms. His arm pressed so hard against William’s throat that when he tried to cry out, no sound passed through.

Dear God, why would this man want to harm me?

The Indian growling at him was naked except for a loincloth. He smelled of smoke, sweat and something coppery behind that. He snatched William’s hair back from his brow with one large hand and drew a sharp knife from the waist of the loincloth with the other.

William’s heart jumped with fear. He tried to yell again but he could hardly breathe. Lifting both legs, he kicked as hard as he could to lift himself from the ground. The Indian growled again, jerked William’s head to the left and slammed it against a rock. His brain bounced off the inside of his skull. Tiny black nits flew around behind his eyes. The shallow water gurgling over the rocks filled his mouth. He swallowed several times and fought not to choke and lose consciousness.

Please, God, if I’m to die right now, take me quickly.

When William turned his face from the water, Charlie had his left arm around the Indian’s chest from behind; the sun glistened off the knife as Charlie drew it from left to right across the Indian’s throat. Blood spilled over his naked chest and onto William’s shirt and pants before Charlie pushed him into the water. Charlie put his hand out and helped William up. William stared down at the man in the water. The Indian’s dark eyes stared up into his. The aroma of copper filled the air.

Why didn’t ya holler for help? I almost didn’t get to ya in time.

Without taking his eyes from the Indian’s, William said, I was just too afraid ta cry out. I had nay a voice ta do it.

When William finally staggered toward the bank, he saw Lanky on the edge of the gorge with the rifle under one arm, holding a limp rabbit by his back feet in the other, also staring at the dead man. That would have been a lot easier if you’d had this rifle.

How could you have known? Charlie said. Put that stuff down and go get that Comanche. Pull ’em up into the underbrush. Hide any blood trail.

William looked around, studied the landscape under the trees while he rubbed the back of his head. I’ll get a shovel; where do you want to bury him?

We ain’t buryin’ ’im, son. We just need ta hide ’im and get the hell out a here. I’ll go try to get his pony. Do you feel like you can help Dell turn these wagons?

Aye I think so. William felt something warm trickle down the side of his neck. He watched Charlie take a rope from the side of the nearest wagon and then run back to the stream. The Indian’s horse stood on the other side of the gorge calmly eating grass. When William turned to go help Dell, he couldn’t help staring at the dead man Lanky was pulling up the small incline. Most of the blood had washed off his broad chest; his head tilted back like a rag doll come unsown, his dark eyes wide and unseeing. The gash in his neck lay open to the sun. Only a few minutes ago a heart beat in his strong body. William pushed his fingers through his curly red hair.

William! Let’s get moving, Dell hollered. I’ll pour some whisky in that cut on your head first.

William could still feel the throbbing. He looked at his bloody hand and wiped it on his pants. Aye I’m coming.

They turned the wagons and secured the horses. Charlie hadn’t been able to retrieve the pony. He took out over the plane, Charlie said, which is just as well. But they’ll find ol’ Injun Joe eventually. They can find a hair on a dry leaf once they start lookin’.

They traveled at a very slow pace until finally coming upon a less traveled road going in