In August 1863, during Kit Carson’s roundup of the Navajo, Santa Fe’s Provost Marshal, Major Joseph Cummings, is found dead in an arroyo near what is now the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona. The murder, as well as the roughly million of today’s dollars in cash and belongings in his saddlebags, is historically factual. Carson’s explanation that he was shot by a lone Indian, which, even today, can be found in the U.S. Army Archives, is implausible. Who did kill Carson’s ”brave and lamented” Major? The answer is revealed in this tale of a group of con artists operating in 1861-1863 in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories. As a matter of historical fact, millions of today’s dollars were embezzled from the Army, the Church, and the New Mexico Territory during this time. In this fictionalized version, the group includes the aide de camp of the Territories’ Commanding General of the Union Army, a poker dealer with a checkered past in love with one of her co-conspirators, and the Provost Marshal of Santa Fe. It is an epic tale of murder and mystery, of staggering thefts, of love and deceit. Both a Western and a Civil War novel, this murder mystery occurs in and among Cochise’s Chiricahua Apache Wars, the Navajo depredations and wars, Indian Agent Kit Carson’s return to action from retirement, and the Civil War. The story follows the con artists, some historical, some fictional, during their poker games, scams, love affairs, and bank robberies, right into that arroyo deep in the heart of Navajo country.
This novel was a winner of The 2014 National Indie Excellence Book Award.
“If History Class was this Interesting, I’d be Smart!”
Five Star Review on Amazon By BobK
Now living in New Mexico, the history of this place has been cloudy but interesting. With three, main ethnic groups represented here, history takes on the tone of the person speaking, either Hispanic, Native American or Anglo.
Knowing nothing about Steven Kohlhagen’s book, I saw a copy and knew it was important.
Turns out, it was.
Thanks to this most enjoyable depiction of events affecting the Southwest around the time of the Civil War, I have a new understanding of how the Native people were treated, cheated and tricked. I also understand what people mean when they say, “Oh yes, there was a Civil War battle fought here.” And, most important of all, I know why everything in Taos carries the name of Kit Carson in one form or other. Better yet, thanks to “Where They Bury You”, I see why people have so many different opinions of that man.
Kohlhagen has a gift for putting facts into a readable, believable narrative form while making the characters real enough so their motivations, lives and deaths make sense. I also appreciate his complete honesty about who was straight from history and who needed to be created to fill in the gaps.
This, in my opinion, is a masterful piece of literature and a very enjoyable read.
About the Author
Steve Kohlhagen is a former economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, a former Wall Street investment banker, and is on several corporate boards, most recently elected to the board of Freddie Mac. While at Berkeley he authored many economics publications, and he and his wife Gale jointly published the murder mystery Tiger Found in 2008.
Kohlhagen was inspired to write his first novel, Where They Bury You, after reading Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder, a non-fiction history of Kit Carson and the West. Sides’ reporting of the factual murder of Marshal Joseph Cummings on August 18, 1863 led Kohlhagen to conduct further research on Carson and Cummings. His discovery of a historical gang of con artists led to the creation of the fictional characters who, along with the surviving historical characters, drive the action in the sequel, Chief of Thieves. In truth, the unfinished journey of the protagonists and the coincidence that involved George Armstrong Custer throughout the story leading up to the climactic Battle of the Little Bighorn inspired the sequel.
Kohlhagen also pulled from his own knowledge of the West, as he divides his time between the New Mexico-Colorado border high in the San Juan Mountains and Charleston, South Carolina.