Stuck Inside? 4 Books for a Long, Hot Summer

These New Mexico classics may spur your imagination and lead to history-themed excursions of your own.

Have you been holed up for a while — unable to travel our great state? These books might help. They’re a journey back in time as told by the participants. They were there — and they can take you there.

“Rebels on the Rio Grande — The Civil War Journal of A.B. Peticolas” Don E. Alberts, editor. UNM Press. 1984. A first-hand account of the Civil War in New Mexico. A young lawyer from Victoria, Texas, Peticolas kept a journal complete with sketches from the battles of Valverde and Glorieta through the retreat of the beaten army back to Texas. A scene-setting introduction and extensive footnotes supply a lot of detail. Peticolas is an excellent companion for a camping trip that follows the Confederates’ difficult retreat as they made their way home.

“No Life for a Lady” Agnes Morley Cleaveland. University of Nebraska Press. 1941. A widow, born in 1874, turns rancher and writes about her life among cowboys and outlaws in the Datil area. “It had been a trying day, this hour after hour of loading the bewildered cattle into the long train of empty cars. The air was heavy with dust and our spirits heavy with a foreboding that this was the closing chapter of the cattle business as we had known it.”

“Black Range Tales” James A. McKenna. The Rio Grande Press. 1936. Part journal, part collection of folk hilarity, the adventures of a young Irishman from Pennsylvania prospecting in the Black Range. This book is one of my favorites and includes numerous woodcuts by Howard Simon. “I envy all who ever hear his tales told firsthand. I envy the publishers who had the luck to catch the written yarns. I envy all the readers who are reading them for the first time.” — Shane Leslie, Irish diplomat

“Beatty’s Cabin” Elliott S. Barker. Calvin Horn Publisher, Inc. 1953. Elliott Barker and his brother Omar are legendary figures in New Mexico’s forestry service. For those who love our northern forests, and especially those of us who have backpacked the Pecos Wilderness, this book gives history and stories to enhance our own experiences. I loved reading about George Beatty’s original cabin built after the Civil War, and his digging into a boulder of schist along the Rito del Padre looking for valuable minerals, and finding none. That battered boulder is still there — I’ve seen it, and you can too.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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