Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, when we remember those men and women who fell in the service of our country. I’ve been fortunate that all my close relatives who went off to war came home again, though not all of them were unscathed. My grandfather, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War I had his arm shattered and nearly removed by a biplane propeller. Because of his service and his injury, he received a veteran’s benefits. Sadly, during the Great Depression when those benefits were sometimes his only source of income to feed and house himself and his three children, members of his own family accused him of taking handouts from the government.

I really didn’t know much about my grandfather while I was growing up. He died when I was only three-years old. Just about ten years ago, my mom came for a visit and wanted to see the town she grew up in. It’s a small town called Des Moines, New Mexico, in the far Northeastern corner of the state near Capulin Volcano. We walked through town and then went out to show my daughter the volcano. We discovered the ranger manning the desk actually knew my grandfather when he was alive, and she told us several stories about him. It turned out to be an unexpected treat!


Afterwards, images of the real-life horror that would result if a volcano like Capulin erupted today haunted me. They swirled around with stories of my grandfather, and I wrote a story I called “Cherry Blossoms in the Springtime.” About a year later, it was picked up for an anthology called This Ain’t No Rodeo edited by Carol Hightshoe. This was a benefit anthology to raise money to assist injured rodeo bull riders. I’ve given a few stories to benefit anthologies over the years and I rarely know how effective they proved to be. I just discovered that the anthology raised $700 for it’s cause. I’m proud to have helped with that and I’m pleased that it happened through making a closer contact with my grandfather through the power of stories.

In the story, I imagine a veteran of World War I who happens to be a champion rodeo rider who fell on hard times due to the Great Depression. To make matters worse, a geologist arrives, announcing Capulin Volcano is about to erupt. The veteran enlists a friend to help save the town. The solution was based on a story my graduate advisor used to tell about saving a town by venting a volcano through explosives. My grandfather wasn’t a rodeo rider, nor has Capulin Volcano been active in recent memory, but I think it was a fun story. I’m sorry to say This Ain’t No Rodeo is out of print, so I may have to find it a new home.

At any rate, the story was intended not only as a way to remember my grandfather, but as a way to honor the bravery of those men and women who have served in the armed forces. Of course, many of those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice and never made it home. Memorial Day is often considered the unofficial start of summer, which includes fun and games. Sports like rodeo may not be limited to summer, but can certainly be part of the season. Before we dive into the fun, let’s take a moment and remember those folks who made that ultimate sacrifice and have given us the freedom we enjoy.

New Mexico Witch Stories

When people think of witchcraft in the United States, they often think of the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century. However, that is far from the end of the story as far as witchcraft in America is concerned. In 1848, at the conclusion of the Mexican War, New Mexico Territory was added to the United States. Many of the people already living in New Mexico suddenly found themselves living in a new country, and many of them believed in witchcraft. Back when I first started my Clockwork Legion steampunk books, I originally expected the series would have more of a supernatural/horror element than it did and I started researching these tales of witchcraft.

Witchcraft in the Southwest

One of the books I found was Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande. The book is available at and serves as the source for these tales.

In 1882, a man named Felipe Madrid was arrested in the town of Tierra Amarilla in Northern New Mexico. He was accused of torturing a woman he believed was a witch. Years before, Madrid had an affair with the woman. After they broke up, he started seeing other women, but came down with a “loathsome disease.” He believed that his ex-girlfriend was a witch and she had cursed him. Following an old belief, he planned to abduct her and make her cure him. He sent three of his friends to where she lived and they brought her to his house. Madrid tied the woman’s hands and told her that he would whip her to death if she did not cure him. She protested her innocence and said she could not cure him. He whipped her until she finally promised to cure him. She called for ointments and medicines and while she was waiting for them to be delivered, she finally escaped. Madrid was arrested and put on trial. He was convicted of committing assault and battery and had to pay a fine of $150.

Just a few years later, in the town of Chimayo, New Mexico, a 40-year-old woman was accused of being in league with the Devil. She was taken from her home by three men, stripped of her clothes and stabbed to death.

These two accounts come from New Mexico’s court records and illustrate that people in New Mexico still held a strong belief in witchcraft during the late nineteenth century. People in New Mexico generally thought there were three ways someone could become a witch. First, it was believed that certain children were fated to become witches. Parents grew fearful if any of their children showed any signs of strange or deviant behavior. Second, many witches were said to have voluntarily taken up the craft to get revenge on someone who had wronged them. The third group of witches consisted of those who were said to have sold their souls to the Devil himself for money or power.

There are stories of women who would seek out advanced practitioners of witchcraft and learn from them. In the village of Las Placitas, near Albuquerque, a woman named Juanita was ostracized because she had a bad temper. She sought out a known “bruja” named Felicia, who taught her how to prepare herbs and use them to make magic.

Occasionally, advanced practitioners in witchcraft would get together and conduct formal schools in how to bewitch people, cast spells, and transform into animals. Legend has it that one such school existed in the Central New Mexico town of Peña Blanca. Aspiring witches who attended this school were said to have learned from the Devil himself how to transform into such animals as owls, doves and dogs.

The witches of New Mexico were often said to gather in conclaves. There is the story of a man who lived near Taos who noticed that some of his aunts and uncles would all disappear from time to time. One night he decided to follow them. They rode out to a house concealed in an arroyo. The man crept up to a window and saw his uncles and aunts dancing in the house with some other people. After a while, a goat was led into the room. All the people ceremonially kissed its tail. Once the goat was led away, a black snake came into the room and flicked its tongue at each of the people in turn. As the snake slithered out of the room, some of those gathered went into the other room and retrieved a man’s corpse. All of those present sat down and dined on the human flesh. It seems many of the stories of witch conclaves from New Mexico include this bizarre combination of dancing, kissing a goat’s tail and the involvement of a black snake.

As the first novel of my Clockwork Legion series developed, it soon became apparent that Fatemeh Karimi wasn’t a witch, or even close. She was a strong-willed woman accused of witchcraft and tried. I’ll look at a couple more tales of nineteenth century New Mexico witchcraft next week, plus tell the story that set me on the path that led to the creation of Fatemeh, who ended up nothing like the people of these stories. However, if you want to see what did end up in the book, read Owl Dance. Although this novel isn’t scary in it’s own right, I have written scary stories in this world. A Cthulhu-mythos inspires story from this world will appear later this year in the anthology Lost Trails II: More Forgotten Trails of the Weird West.

Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 4

Living in a town visited by both Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa, it didn’t surprise me too much to find people associated with them in the local cemetery. What did surprise me was this pair of tombstones not far from Pat Garrett’s grave site.


Las Cruces is only about 50 miles from the Mexican border. You see and hear a lot of Spanish, and it’s not because of an influx of immigration. People were speaking Spanish in the region forty years before Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock. That noted, it is a little surprising to see Japanese on tombstones. Kay Tashiro, buried under the left-hand marker, was eight years old when Billy the Kid was on trial. What’s more, these are not the tombstones of impoverished people. They are among the most beautiful in the entire cemetery. Who exactly were Kay and Tatsue Tashiro?

Kuniji “Kay” Tashiro was a farmer who moved to the Mesilla Valley in the late 1910s from Colorado. The Standard Fruit Company hired him and his son Hatsuki (known to most as “Harry”) to run their cantaloupe production in the valley. However, melon production declined after a few years of failed crops, forcing Tashiro to look for his own farmland.

In 1919, prominent white farmers led an effort to outlaw Japanese ownership of land, but Kay and Harry Tashiro overcame that by purchasing land in the names of their American-born children. They went on to become prominent farmers of lettuce, onions, and even cantaloupes in the Mesilla Valley.

Learning abut the Tashiros led me to learn about other Japanese farmers in the area, including John and Tome Nakayama, who arrived to farm cantaloupes around the same time as the Tashiros. The Nakayamas’ son, Roy, went on to develop several commercially viable green chile varieties, which are so important to New Mexico’s economy today.

These Japanese farmers who overcame many difficulties to prosper in Mesilla and Las Cruces inspired my character Masuda Hoshi. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Hoshi recently since he has a major role in my new novel The Brazen Shark, which I hope to turn into the publisher in about a month. Hoshi was a samurai who respected the farmers on his daimyo’s land in Japan. When the Meiji Emperor came to power, Hoshi resisted and was defeated. He decided the most honorable course of action was to become a farmer like those he once protected. Of course, he now faces his own difficulties, not the least of which is having a “helpful” mad scientist for a friend!

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Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 3

Last week, I discussed the man who shot Billy the Kid, who is buried in the cemetery behind my house. It turns out there’s a gravestone for the man who defended Billy the Kid at his trial as well. Fountain This one’s an interesting gravestone in that no one is actually buried under it. Albert Fountain and his son disappeared in 1896 and to this day, no one knows what happened to them.

Albert Fountain’s career started during the Civil War, when he was a sergeant in the Union Army’s California Column, which took New Mexico back from the confederacy in 1862. After the war, he moved to El Paso, Texas and became a Republican politician at a time when it was not popular to be a Republican in Texas. He served in the Texas State Senate and served as Lieutenant Governor for a time. His views angered many Texas Democrats and he was challenged to several duels. Some suspect his unpopular politics may have played a part in his disappearance some thirty years later.

He returned to Mesilla in 1873 and opened a law practice, making use of his fluency in Spanish. He also founded a newspaper called The Mesilla Independent in 1877. He defended Billy the Kid in 1881, but lost the case. Fountain would continue to be involved in the Lincoln County troubles until his disappearance. He disappeared near White Sands on his way home after bringing charges against Oliver M. Lee and William McNew, who were accused of altering cattle brands. All that was found of Fountain and his son was the buckboard wagon they rode.

Fountain makes a cameo appearance in my novel The Brazen Shark. Lightning Wolves In the novel he defends farmhand Billy McCarty and newspaperman Luther Duncan. They’re accused of breaking jail, which they did at the end of Lightning Wolves. Fountain is interested in the case because he sees it as the army trying to interfere with freedom of the press. In another play on history, although I never expressly say Billy McCarty is Billy the Kid, it is suggested. So, the novel presents an alternate version of the famous trial.

In this case, walking through the cemetery introduced me to a mystery that caused me to dig a little deeper into the history of the region. I found some interesting connections that made a good story, though I fear no solutions to this unsolved mystery.

The Bogeyman

Two nights ago, I was watching an episode of Kolchak the Nightstalker in which Kolchak tracks down a Louisiana bogeyman called Père Malfait. He’s a swamp monster that supposedly crushes people it finds out late at night. Being curious, I looked up the legend and near as I can tell, it was entirely manufactured for the series. If you have any other information, I would love to hear it.

Mercy's Window

Growing up in California, we didn’t really have a specific bogeyman legend that I remember. I just remember kids whispering vaguely about some mysterious bogeyman who would do unspeakable things if he caught you out late at night. Given that I was in Southern California, this kind of monster seemed all too possible, and it didn’t have to be supernatural at all!

When I moved to New Mexico, though, I learned about La Llorona. There are variations of the story, but as I heard it La Llorona was a woman who drowned her own children so she could be with the man he loved. When he spurned her, she drowned herself. Her ghost roams near the river looking for children. If she finds them, she will drown them. Here in New Mexico, during flash flood season, the idea of children out late in the afternoon getting drowned for being where they shouldn’t doesn’t seem so far fetched either!

As it turns out, I adapted the La Llorona legend for my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In this version, La Llorona was a young mother named Mercy, seduced by the vampire Rudolfo. When she’s turned into a vampire, she goes into a feeding frenzy and kills her children and her husband. As a result, she’s not altogether sane, and Rudolfo leaves her as well. She’s left wandering Southern New Mexico and West Texas for all eternity.

As for Louisiana, the one bogeyman I was able to track down was Loup Garou. He prowls the bayou and has the head of a wolf and the body of a man, very similar to his French Canadian counterpart.

I find regional folktales like this fascinating. Do you have a local bogeyman? If so, drop a note in the comments and let me know. If you’d like to read Vampires of the Scarlet Order and see what becomes of the vampire Mercy, you can find the novel at Amazon and direct from the publisher, Lachesis Publishing. The ebook is a mere 99 cents.