North to Yesterday
Publication Year: 1985
"It's the first feller that does something that is the hero, and the last feller that does it that is the fool," Preacher tells Lampassas. But Lampassas and his crew are made great by the enormity of their folly, the strength of their dream.
Published by: TCU Press
Series: Texas Tradition Series
Title page, Copyright page
IT IS RARE, after a lapse of years, to return to a book once enjoyed and find it more enjoyable than at first reading. I have just had that experience with Robert Flynn's NORTH TO YESTERDAY, first published in 1967, and am tempted to indulge in superlatives. The protagonist in the story is Lampassas, alias Marvin Darsey, a cowpuncher and handyman turned storekeeper, who has seen the great cattle drives start from Texas for the railroad...
LAMPASSAS reined up his rat-tailed, jug-headed, cow-hocked pinto horse on the little rise beside the lone, gnarled mesquite which had not yet admitted the end of winter. He brushed back the upturned brim of his full-crowned, still vaguely white hat, and grabbing the ends of the blue bandana tied about his neck, wiped the sweat from his forehead. ...
A HERD of longhorn cattle being driven up the trail fifteen years after the trail had been closed and ten years after most folks had decided the longhorn cow had gone the way of the bone man, attracted a lot of attention, all of it unfavorable. The Brazos County Cattleman and Stockraiser's Association heard the news with dismay. Ten years before anyone else the members of the association had realized the day of the longhorn...
ED MEHARG, forty-year-old Mustang Springs farmer, had invested the ten dollars he got from selling his dry milk cow in enough warm beer and red-eye whisky and enough Bonnie Bess to blunt his despair at the red, flinty earth that cracked open to absorb a man's sweat and life, and at the dirt-floored, two-room paling house and withering fields he called home and hope. Groping for his shoes in the darkness, he put them on, and standing...
THE river rises on the Dano Estacado, the Staked Plains of Coronado, who sought Seven Cities of Gold and found instead the plains, the canyon, the river, treachery, despair, and death. Water falling on the plains begins its downward course to the sea, seeking an outlet off the level mesa, plunging into the canyon, the Palo Duro, cutting deep through clay and...
"ARISE and shine, wake up and aspire; God's in his heaven, the beans is on the fire," the Preacher called cheerfully in the early morning darkness, banging a spoon against the lid of a dutch oven out of sheer exuberance. The hands awoke to darkness, drizzling rain, wet bedding, and the sounds of the tumbling river. Putting on their wet hats, they greeted the day with groans and curses, which died in their...
A FULL yellow moon hung soft and heavy in the sky, reminding men of Comanches, tides, and love. The moonlight shone down on the bedground, softening the dusty hides and pointed horns of the bedded cattle, splashing the earth with pale gold. The Kid made his slow way around the cattle, dreamy and half asleep. On the other side of the herd, Pretty Shadow...
THE Preacher scraped the hot coals off the dutch oven, lifted the lid, and satisfied that the sourdoughs were browning properly, replaced the lid and the coals and took a last look around to see that everything was in order. The beans had cooked so long that not even Pretty Shadow could say they rattled in the plate, and the beef had been chopped with the butcher...
IN Wilmer's Junction, Maury Clegg slid his feet off the bed and paused to see if the movement had disturbed Sad Sal's sleep. It had not. Sad Sal, her mouth hanging open in a sneer, continued the low, moaning snore followed by the pitiful sigh that had inspired her name. With his feet on the Boor, Maury slowly rolled off the bed and hurriedly began to dress. ...
MARTIN FOSTER became aware of a trickle of dirt falling in his ear. Then he felt something drop lightly onto the bed and scamper away. Some small, harmless, burrowing creature, he decided. Martin pulled the counterpin of stitched flour sacks over his head to ward off any falling centipedes and rolled over against a wet and messy child. Grunting, he turned again...
THE first day was like any other day on the trail, hot, dusty, and long. The cattle, their sore feet rested, their bellies full of water and grass, trailed at an easy but distance-covering gait. The long column moved smoothly, evenly, without stragglers. Only the men suffered the first day. Only they were aware of the miles, counting the hours to water, watching the progress of the sun. ...
FROM where they held the herd, the town stood above them on the brow of a low hill. A fretwork of corrals and loading pens decorated the base of the hill. Red pendant stock cars were strung along the tracks between the red depot and the towering red water tank that seemed to rise up into the town, where building fronts reached upward two and three stories...
"HELLO the house," the Preacher called. He and Lampassas stood at the edge of a brown, dead corn field, the collars of their dirty coats turned up against the wind at their backs, their hatbrims rippling. Before them, exposed to the elements on the bare prairie, stood a sod house. A coyote hide covered the single window, a washtub lay overturned at the corner. ...
MUCH OF MAN'S STORY is told in terms of trails: trails he has blazed through forests, over oceans, across the skies; trails he has followed; trails he has dreamed of; trails he has camped beside. There are forbidden trails, forgotten trails, trails not taken. There are the old trails that run deep in our psyche, deeper than our bones. We enclose them with fences. We build our homes...