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Tales from the Journey of the Dead

Ten Thousand Years on an American Desert

Alan Boye

Publication Year: 2006

One hundred miles south of Albuquerque, two parallel chains of mountains isolate a 120-mile jumble of black rock, dry lake beds, flesh-colored sand, and desolation. This is the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead.

So named because of a particular death centuries ago, this desert has witnessed many tales of loss and destruction. Alan Boye takes us on a trek through the beauty and violence of this forbidding land. Traveling the wasteland by foot, Boye visits battle sites from the Mexican-American War, to the Civil War, from the lonely canyon where the Apaches fought to keep their homeland, to the isolated site of the world’s first atomic explosion. In the sand and dust and the ruins of war, Boye discovers stories of sadistic killers, directionless rebels, and gun-toting gauchos—but also tales of poets and dreamers, of ordinary men and women who lived their lives and continue to live under this wide and ruthless desert sky. He introduces us to many travelers who have tested the desert: mysterious ancient people who built cliff-top fortresses, Spanish conquistadors, Mexican farmers, old time cowboys yodeling classical poetry to their cattle, and modern range managers tracking livestock by satellite. This is the story of an American desert told through the eyes of those who knew it best and brought to life through Boye’s own travels across the Journey of the Dead.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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1. Traveling the Camino U.S. 380

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pp. 1-7

One hundred miles downstream from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the sluggish Rio Grande slams up against a series of volcanic mesas and dark, foreboding mountains. As if to avoid the desolate place, the mighty river swings in a long, wide arc to the west. Two parallel chains of mountains form a 120-mile-long barricade ...

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2. The Wild Man

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pp. 8-16

He was a remnant of the Old West. Like cactus and coyote, like rattlesnake and mountain lion, he belonged to this harsh desert. A shadowy, elusive figure, the Wild Man wandered one of the most desolate wildernesses in the continental United States. For his entire adult life he lived outside in the open air of the Jornada del Muerto. ...

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3. Elements

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pp. 17-26

I’m driving through the heart of Ted Turner’s 360,000-acre private ranch. In the far distance a massive thunderhead billows heavenward against the blade edge of a steep mountain. I reach an automated gate. From the window of the van I punch a combination of numbers into a keypad. In a second a motor hums and the gate rolls open. I hurry through and then ...

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4. Foundations

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pp. 27-32

Lisa Peters jumps out of the high-centered four-wheel drive. She stands in the dust next to the car and looks up at the black butte that rises before us: a rock curtain of dark stone columns. She is wearing sturdy hiking boots and carries a water bottle. ‘‘We have earthquakes daily,’’ she says. ‘‘We don’t feel them, but they’re below us in the magma ...

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5. Glyph Time

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pp. 33-51

The oldest history of the Jornada is written everywhere in messages carved on rocks: glyphs that tell the story of a great hunt, etchings of myths and mystical beasts, expressions of the ordinary, the sacred, and the profound. On the bony spine of ridges, on the fiery fringe of brilliant rimrock canyons, on mesa top and butte, on isolated ...

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6. Artifacts

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pp. 52-69

Last night I parked the van on the edge of a gravel road near an isolated pocket of rock that snugged up against a hillside. I flopped a blue tarp onto the ground, threw down my sleeping bag, and was asleep before I’d even seen the stars. I awoke well before dawn. I fired up some coffee and now sit on my comfortable bag having breakfast. I munch ...

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7. Rowena

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pp. 70-79

The Owl Bar sits perched at the intersection of U.S. Highway 380 and the dusty country lane that is a part of the original Camino Real. Housed for the last sixty years in the same low-slung adobe building in San Antonio, New Mexico, the Owl Bar is famous for having served the world’s first green-chile hamburger. ...

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8. The Coming of the Ingles

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pp. 80-85

Lieutenant Facundo Malgares sat on his fine horse on the high butte at the northern edge of the Jornada del Muerto. The medicine he had ingested last night at camp eased his fever, yet it did nothing to calm his concern for what lay ahead. For six days he had escorted the captive Ingles, the English-speaking people, down the easiest ...

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9. The Viejo

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pp. 86-91

Because of his service and his knowledge of New Mexico, Facundo Malgares was appointed governor of Spain’s northern frontier. In 1819, a dozen years after the incident with Pike, Governor Malgares received a request for a land grant from a tax collector living in the village of San Elizario, eighty miles south of the Jornada. Recently retired from ...

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10. The Captains of Death and the Young Missouri Bride

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pp. 92-117

It’s a simple matter, really, to scalp a human being. Place the sharpened tip of the knife on the forehead just where the skin meets the hair. A single, quick slice of flesh: trace the hairline, now the bone lies exposed. Slip the fingers into that slit of skin. A quick snap peels the scalp: the human pelt is freed. ...

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11. Coffee on the Porch of the Bar Cross Ranch

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pp. 118-126

I step through the heavy steel bars of the gate and into the main yard of the Bar Cross Ranch. Ben and Jane Cain’s two scruffy ranch dogs charge at me from the shade of the long, low adobe ranch house. I stop to scratch the ears of the light-colored one while the other barks one last time and then disappears back into the shade of the porch. ...

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12. Valverde

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pp. 127-142

On a snowy mid-February morning in 1862 a man stood on a roof at Fort Craig. Using a pair of binoculars he looked south over the fort’s imposing wall in order to get a glimpse of the large Confederate army amassing to the south. He saw ‘‘parks of artillery, towns of shelter tents, grazing horses, lounging men, curling smoke, all framed within ...

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13. The Life and Death of Victorio (On Seeing Apache Plume)

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pp. 143-158

Victorio sat on his pony and studied his Apache warriors securing the stronghold below him. He wore a bandanna around his head. A weatherbeaten leather vest covered his tattered, checkered shirt. Directly below on a low ridge, three men lifted stones to form breastworks from which to kill soldiers. The army was near. More ...

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14. Two Writers of the Purple Sage

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pp. 159-167

Just a few weeks after Victorio’s battle in the San Andres Mountains, thirty-three-year-old John W. Crawford, already well known by his stage name Captain Jack, rode east from Fort Craig onto the Jornada. The popular stage entertainer and scout had been hired by the U.S. Army to help search for the renegade. He rode all morning so that by ...

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15. Virtual Fences and Real Neighbors

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pp. 168-183

Jane Cain sets the glass of iced tea on the table and sits back down. ‘‘You go on and use one of those napkins,’’ she says and smiles. I reach for a napkin from the holder on the table. ‘‘Tell him, Ben,’’ she says to her husband. Ben Cain sits across from me. He chuckles. ‘‘I will,’’ he says, and then begins yet another tale. ‘‘We’ve lived here ...

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16. Flo Martin Puts Down Her Monkey Wrench

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pp. 184-194

Eighty-eight-year-old Florence Martin remembers the last roundup of wild horses on the Jornada as if it happened yesterday. She and her husband were living at their ranch on the western flank of San Andres at the time. ‘‘Frank and I never fooled with wild horses,’’ Flo says, ‘‘but we stood in on this last deal.’’ Periodically, area ...

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17. The Georgia Green Story

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pp. 195-199

Out on the windswept flats of the Jornada they still tell the tale of how the God of Death once danced with the virgin bride. It happened at Fort Craig during the bloody Victorio’s War. In one of the fort’s large rooms a wedding party was in full swing. People were crowded everywhere, laughing and talking. A few children ran about. Men stood ...

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18. The Final Walk

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pp. 200-207

I parked the van and got out. I stood before a tiny cemetery enclosed by a single strand of barbed wire. The old boneyard consisted of a dozen stone tombstones worn down to stony stubs by the wind. Secured by a rock beneath one such remnant was a single, and very faded, plastic flower. This was to be my last hike onto ...

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19. Joe

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pp. 208-216

All life trembles in the brief, brilliant light of existence. Whether in horror or in beauty, whether in tragedy or in triumph, each life story from the Journey of the Dead reminds us how very solitary is our own journey through time. Though their bones have long since turned to dust, and their stone markings have faded under the relentless sun, ...

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pp. 217-220

It would have been impossible to complete a project of this scope and duration without the assistance of many individuals, organizations, and foundations. I wish to thank Centrum Arts for a residency that provided uninterrupted time to begin writing this book, and the Ragdale Foundation for a residency that allowed me the solitude to complete it. I am deeply ...


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pp. 221-237


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pp. 239-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780803258983
E-ISBN-10: 0803258984

Publication Year: 2006