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MURDER AT BUCKSKIN JOE
Historical Cozy Murder Mystery
BY J.v.L BELL
Territory of Colorado, 1865
Millie knows the raucous mining town of Buckskin Joe is no place for children, but when Dom’s Uncle George shows up needing help, Millie and Dom reluctantly head to South Park. George has been accused of murdering his mining partner, Wandering Will, but Millie soon questions his innocence, although there are many suspects who wanted Will dead.
There’s fancy-girl Queeny, Will’s ex-wife, and dancehall-girl Kate, who wanted to be Will’s next wife—until he dumped her. Mountain man Kootenay despised Will enough to have dispatched him and the Odd Fellows have seized George and Will’s mine, claiming the gold inside is theirs. Even the local lawman might not be trustworthy, although he bakes pies so tasty Millie might kill for them.
Millie’s investigation heats up when Dom volunteers to visit the local saloon for some hands-on investigating of Queeny and Kate. Interruptions from hostile Utes, the children’s devilment, and the local schoolmistress chasing after Dom make this Millie’s most difficult investigation—especially when the killer decides she is getting too close.
Murder at Buckskin Joe weaves a cozy murder mystery with fascinating South Park mining history and lovable, unforgettable historic characters.
“I swear, the tomfoolery of those children will drive me to murder,” Millie said, her Southern accent rolling her a’s and stretching tomfoolery into five syllables. Her husband, Dom, mumbled a nonverbal response as he used her dish rag to wipe off a white and black speckled rock with small blue crystals, something he’d called Fluorite and Sphalerite. He sat at their rough wooden table, his back to Millie, his tools neatly laid out as he prepared to do a fire assay. Millie shook her head knowing Dom hadn’t heard a word she’d said.
Sighing, she turned her attention to the slab of bloody flesh laying on her prized Charter Oak cookstove. None of her beloved cookbooks offered advice on porcupine, but Millie had seen the pride in the eyes of their adopted son, Hosa, when he presented his kill. He’d even offered Millie the raw heart—a cherished morsel in his Arapaho culture. Millie had politely accepted the kill but refused the morsel, looking away as he eagerly devoured it.
To Millie, the porcupine heart was just one more example of the difficulty of raising an Arapaho son. Last November, she’d saved Hosa’s life after Colorado soldiers massacred his mother, along with most of his peaceful tribe. Millie brought the eleven-year-old boy home, but she often wondered if her skills as a mother—or lack thereof—were adequate to raise the boy, no matter how much she loved him. The thought brought another and she turned back to Dom. “Has Hosa talked to you about wanting a horse?”
“Course.” Dom rose and stretched, his wide shoulders flexing under his flannel shirt in a way Millie found particularly mesmerizing. They’d been married just over a year and Millie never tired of admiring Dom’s muscular frame. “Just about every day.”
“He thinks his father is still alive.” Just this morning, after devouring the porcupine heart, Hosa had reminded Millie he planned to join his people in the fight against white soldiers. His words had broken her heart. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the War of the Rebellion would soon be done, and America would turn its attention to its Indian problems. The Plains Indians didn’t stand a chance.
“Hosa’s father may still be alive.” Dom turned and gave Millie a one-armed hug. “We can only do our best. Keep the boy focused on schoolwork and chores. You know, mother stuff.”
“Mother stuff?” Millie eyed her husband with annoyance. He knew she’d been raised in an orphanage. Motherhood terrified her. “Dominic Drouillard! Hosa needs a mother and a father. You could teach him how to assay gold. Maybe we should get him a horse.”
Dom gave her a long kiss that made her toes curl. “We’re both doing our best, but we have to be prepared. If his father is alive and comes looking, we can’t stop Hosa from leaving.”
Tears pricked Millie’s eyes, but she swallowed hard and decided there was no use borrowing trouble. Hopefully, it would never come to that. Dom returned to his assay and she turned and poked the firm, dark meat with her knife, deciding it cut a bit like chicken. Fried porcupine cutlets seasoned with salt and mace shouldn’t taste too bad, especially if she rolled them in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs.
The meat was soon sizzling on the stove, although Millie found the smell rather unappetizing. Considering what else she could add to the meal, she retrieved turups and set them in a pot to boil, but her thoughts were interrupted by a heavy hand striking their door. Dom glanced at her and asked, “You expecting anyone?”
Millie shook her head. As Dom rose and walked toward the door, she slipped her hand into her apron pocket and wrapped her fingers around the smooth grip of her six-shooter. After almost two years of living in the Colorado Territory, she’d learned to carry her gun everywhere—even inside her own home.
Another reverberating thump shook the door, causing the leather hinges to stretch. Dom jerked it open and a huge fist came down, striking his chest with enough force it would have sent a small man to the floor. Dom just grunted and staggered backward.
Millie drew her gun as a large figure stomped into the cabin, bringing in snow from yesterday’s late spring storm. The stranger’s salt-and-pepper beard stuck out in all directions, looking slightly frozen as it tangled with the man’s long gray hair. He wore a lynx fur hat that had been fashioned so the animal’s ears stuck straight up, the nose hung over his thick forehead, and the legs dangled on either side of his face. A hairy, buffalo skin robe completed his ensemble, giving Millie the impression of a spring grizzly just crawling out from his cave.
“You Dominic Drouillard?” The stranger’s voice carried the distinct twang of a French-Canadian trapper, but it was the man’s nose and eyes—or what Millie could see of them—that caused her to gasp and almost drop her weapon. Although his eyes were dark brown—not the blue of a Colorado sky—his big bushy eyebrows and the shape of his nose were awfully familiar.
“Who wants to know?” Dom snarled, stepping forward until his nose was inches away from the stranger’s.
“Your uncle,” bellowed the man. The newcomer wrapped his thick arms around Dom and lifted him off the ground. “Merde, last time I saw you, nephew, you were knee high to a grasshopper and playing marbles with your brother, Johannes. You forced me to waste an entire afternoon while you showed me every stone in your blasted collection.” He released Dom, dropping him with a thump, and stepped back. “I’m George Drouillard. Mamam named me after my papa, your grandpapa.”
Millie saw the family resemblance. The stranger looked fit, but he had to be sixty, or maybe older. Perhaps when he was younger, he’d been as handsome as Dom, but now this Drouillard looked hard-used and had an unpleasant, pungent odor wafting off him.
Dom—apparently unbothered by the smell and unable to see the likeness—scowled and narrowed his eyes. He fisted his hands on his hips and bellowed, “I don’t have an uncle.”
“Still as stubborn as a jackass, are you?” The man slammed the door and stripped off his heavy coat, getting it tangled with a long, beaded knife sheath. He said, carefully untangling the coat before dropping the snowy garment onto the floor. He thumped Dom’s shoulder. “Don’t you remember my visit?” Casually he added his gloves and hat to the wet pile.
Millie narrowed her eyes. Did he expect a servant, or maybe a slave, to clean up after him? Even the children had better manners. “Sir,” she said curtly, “wet—”
“Your father was my half-brother,” the newcomer spoke over Millie. “While traveling with Captains Lewis and Clark, my papa spent time with my Maman’s people the Nay Persay, or Nez Perce as you Americans call them. They’re a friendly tribe and Maman was obviously very, very friendly. She weren’t the only one.” The big man chuckled. “There were several light-skinned children born nine months after Lewis and Clark’s visit. I used to play with Clark’s son, Hal-lah-too-kit.”
“Gramps Drouillard traveled with Lewis and Clark?” Dom asked as Millie blurted out at the same time, “William Clark fathered an Indian son?”
“Papa was Lewis and Clark’s hunter.” The man casually thumped Dom’s back again, grinning. “I’m your long-lost Uncle George.”
Millie felt a shiver run up her spine. This stranger was indeed a Drouillard, no doubt about it. She was equally certain his arrival boded trouble.
Author J.v.L. Bell is a Colorado native who grew up climbing 14,000 foot mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and hiking in the deserts of Utah. She loves reading and researching frontier history and incorporating these facts into her novels. Her historic mysteries are interwoven with amusing historical stories and lore, interesting characters, and historic events.
Links to J.v.L.’s website, blog, books, #ad etc.:
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/3Cqz3fv
Thanks, J.v.L, for sharing your story with us!
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