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The Owen Family Saga Sampler

Marsha Ward

  Review of The Owen Family Saga

  Marsha Ward really does write Westerns with heart. And her Owen family saga is among the best you'll ever read. Learn what our ancestors did to build this land. Like the Man from Shenandoah. Highly recommended.

  ~Chuck Tyrell, author of The Snake Den and The Prodigal

  The Owen Family Saga Sampler

  Marsha Ward

  Copyright 2011 Marsha Ward

  Cover Photo: Fall in Whiteoak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park

  National Park Service

  Three chapters each from the first three novels in The Owen Family Saga, plus a bonus look at the forthcoming Book 4: Spinster's Folly.

  All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced in print or electronically, other than brief excerpts for the purpose of reviews, without the written permission of the author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Table of Contents

  The Man from Shenandoah

  Ride to Raton

  Trail of Storms

  Bonus Chapter: Spinster's Folly

  About the Author

  Connect with Me Online

  The Man from Shenandoah

  Chapter One

  The gaunt-featured young man with the lanky build choked down the last of his moldy bread, then got to his feet and climbed atop the stone wall against which he’d been sitting. Carl Owen looked as far as he could see down the Valley Pike, about 200 yards, but no one was in sight. Turning to look at the burned-out field the wall enclosed, he surveyed the gray-toned devastation made muddy by today’s intermittent rain.

  Rage rising in him, thundering in his ears as his heartbeat quickened in frustration and hate, he shook his fist at the sky.

  “Phil Sheridan, may God spit in your eye for the ruin you brought to this valley. Rot in hell, Sheridan!”

  “Get him!” he heard, just before he was tackled from behind, tumbling him off the wall and into the mud. Carl came up sputtering muck. As he wiped gluey sludge from his eyes, someone kicked him. He was hauled to his feet—arms brutally twisted behind his back—and dragged over the wall to where a huge, red-faced sergeant in a faded blue uniform stood waiting for him.

  “Yankees,” Carl groaned, berating himself for letting his guard down enough to miss their approach. Panic coursed through his belly. He tried to tear free, but two soldiers gripped his arms, and he finally quit struggling.

  The sergeant stood with his legs spread apart, looking Carl up and down. “Johnny Reb, you’re on the loose. We have a stout prisoner of war camp for you up in Washington City.” He bent forward, laughing in Carl’s face, who involuntarily wrinkled his nose and squinted shut his eyes at the overpowering odor of liquor fumes. The man frowned, drew a knife from a sheath on his belt, and tested it on his thumb.

  “You look at me, Johnny Reb,” he snarled. “Look at me when I speak to you!”

  Carl opened his eyes and stared into the Yankee’s mean eyes. “I have parole papers,” he said, raising his muddy, stubbled chin in defiance.

  “You’re violating your parole, wearing the uniform of the Confederate Army,” the Yankee said, and put his blade against Carl’s throat. The young man sucked in a breath, then held it, careful not to move.

  Just then, a burly soldier came up behind the sergeant. “Sarge, you told us we were going to find some Southern belles to entertain us,” he complained. “Let’s dump him in the woods.”

  “Keep your nose out of official business. I’ll open him up a bit and teach him how to act around his betters.”

  From the north, a rider came pounding up the road, spurring his horse, then sawing on the reins to bring it to a halt. He alighted and ran to the sergeant.

  “The major’s coming down the road. You’d better not let him catch you cutting another Reb.”

  The sergeant cursed and turned back to Carl, grabbing the front of his coat.

  “You got no right to wear a uniform, you dirty Rebel pup.” He took a fresh grip on his knife and addressed the soldiers restraining Carl. “Hold him tight while I teach him a lesson.”

  Carl felt the tight prickle of fear racing up his spine as the soldiers freshened their hold on his arms. The sergeant looked around at the road, cursed again, turned to Carl, and cut the embossed buttons from his coat. He jerked the coat open, grinning evilly, and cut the buttons from his shirt, as well.

  “Now you’re not a soldier.” The man cackled as he pocketed the buttons and sheathed his knife. “Let him loose,” he ordered, motioning to the soldiers. As they dropped his arms, he looked Carl up and down once more, his expression changing to hatred. The sergeant half turned away, then spun back, and with a massive fist knocked Carl flat. “Mount up,” the sergeant barked, and strode toward his horse, weaving a bit.

  Lying in the mud, propped on one elbow, Carl wiped blood from his jaw, tasting salt as he tongued his molars to see if they were still tight. He watched the patrol leave, hate burning his belly. He turned over onto his knees and got to his feet, wincing at the pain, then whistled for his horse. Looking around for his hat, he found it on the wall where it had landed when he was attacked. He brushed at the soft, shapeless felt, removing a splash of mud, then he jammed it onto his head.

  Sherando came trotting out of the trees, gray coat glistening in the misty rain that had once again begun to fall. The horse jumped the fence to reach Carl and nickered softly. Carl checked to see that the Yankee rifle was secure in the scabbard. “Sure glad them Billy Blues was so drunk they didn’t find you, boy,” he whispered through raw lips.

  He swung into the saddle and straightened his back, swiped at his face with both hands to remove as much mud as he could, then ran his fingers through the blond hair at the nape of his neck, tugging loose both tangles and mud. He hoped someone at home had a comb, for he had lost his personal gear in a wild, last-ditch ride for freedom with Colonel John Mosby. Carl’s patrol had ridden into a Yankee camp to surrender after the war’s end. Union officers gave the Confederate cavalrymen parole papers and turned them free instead of holding them as prisoners of war. Carl had stolen the rifle as he left camp, but hadn’t had a chance to replace other gear.

  The young man turned his horse onto the Valley Pike, laughing as joy surged through him. “Benjamin will have a comb. It’ll be fine to see him again.” Carl kneed Sherando to a trot, and launched into a tune he’d heard somewhere. “Oh Shenandoah, I’m comin’ to ya. I’m here, you rolling river.”

  Carl looked toward the shallow river flowing beside the road and grinned at the cleverness of his new words to an old song. “Hold up that head, horse. We’ll show the folks that a passel of Yankees can’t lick a Virginia boy. We’re goin’ home!”


  “Ma!” Albert ran in yelling from the trees at the corner of the yard. “Somebody’s riding in, mighty confident like,” he panted.

  Julia Owen looked up from the corn she was grinding and pushed back a loose lock of dark hair.

  “Confident, you say? Does he look like a Yankee?”

  Albert hung his head. “I mostly just saw him a-coming before I ran in, Ma. But he’s riding real straight and sure of himself.”

  “Get your pa,” she said, grabbing the Sharps rifle from the corner. “There won’t be no Yankees set foot in this house.”

  Julia walked through the doorway with the Sharps in firing position and watched as a horseman neared the end of the lane from the pike. Albert spoke the truth, she thought. That man rides

  “Hold up right there,” her voice rang out. “Put them hands where I can see ‘em, and get down off that horse.”

  The mud-covered young man in the gray coat laughed. “You always did look fine with fire in your eye, Ma.”

  “Carl?” She took a step, lowering the rifle barrel toward the ground. “Carl! Is it really you? Lawsy, boy, we almost gave up on ever seeing you again.” She swiped at her eyes with one hand. “Get off that horse and hug your ma.” Her son dropped gingerly to the muddy ground and approached with long strides.

  “Ma, I’m home.” He grabbed her—rifle and all—and swung her into the air.

  She caught sight of the wince that he tried to cover and the dried blood on his face, and immediately began to worry over his health.

  Setting her on her feet, Carl brushed at the mud he had transferred to her dress. “I’m sorry about the mud, Ma. I had a little trouble with some fellers down the road a piece, and we wrasseled around a bit. Here, let me put that rifle aside. I reckon you don’t want to put a ball into me.”

  “You ain’t been hurt? What’s that blood?” She followed him to the front of the house, where he leaned the rifle against the stone wall. “Here, let me look at you.” Julia grabbed his arm, moistened the corner of her apron with her tongue, and dabbed at his face.

  “Ma!” he protested. “It’s just a little cut.”

  “And it needs tending to,” she insisted, then hugged him again.


  Roderick Owen came around the corner of the house, puzzled by the sounds in the front yard, but ready for Albert’s Yankee invasion. He stopped short at the sight of a tall, very grubby man embracing his wife, and Albert bumped into his father from behind.

  “Look here,” Rod threatened, stepping forward.

  Carl turned to meet him. “Have I changed so much, Pa?” He grinned under his smeared camouflage.

  “Rod, it’s Carl. He’s home at last.” Julia wiped the mud from her face with the apron.

  Without a word, Rod enveloped his son in his arms. After a long embrace, he held him off to look at him, and shook his head. “By gum, you sure get your growth dashing around with Mosby. We thought you were dead, boy, not hearing from you, nor seeing you home yet.”

  “I took the long road home, Pa. The Colonel disbanded the Rangers about three weeks into April, but me and some thirty others wouldn’t leave him, so he took us south to join up with General Johnston in the Carolinas. The General gave up before we got there, so Mosby cut us loose and made us go in to get paroled.” He paused a moment, scratching his nose. “They won’t give him a parole, Pa. There’s a price on his head!”

  “I reckon there’s mighty little justice around now, son. Your colonel won’t get fair treatment since Booth shot the President. There’s rumors Mosby had a hand in it.”

  “Somebody shot Jeff Davis?”

  “The other president, Abe Lincoln.”

  “Is he dead?”

  Rod set his jaw, turned his back on his son, and walked toward Carl’s horse, his hand worrying the mud at the front of his shirt and pants. He picked up the horse’s trailing reins and approached his son. “Yes, and it brings hard times upon us. There’s no mercy in the boys running the country now.”

  “Mosby had no part in it. I rode with him day and night for over two years. He done no such a thing.”

  “I reckon.”

  “He didn’t. That’s all.” Carl’s stomach growled aloud, and he looked at his mother. “Is there anything to eat? It sure don’t look like Phil Sheridan left much. We heard about his orders to burn out the Valley, Pa, but we laughed. Not one of us believed he could do it with you and Jeb Early’s troops on home ground.”

  “They sent in two and three times our number, son. All we could do was pester them around the edges some.”

  “Well, I’m home now, and this ground will grow food—if we can get seed.” Carl looked about the yard. Albert stood in the shadow at the corner of the house.

  “Who’s that young’un? I don’t recollect leaving anybody that big at home when I left.”

  “It’s me, Albert. I growed a mite.”

  “Can’t be. You were just a little bitty sprout.”

  Albert came out of the shadow and stood where Carl could see him. “I ain’t a sprout now." His voice was a touch heated. "I’ll be fourteen nigh on to Christmas time.”

  “You aged a right smart bit, Albert. Been doing most all the chores, I reckon.”

  “You left ‘em to do.”

  Carl nodded. “I figured you three boys could handle the farm. When Peter died, I felt obliged to take his place in the fight.”

  “I reckon.” Albert looked at the ground and kicked the mud.

  “I didn’t know James would go, too.”

  “They drafted him.”

  Julia moved forward and pulled on Carl’s arm. “Come in and set, boy. Doubtless you’re weary, riding all day. I’ll finish the pone we’re having for supper while you tell your pa what shape the Valley’s in down south of here. He’s been asking after news of the state of things since he got home.”

  “Now Julie, the boy’s just got here. I can quiz him later while he eats.” Rod turned to his youngest son. “Albert, take your brother’s horse out back and put him in the pen behind the barn. See if you can find some grain. That animal’s come far with your brother.”

  “Yes, Pa.” Albert took the reins and led Sherando around the corner of the house.


  After knocking the mud from his boots, Carl entered the house, shrugged out of his wet coat, and hung it on a peg inside the door. He pulled his shirt together the best he could and glanced around the room, savoring its warmth and cheerfulness. Then he took the stool his father indicated and moved it close to the fire before sitting.

  “What happened to your buttons, boy?” Rod asked. “Were you obliged to sell them for food?” He also sat, and crossed one leg over the other.

  “Naw. Some fat Yankee sergeant down the road a ways cut them off me. Said I was in uniform and didn’t have the right.”

  “That’s where you got the cuts and bruises and the mud, Carl?” his mother asked.

  “I reckon, but they didn’t hurt me none.” He eased his rib cage from side to side to be sure.

  Rod slapped his thigh in anger. “Yankees,” he spit out.

  Carl looked up, feeling a similar heat. “They ain’t mannerly, that’s for sure, but I came out lucky anyhow. Didn’t lose nothing but my buttons. I hid my horse back in the willows along the creek, and they were too drunk to spot him, so they missed the rifle I snuck off the Yankee weapon pile after I got my parole.”

  “Drunk, you say? That sounds like the same Yankee bunch that’s been back and forth through this part of the Valley, teasing and tormenting the folks.”

  “Could be them.” Carl shrugged, then looked around the room once more. “Ma, where’s Marie and the little girl? Ain’t they supposed to help you?”

  Julia smiled. “Your little sister is nigh on to twelve years old, boy. We kept having birthdays while you were away. You’ve had a couple yourself. Ain’t you about nineteen now?”

  “Closer to twenty, Ma. I ain’t a young’un no more.”

  Julia looked at Carl’s bearded face. “I see you been over the mountain, son.” She paused to form a corn cake. “I sent the girls in to Mount Jackson to Rulon’s place. Mary’s not feeling well, and she’s got Rulon to tend to, so they’re helping out with young Roddy. You heard Rulon got hurt bad?”

  Carl nodded.

  “There’s also more food in town,” Rod explained. “Your ma has her wits scraped down to a nubbin to find us enough to eat since Sheridan paid his call.”

  “Clay went in with the girls,” Julia added. “He’s got a job at the livery, so there’s just Pa and James and Albert to fix for.”

  “And Benjamin,” Carl reminded her.

  He watched his mother’s body stiffen, and saw his father take a protecting step toward her. Si
lence hung in the room like a curtain made of combed cotton fibers, thick and heavy and oppressive. Then Rod spoke, his words muffled and measured.

  “Benjamin fell at Waynesboro. I had no way to get word home. Your ma only found out when I got here.”

  The words bucked into Carl with the kick of a mule. He sagged on the stool and his head dropped against his hands. First, Peter had fallen at the Second Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, as the Yankees called it. Then Rulon, the eldest, was sorely wounded in the siege of Petersburg last October. Now Benjamin was gone. Carl felt his ears ringing hollow, filling his skull with a soft buzzing.

  He rose to his feet and faced his parents. “I’m powerful sorry,” he said, holding himself still. “Benjamin was always such a lucky cuss, full of life, and all. It don’t seem right he’d be gone.”

  Carl bowed his head, took a deep breath, and began again. “Ma, I know he was your favorite son, and I don’t hold it against him. He was the favorite of everybody.”

  He took a step toward his mother, watching her white, crumpling face. With another step he had her in his arms, patting her head and shoulders. “There, Ma, you cry. It’ll do you good.”

  Rod’s arms went around the pair. “The boy talks sense, Julia. You ain’t cried since you got the news. Let the tears wash out the grief you been carrying around.” He continued gruffly, “I reckon I already done my sorrowing.”

  The men waited, suspended, as Julia’s sobs tore the air. After a long time, she quieted, wiped the tears from her cheeks with her apron, and stepped out of the men’s arms. Her face was changed, resigned. “I reckon that’ll have to do for Benjamin, ‘cause the living need their daily bread.” She went back to the table, wiped her hands, and continued to fix supper.

  Rod approached his chair and sagged into it, while Carl returned to his stool. Both men sat slumped for a time, saying nothing as the pain sat upon their shoulders. After a time, Rod threw back his head.

  “Your ma’s kept the family going whilst we were gone, son, and she’s the one saw to it that we didn’t starve when we returned. I got a leave to come home in December, on account of our mounts were starving for lack of forage, and I’ll be switched if she hadn’t outsmarted that cocky Phil Sheridan. She saved most of the corn by tying the sacks on the backs of the stock, and sending Clay and Albert to the hills with the animals. She saved the crop and the herd, both. I’m mighty proud of her.”