Excerpt from

Clara of Crooked Creek

Crooked Creek Series

Story 4

"Clara of Crooked Creek"


Crooked Creek, Montana Territory
May 1866


THE SILVER CREEK EXPRESS stagecoach rolled over rough roads against a backdrop of some of the most spectacular vistas Clara had ever seen. She was no stranger to lush meadows, but the green fields of Connecticut paled in comparison to the thousands of acres spread out on either side of the dusty road.


Her smile widened at the sight of a pair of eagles dancing overhead. Clara’s hand pressed against her chest when a herd of horses basked in their freedom as they ran across the abundant fields.


“Mama, look!”


“I see them, Alice.” She expertly reached for her daughter before she fell on the passenger opposite them. Clara peeked around Alice to see out the window on the opposite side. Antlered animals, too many to count, moved as one against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.


“What are they?” Alice asked.


“I believe they’re elk. Do you remember the photographs from the book we brought? Tonight we’ll take a look.”


Alice turned to the man across from him. “Do you know?”


The man’s brow shot up in apparent amusement. “Your ma is correct. They’re elk.” He looked to Clara. “You’ve come a long way.”


“It is that evident?” With a pleasant smile on her face, Clara smoothed the lines of her gray-and-white striped traveling dress. Gideon had told her it highlighted her smoky blue eyes, though in hindsight, it might be a bit too elegant for their destination. Then again, she had not risked everything and ventured out west to relinquish all holds on her cultured upbringing.


The gentleman’s mouth quirked. “Are you headed to Salt Lake City or Denver? Maybe even San Francisco?”


“We’re going to Montana.”


The man’s eyes traveled the length of her, and his face reddened beneath his gray whiskers. “I don’t reckon Montana’s a place for a lady like yourself. It’s a mite different from what I reckon you’re used to.”


Clara only smiled again and gazed out the window. “I do believe it’s the perfect place.” She turned her attention back to the gentleman, an older man who reminded her of her father, tall, with a stately appearance and military bearing. His clothes, clean if not a little worn, betrayed him as a man of some means.


“Are you from around here, sir?”


“Jesse Pickett’s the name, ma’am. From Missouri, but I’ve spent a few years in these parts with the army. Missed Montana something fierce when my enlistment ended a few months ago, so I’m going back.”


Clara wondered what a man of his age was still doing in the army, unless he served as an officer. “The war has been over for a year, Mr. Pickett.”


“Not the war with the Indians, ma’am, or with the vigilantes.”


Clara glanced at her daughter, but Alice remained oblivious to the conversation as she continued to watch the passing landscape out the stage window. “Vigilantes?”


“Nothing to worry yourself over, ma’am.” The man also glanced at the young girl and lowered his voice. “The army knows what they’re doing.”


Clara did not share the man’s confidence in the army. Although freedoms had been won and a country remained intact, had they not just lost countless lives? To speak so casually of killing men sent a shudder through Clara’s body. She had loved one of those lives taken much too early.


***


Excerpted from "Clara of Crooked Creek" by MK McClintock. Copyright © MK McClintock. Published by Packsaddle Press and Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.


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