The untold story of the Angel of Santa Fe and the Gettysburg of the West, The Whisper of a Distant God by David L. Gersh is a deeply-researched American civil war novel. Read an exclusive excerpt from the book.
The old graveyard stood on a hill behind a rusting fence. There were bare spots where the grass had dried up. No one was in the graveyard at this time in the afternoon.
Feelings, he thought, still ran high up here. Down in Texas too, truth be told, even after all these years. Couldn’t ask no one. So it was hard to find.
The wind gusted up. It blew dirt across his scuffed shoes. A confederate gray sky leaving blue a memory. It matched the man. He was old. Not so much in years. But like the war had made him.
Gaunt, unshaven. Maybe five feet, ten inches. Eyes a watery blue. His mama always used to tease him about his eyes. “Ezra, I don’t right know where you came from,” she’d say, then she’d tousle his hair and laugh.
His hair was clumped down, shaggy and graying in places. Chopped up where he couldn’t get the scissors right. Still showing the marks of the campaign cap he held in his left hand. He wore an old gray uniform jacket. The outline still showed where the sergeant’s stripes had been torn off. The right sleeve was folded over to cover the stump of a forearm.
A bead of sweat ran from his armpit down his side. He gazed up at the sky. He knew it would rain soon. Break the heat here in Indianapolis. Strange name. Strange place.
He straightened up and shifted his balance to both feet. He needed to say what he’d come to say.
Her headstone was simple gray granite. Nothing fancy about it. How she’d have wanted it. Her name, “Louisa Hawkins Canby,” was carved into the stone. Beneath it, the words, “The Angel of Santa Fe.”
Next to it was a larger, more ornate headstone inscribed, “Major General Edward R. S. Canby, U.S. Army.” But Ezra spoke to Louisa.
“It’s Ezra Davis, Ma’am. You won’t remember me. There was lots of us. But I come this way ’cause I had to say thank you for what you done.”
He spoke aloud in a clear voice, as if he were speaking to his Texas boys back in New Mexico during the war. His teeth were yellowed and a few were missing toward the back. He rubbed at the gray stubble on his cheek with his left knuckles.
“It was the newspaper that fin’ly brung me, ma’am.” He had been there for almost half an hour looking for the grave stone. Now the stump of his arm was beginning to throb, as it did sometimes when the weather was changing.
“I was at home, done with the mornin’ chores. The land ’round Austin ain’t good for much. I hears a horse. Now there ain’t many visitors out where I am.
“Reached for my old Sharp and looked out the window. Billy Wikkins. Hain’t seen Billy for like on to two years. Heard he settled down up to the north, near Butler, with that girl he was always writin’ to. Lost my Becky ’round that same time.” He paused for a moment and was still.
“Well, me an’ Billy, we got down to flappin’ ’bout the war and what. Billy were in my company. Good man, Billy.
“Danged if he don’t pull out this newspaper. Unfolded it and slapped it on the table. Said he couldn’t right believe his own eyes. Billy were always one to exaggerate a bit.
“I don’t read so good. But I looked right close at that paper and darned if there weren’t a picture of Henry Sibley, that son of a bitch, beggin’ yer pardon. Made hisself out to be some kind of hero, accordin’ to Billy. And it talked about you too, ma’am. Your passin’ on. I knew right then I ain’t done proper by you. Knew I needed to come.” He blinked at some dust that blew into his eyes.
“We’d a starved or froze back there if it ain’t been for you.” He remembered her leaning over him, speaking in a soft voice. Gently placing a wet towel on his forehead to try and break the fever. She was not pretty. A thickening woman, middle aged even then, her hair parted and pulled tightly back in a bun, with a motherly way about her.