California Woman (Daughters of the Whirlwind Book 1)

BOOK: California Woman (Daughters of the Whirlwind Book 1)
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California Woman



Copyright © 1980 by Daniel Knapp

All rights, which have reverted to
the Author, are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, now known or
hereafter invented, without the written permission of the Author or his heirs
or assigns, except where permitted by law.

ISBN 0-440-11035-1

Published in the United States of America



my beloved wife, Leslie Ann


This book would not have been possible
without the assistance and resources of Joseph Praske, Elmundas Zalys, Dr.
Leslie Ann Knapp, Richard Kahlenberg, veteran Southern Pacific Railroad
executive John Pitkin, the Los Angeles Public Library, the Bancroft and
Huntington libraries, and the California Historical Society.

special thanks also to: Drs. Adel Jabour and John and James Williams;
Knapp, James Himonas, S. Koscuik, J.
Mulcare, Richard Erickson, Colby Chester, Charles Bloch, Paul Kohner, William
Kelsey, Linda Lichter, Ilse Lahn, William Warnick; Judy England; my editors —
Laiter, Bill Grose, and Linda Grey; and
the many other friends and associates  who provided me with invaluable support,
help, and expertise during the writing and editing of this novel.

The Author



ye that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California,
very near the terrestrial paradise and inhabited by… women… living in the
manner of Amazons. They are robust of body, strong and passionate in heart, and
of great valor. Their island is one of the most rugged in the world, with bold
rocks and crags. Their arms are all of gold, as is the harness of the wild
beasts, which, after taming, they ride.

this island of California rules a queen, Calafia, statuesque in proportions,
more beautiful than all the rest, in the flower of her womanhood, eager to
perform great deeds, valiant and spirited, and ambitious to excel all those who
have ruled before her.

Ordóñez de

Sergas de Esplandían






6, 1869


The woman in Charles P. Crocker's
elaborately furnished private railroad car watched and waited in the darkness.
In black widow's dress, a broad-brimmed black hat, and black veil, Esther Cable
Carter virtually blended into the interior of the unlit car.

Illumination from the gas lamps at the
Sierra Hotel and in the adjacent buildings on Sacramento's Front Street
scarcely reached the empty railroad station. There, a solitary kerosene lantern
flickered ineffectually. Only when a brief opening in the slow-moving clouds
released a spray of soft light from the moon was she fully conscious of the
deep red velvet and ornate patterns of the soft chairs and settees in the
forward portion where she sat. Only during those moments was she more than
vaguely aware of Charles Crocker's teak and brass military field desk, the
cushioned swivel chair before it, the cupboard and shelves containing railroad
maps and reports at the front end of the car.

She preferred the longer intervals of
cool darkness. They matched more accurately the circumscribed, lethally tinted
place her thoughts traversed at the moment. Suspended there, she remained
heedless of the rest of the ceremonial Pacific Union Express train she was
aboard, of anything, in fact, beyond the small, sharply focused world of her

Forward of the private car, the giant
rested silently for the next day's journey; its
gargantuan wheels, pistons, concave-ribbed cowcatcher, glass-encased square
head lamp, and oversized conical stovepipe chimney ready. Waiting. Behind the
engine, a matching black coal-car; a wooden flatcar with low plank sidings made
up the third unit of the train. In the morning a polished laurelwood railroad
tie and a small crate containing a solid-gold spike would be placed aboard it,
along with two armed infantrymen.

In less than nine hours, in the morning,
several hundred prominent Californians would board the three wooden, cap-roofed
passenger cars. Politicians, judges, prosperous businessmen, lawyers, bankers,
railroad officials, and a few less successful but historically significant men
would accompany the laurel tie and solid-gold spike on a journey of nearly one
thousand miles. Their destination: Promontory Point, Utah, and the ceremony
commemorating the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.

But for Esther, sitting in the darkened
car, there were no thoughts of that historic moment. Another, more eagerly awaited
private ceremony and the small rolling stage upon which it would unfold
preoccupied her. Out of deference to the widow of William "Bull"
Carter, the late superintendent and silent partner of the Central Pacific,
Charles Crocker had offered his private car if she cared to take her husband's
place of honor at Promontory. Esther Cable Carter smiled in the darkness.
Crocker and the other three members of the railroad's powerful Big Four—Mark
Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Collis P. Huntington—had provided her with the
perfect setting.

Behind her, the red velvet curtain that
separated the two halves of the private car hung on brass rings encircling a
brass rod. Beyond it lay Charles Crocker's brass feather bed, private dining
table and chairs, small utility kitchen, pantry, and toilet. The windowed rear
door of the car, the studded metal observation platform and its runged,
three-and-a-half-foot iron-rail fence took shape in Esther's mind. Even in the
darkness she could picture every square inch of the area beyond the curtain,
every object in it, the door, the platform beyond, as clearly as though it were
lighted by the sun at noon.

Once more, slowly, she went over every
step, every act, every detail of what would transpire beyond the curtain during
the private ceremony she had planned. A ritual that would begin in deceptive
gentleness tonight and end with the brutal honesty of winter lightning

Satisfied, she let her thoughts drift
back to the present. She gazed through the window at the front door of the
Sierra Hotel. Someone sat rocking and smoking on the railed porch on the third
floor, but no one was on the one below it or near the entrance. Faint strains
of music and then the sound of applause, muffled by distance, wafted past her
from the Eldorado Theater. She could see a few figures moving about in
Kennedy's Saloon, but it was Tuesday night, and despite the festive spirit that
had gripped Sacramento all week, all but a few people were already at home or
asleep. For a moment, the irony of it struck her. There, in that hotel and in a
number of homes here in the thriving state capital, were more than half of the
people whose lives had significantly touched hers during the past twenty-five

Among them was John Augustus Sutter, who
had ridden in from his farm upriver to make the trip to Promontory. She shook
her head. For at least the hundredth time, the powers that be were exploiting
Sutter. He was the founding father of American California, or at least one of
them. But the only use they had for him now, even while he spent months, years
in Washington seeking to regain title to the vast lands he had once owned, was
to play upon his egocentricity and good nature, call him back to California,
and trot him out on display as if he were some prehistoric fossil. Whatever his
faults, Sutter deserved better, and he could not have been more important to
Esther had she been his daughter—or even his wife.

He had been there, at her side, when they
brought her, delirious and near death, her lips still crusted with human blood,
to Sutter's Fort early in 1847, after she had staggered down out of the
snow-choked Sierras. He had held Esther's right hand—tightly—while
"Doctor" John Marsh amputated two gangrenous, frostbitten fingers
from her left.

Esther touched absently now at the
cotton-packed pinky and third finger of the black glove on her left hand. She
sighed. Sutter was indeed more than a friend. He had imperiously refused Marsh
permission to cut off the tip of her frostbitten nose that day. The pale, scarcely
visible scar tissue remained, but as much as she hated the mark and often felt
the need to conceal it with a veil in public, it was far better than a tiny
stump between her nostrils. Beyond that, Sutter was the only one who had known
most of the truth from the beginning. The only one aware that Elizabeth Purdy
Todd, now known as Esther Cable Carter, had survived those indescribable weeks
in the mountains almost two dozen years earlier. He had never known the worst
of it. But he had helped her conceal what he did know, and he had kept her
secret all these years.

Billy Ralston had also helped her, in a
different way. The millionaire banker was smoking and rocking on the third
floor porch of the Sierra Hotel at this very moment; no doubt dreaming, Esther
guessed, of new ways to milk silver from the Comstock, further enrich himself,
and additionally enhance his beloved San Francisco. Billy had made her a second
fortune, greater by millions than her first. But tonight that mattered only
because it had helped place her in a position to dictate the events about to
unfold in this private car; and prevent, if all went according to plan, the
worst of those scheduled for Promontory.

Less than a mile away, Alexander Todd lay
asleep in the home Esther had sold him. She wondered what the future held for
them. He was still her husband, had been for twenty-four years, even though she
had married another man whose surname Todd's son bore. It had been a struggle
to get seven-year-old Todd Carter to bed tonight. The prospect of riding with
the engineer in
at least as far as Reno had kept him
rambunctious until the last minute, when he finally slumped in a chair by one
of the windows in her hotel suite. Esther felt no concern for him now. The
Indian woman,
watch over him until Esther returned, no matter how late it was.

Out there somewhere in the city, Lewis
Keseberg, half-deranged now in his declining years, would be pacing the floor
of his shabby little house, shouting at the top of his lungs, as Esther had
heard he did almost every night about midnight, insisting in one of four
languages that he had not murdered anyone that incredible winter a little more
than two decades ago. Esther did not believe or disbelieve him. But it really
didn't matter now. Most of those who had survived the endless weeks in the
snow, herself included, had done what they had to do. They had eaten the flesh
of men and women, even some of the children who had succumbed to the starvation
and the cold. Keseberg may have been grossly indiscreet, indeed grotesque, in
his recounting and exploitation of the experience through the years, but it was
a wonder any of them who had come down out of those forbidding mountains had
retained sanity enough to speak at all, let alone discreetly. None of it
mattered any longer. What did matter was that after all the years of her
hearing stories about Keseberg, he had chanced to learn that Luther Mosby, the
man she now waited for, planned to kill Alexander Todd at Promontory. Keseberg
had gone straight to his old friend Sutter with the information, and Sutter had
come to her. What mattered even more was that Mosby would be on this particular
train when it left Sacramento tomorrow. He was in the Sierra Hotel right now.
He would be standing before her in minutes, unknowingly joining her in the
first, purposely misleading phase of the ritual she had waited so long to

For a moment she wished that Alex Todd
had listened to her. She wished that he was not making the trip in the morning
with the rest of them. But he was probably right. If Mosby did not try to kill
him at Promontory, it would be at someplace else.

So it was in her hands again, as it had
been off and on for twenty-two years. Since the day in the Sierras she had
later written about on a predated page of her leatherbound journal. The page,
inscribed more than two decades ago in her own exquisitely delicate hand, that
"If it is the last thing I do on this earth, I will see Luther
Mosby either ruined or dead."

BOOK: California Woman (Daughters of the Whirlwind Book 1)
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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