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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
Dawn Trowell Jones updated their profile
Nov 24
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Rob Neufeld commented on Mark de Castrique's video
Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Burnsville novelist explores Old West serial murders

by Rob Neufeld

[See full interview with Charles Price]


            Charles Price—originally of Clay County; then of Washington, D.C.; and now of Burnsville—has never been politically correct, as far as I know.

            Nor has he ever been a sensationalist.  His quartet of novels set in fictionalized Clay County from the Civil War up through the early 20th century portray, with penetrating honesty, a wide range of low and high characters involved in historical conflicts. 

In this way, his work is most akin to the novels of John Ehle.

            His fifth published novel, “Nor the Battle to the Strong,” reveals his heroic temperament, as he follows the exploits and thoughts of a Quaker Revolutionary War general and a local private. 

            Lately, he has turned to westerns, which means they’re set in the Old West, a place to which he’d originally formed an attraction as a kid, watching Roy Rogers on TV, he revealed in an interview.


Season of Terror


            Today, Price settles in the saddle of his office chair with more philosophy and grit than “True Grit.” 

            His new book, “Season of Terror,” the first thorough examination of the Espinosas, serial murderers in Civil War-era Colorado, contains horror and tragedy, but also moments of grace and scene-circling post-mortems.

            Price has as many questions as answers as he tries to avoid the traps of interpretation.  Such traps had led the relatives and neighbors of the Espinosas’ mutilated victims to form a posse and hang and torture innocent suspects.

            It seems that Price, throughout his career, has exerted a minister’s attempt to bring full understanding to communities seized by worst case scenarios.

            I asked him how he got attracted to his latest subject.

            One day in the 1990s, he told me, he was leafing through a book about Old West firearms, when he saw “a photograph of a man dressed in a fancy, fringed buckskin coat, holding a percussion-cap Hawken plains rifle.” 

            The caption said it was of a plainsman named Tom Tobin who had killed and beheaded two of the Espinosas.  (No spoiler alerts in non-fiction!)

            “Despite my familiarity with the history of the frontier,” Price explained, “I had never heard of Tobin or the Espinosas and immediately wanted to know more of the story.”  He came to learn that no reliable book-length account of the episode existed, so he went on a hunt.  

            “The more sources I found,” he related, “the more fascinating the story became.  Because the Espinosas were Hispanic and devout Catholics and had announced that their purpose was to kill all the Anglos in Colorado Territory, the incident raised all sorts of religious, ethnic and political issues, some of which have resonance today.”


Posse time


            Now, let’s back up—because “Season of Terror” has fiction-like, suspenseful elements.  There’s a progression and there are resonances.

            In his introduction, Price outlines the story: three Mexican-Americans—the Espinosa brothers, Felipe and José, and their nephew, José Vincente—killed and mutilated 32 victims before being exterminated eight months after their spree had started. 

            Many reasons have been proposed for the Espinosas’ barbarity.  One of the compelling factors is that, two months before the first act of terrorism (is it accurate to call it that?), the Espinosas, New Mexico natives, “were assaulted in their homes by troops of the US Army.  Before then, they appear to have been no more dangerous than run-of-the-mill, small-time bandidos.”

            Does the connection to modern day jihads provide “sufficient reasons to pluck the dread Espinosas from the dustbin of history and parade their massacres before the reader?” 

            Price answers yes—“not simply because the Espinosas were verifiably the worst serial killers in frontier history,” but also because “theories and ideologies can never explain everything, that in the final analysis the human heart is always an insoluble mystery.”


Vendetta and vengeance


            Chapter 1 reveals the first murder.  Henry Harkens, a 55-year-old former gold prospector, who had settled the “wildly beautiful but brooding and lonely” Saw Mill Gulch, was found dead in his cabin, “his head split open with an ax and two ugly gashes in his left breast.”

            By Chapter 3, we are hearing all the chatter—witnesses, lawmen, newspapermen, rumor-mongers—as a cavalryman’s brother becomes the latest victim.  The killers’ identities are still unknown; a lynching sentiment forms.

            You feel like you’re reading a combination of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” and Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”  Except that “Season of Terror” is history and essay, and keeps stepping back to examine not only the evidence but also the historiography.

            In the final chapters, Price lays out a series of multiple endings for his story. 

            First, there’s the plot-driven ending: Tom Tobin kills and decapitates the Espinosas.  Then there’s a focus on Tobin’s character—a surprising tale of tenderness lurking within a hardened man.

            By the way, Price presents a great photo of Tobin, as well as photos of other subjects, including the brooding setting.

            Three chapters follow the Tobin chapters—one featuring a puzzling historian; a second serving as a postscript on Tobin; and the third and last discussing “alternate theories.”


Fiction v. non-fiction


            I asked Price about the novelistic aspects of his non-fiction.

            “I actually first took up the Espinosa story as a novelist,” Price revealed.  “I wrote a mammoth 600-page manuscript entitled ‘Blood Offerings.’…I still hope, if ‘Season of Terror’ does well, that I might be able to sell the novel eventually.”

            “After completing ‘Blood Offerings,’” Price continued, “I decided that, since I had found no single authoritative historical source on the Espinosas, I would try to write the history source that I had sought but never found during my research for the novel.”

            How does his history book compare to his fictional treatment?

            “The novel has multiple endings too,” Price said.  Also, “the cast of characters in both books is so diverse and representative of the races and social standings of the time and place, it seems like a cross-section of frontier life to me.

            “I was especially drawn to the female characters in the novel—Felipe's crippled but beautiful wife Secundina; Tobin's adoring wife Maria Pascuala; and his mistress, Dominga, with one foot in the Navajo world and one in the Anglo-Hispano world of Tobin. 

            “I used one of the real-life hunters for the Espinosas as a major character in the novel— Fremont County Sheriff Egbert Bradley, who is fascinated and repelled by the possible motives of the killers and ends by being drawn into their world. 

            “The real-life destinies are so much more poignant than anything I could have invented,” he concluded.



Season of Terror: The Espinosa’s in Central Colorado, March-October 1863 by Charles F. Price (University Press of Colorado hardcover, May 2013, 351 pages, $34.95).



Charles Price presents his book at Malaprop’s Bookstore today at 3 p.m.  Call 254-6734.  He will be a featured author at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville, Sept. 6 – 8.



See the complete interview with Price on “The Read on WNC.”  See Price’s blog, including a report on his recent book tour in Colorado, on his website at

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