Thermopylae. Masada. Agincourt.
And now, Haxan, New Mexico.
We go where we’re sent. We have names and we stand against that which must be faced.
Through a sea of time and dust, in places that might never be, or can’t become until something is set right, there are people destined to travel. Forever.
I am one.
--Marshal John T. Marwood
What is Haxan about?
Some of them move upstream through time and dust and blood. There are others who walk against the flow. When they meet there’s a violence that must be faced and overcome.
Haxan is such a meeting place.
This world, everything around you and everything you can’t see, is like a vast sea. And within this sea of blood and dust, in places that might never be, or can’t become until something is set right, there are people destined to travel forever.
People like John Marwood.
They are taken from places they call home and sent into this stormy sea to calm the waters. It’s an eternal war. It never ends because the storm itself, the unending conflict, makes the world we know a reality. Along with all the other worlds that might be waiting to be born.
Or were born but died like a guttering candle in the eternal night....
HOW I CREATED HAXAN
Where do you get your ideas?
Every writer hears this question at least once in his life. More often than not it's the one question he gets most often.
The dirty little secret of the writing world is that ideas are rather easy to come by. That's the easy part. It's the writing that is difficult. Even so, there is no way I will ever have enough time to write all the stories for all the ideas I have accumulated. And, yes, I do keep a list of ideas because there are so many even I can't remember them all.
When I'm ready to write a story I check the list and see what I have. As I matured as a writer I came to learn not every idea is equal. Some are better than others. Some might be good for one market, but not acceptable for another. You have to weigh your options and be dispassionate about it. But, most of the time, I let the story decide whether or not it will ever be written. Some stories are like that. They clamor for attention and demand growth.
Haxan was that way.
You see, I had been listening to old time radio programs on the Internet and fell in love with them. The old Tarzan serials, X Minus One, Suspense and others were on my MP3 player and I never went a day without listening to four or five. One day I opened up the Gunsmoke file. I listened to the first show ever broadcast and was hooked for life.
Gunsmoke was written and created by John Meston. He wanted to create an adult Western that challenged all the myths. Just listening to the pace and the dialogue and the characterization was great stuff to a writer like myself. So, of course, it wasn't long before I, too, wanted to write a Western, but with a dark fantasy slant.
That's how Haxan was born.
Looking over my first notes I see that the town of Haxan was originally called Hex, New Mexico. Possibly this was an homage to Jonah Hex, the comic book Western about a nihilistic bounty hunter. But it wasn't long before I saw a Swedish connection and I knew the town had to be called Haxan because that's the Swedish word for witches, and it's also the name of an excellent silent movie about witches and witchcraft. I liked that connection.
Now witches per se never played a big role in the first story, or any of the subsequent stories. But the name HAXAN served to import a sense of unusual mystery to these tales.
Looking over my original notes I see some other little funny things. I had Magra's name as Sugarberry instead of Snowberry and she was Italian instead of half-Navajo. Marwood's Colt Dragoon had a black handle rather than the yellow bone handle we know today. And Marwood didn't even start off as Marwood, but as some guy named Frank Toland.
But when you get right down to it, the old radio show Gunsmoke and John Meston's superb writing got me to thinking about doing a Western in the first place. I wanted to follow the same vein as Meston: adult, violent, no-nonsense, but include noir and gothic elements to help bring the mystic town of Haxan, and its inhabitants, alive to the reader.
COLT DRAGOON -- The Weapon
U.S. Marshal John Marwood primarily uses a .44-caliber Colt Dragoon. This is a single-action pistol. That means he has to cock the trigger back every time he shoots. He can't stand there pulling on the trigger and blasting willy nilly like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers or some other cartoonish character on television. He has to stand under the returning fire of his opponent, cock his gun and aim. And the guy across the plaza has to do the same thing. The type of six gun you see in Lone Ranger episodes and the like didn't exist until much later in the century.
Sometimes a man would "fan" the trigger, but this was rarely done because you couldn't really hit anything. Better to take your time, aim well, and fire. Though gunfights themselves were extremely rare in the West, the man who aimed the straightest often beat the man who drew the fastest. That was the reality of the world back then, even in the world of Haxan. Speed was helpful...but aim was better. And since Marwood uses a Colt Dragoon, a fairly heavy gun even for 1874, it's his aim and not his speed that wins the day. So far, anyway.
The Colt Dragoon was a popular gun during the Civil War and afterward. Wild Bill Hickock and other persons of that era also carried it. The gun wasn't loaded with cartridges you see on gun belts in movies. It was a ball and powder pistol fired with a percussion cap. Though the cylinder has six holes drilled into it, Marwood only loads his gun with five. The hammer is kept on an empty chamber for safety purposes. Only if he has time before he goes into action will he load that sixth chamber. (Most gunfighters did this. They figured if you can't kill someone with five rounds a sixth isn't going to help. You'll be dead by then anyway.)
As with most people who use a gun like this, Marwood reloads it every morning. Moisture in the night air can dampen the gunpowder and cause a misfire. (Admittedly, this was less likely to happen in the desert where the humidity is low.) It was smart tactics to reload your gun every morning for the day. And as powder, conical slug and percussion cap cost about eight cents each, this added up to a lot of money, about $2.40 a month. That's not chicken feed, and when you add in the cost of practice then it really mounts up.
People often used rifles and shotguns to hunt and protect themselves back then, even in Haxan. But they were under NO illusion as to what a revolver was for. It was made to kill people. It had no other use and people of the West understood this. Guns -- revolvers -- were made to kill other human beings. That was their main function. Men, and not a few women, didn't purchase revolvers and plink away at cans and bottles just for laughs.
One last note. Often you see movies and old shows from the 1950s get the terms "gunman" and "gunfighter" mixed up. They aren't interchangeable. A "gunman" is a bad guy or someone who sells his gun for murder. A "gunfighter" is someone who is working on the side of the law. The men and women of the real West knew this difference and would never have confused the two terms.
Whether Marwood is a "gunman" or a "gunfighter" is left to the reader to decide.
Below is a pic of a Colt Dragoon. This is very similar to the one Marwood uses, except his sports a "yellow bone" handle. Once again, I'll leave it to the reader to imagine what kind of bone it might have been.
SHARPS RIFLE -- the Long Gun
Marshal Marwood's rifle of choice is a Sharps, or what is more popularly known today as a "buffalo gun." First patented in 1848 and designed by Christian Sharps it quickly became the rifle of choice on the frontier.
The Sharps was a versatile large-bore rifle that could handle a variety of calibers from .40 to .50 including different loading and barrel styles. The most common barrel was octagonal. They were single-shot guns with one black powder cartridge. But one shot was all you needed. A 50-caliber slug with enough black powder behind it could reach a target over 1000 yards away with killing power.
It was, perhaps more than any other gun, the premier killing rifle on the frontera.
These rifles were extremely accurate as shown by buffalo hunters and frontiersmen alike. Marwood often grabs his Sharps from the gun rack when he leaves his office in Haxan. Not that he expect to fire it, but the heavy octagonal barrel can do real damage if laid across someone's scalp. Conversely, the heavy wooden stock slammed into a drunk cowboy's stomach, throat or groin, will also get his attention.
One last note. This is the rifle Marwood used to rescue Magra Snowberry in the first story. It has rarely left his side since that bloody day.
Below is a picture of a Sharps rifle. The gun Marwood used would have been very similar to this one.
Marwood's Horse -- The Blue Roan
Marshal John T. Marwood rides a blue roan named Acheron. A roan is a horse with white and pigmented hairs that don't gray as the animal ages. In a blue roan the mane, tail and legs remain black while the rest of the horse takes on a bluish quality. Blue roans are often mistaken for grays but they are not the same even though it is a slight distinction.
Acheron has been specially trained. He is a stallion, and sometimes hard to handle, so upon occasion Marwood has to "give him his head and let him run." Acheron has also been trained to fight. He can "make room when he wants to make room" when in the midst of other horses. He will bite or kick in battle when his blood is up, but otherwise remains gentle.
Marwood, as you might expect, takes great care of this animal. He sometimes lets Piebald, the little boy who works at the Livery Stable, walk and feed his horse when he has to stay in his office or do his rounds in Haxan.
Contrary to popular belief most people on the frontier didn't name their horses. They were primarily beasts of burden and nothing more. So why Marwood named his particular animal "Acheron" and what meaning or context that name has, or if it has anything at all to do with Greek Mythology and one of the five rivers of the underworld known as "the river of pain" well, that has yet to be determined.
Below is a picture of a blue roan. Acheron would have looked very similar to this extraordinary animal.
There is blood on that brow;
HAXAN GEAR is now for sale through CafePress. Buy mugs, tote bags, clocks, throw pillows or other cool stuff. Enjoy!
HAXAN is being podcast by Beneath Ceaseless Skies!
Where can I read the Haxan stories?
The Western Online has published my new Haxan story "Till Death Do Us Part" so I hope you enjoy it!
"In the Image of Our Maker" is a NEW Haxan story published by The Western Online. Hope you like it!
"High Moon" has just been published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Hope you like it.
"White Hawk" is another story about U.S. Marshal John Marwood. It appears in Frontier Tales Magazine. Enjoy!
"Grand Guignol" is now appearing in the online magazine Darker!
"Tombstone" now up at The Western Online. Doc Holliday makes an appearance!
"Vengeance is Mine" the new Haxan story featuring Magra Snowberry can be read NOW in the Beauty Has Her Way anthology!
"Redemption Bound" now available at Frontier Tales!
"In One Stride Comes the Dark", a brand new Haxan story, appears in the anthology The Beast Within 2.
"Alpenglow" is a brand new Haxan story available from Argo Navis Publishing. Check it out!
Want more Haxan? The short story "Wuthering" is released by Argo Navis publishing!
Another Haxan story, "Rado" published by The Western Online!
More Haxan News!
Don't forget to read the blog post by Mary-Grace Ellington at Apex Book Company about "Lessons Learned in Haxan."
I have sold another Haxan story, "Vengeance is Mine" to the Beauty Has Her Way anthology!
My story "Phaedra" appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine!
John Thaddeus Marwood
(b. ? - d. ?) Very little is known about this man’s early life. The first clear record we have is of a Private J. Thaddeus Marwoode who served with the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers. “Marwoode” fought and was wounded in Glorieta Pass. Later, he left the Union Army (there is some question whether he deserted or was released) rather than participate in the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864.
The next full record we have is of a John T. Marwood being appointed U.S. Marshal by the War Department in Washington D.C. The order was signed by Secretary of War William Worth Belknap in May, 1871 and filed with the U.S. Marshal’s Office in St. Louis the following year. Marwood was assigned to Montana Territory where it is believed he “killed a lot of men” in the line of duty. He was subsequently transferred to Haxan, New Mexico in the spring of 1874 and for a time was the only U.S. Marshal serving in that region.
Often seen wearing a grey duster and carrying a yellow bone handle Colt Dragoon, Marwood kept law and order in one of the most lawless towns ever to see the light of day. He had few friends and confidants other than his deputy, Jake Strop, and Magra Snowberry who is said to be the only woman he ever loved.
Nothing else is known about this man or his life.
Tarn “Shiner” Larsen was born in Stockholm on All Hallows’ Eve, 1825. Wanting to escape famine, Larsen and his half-sister, Tea, pooled their money, bought passage on the Christina, and sailed to America. They landed in New Orleans in 1847 where Larsen picked up the appellation “Shiner” from his tall tales regarding protective spirits and ghosts, including his ability to “night-walk” people in their sleep. In 1850 Larsen accompanied Tea to Chicago where she married and found work as a seamstress. She had two children, Klara and Freja.
But in the winter of 1851 Larsen left Chicago and made his way West seeking a life far from the clutter of civilization. Years passed before he came upon a desolate county in the territory of New Mexico and felt called to settle there. He married a Navaho maiden named Black Sky. A daughter, Magra Snowberry, was born to them the following spring. Larsen built a sun-baked shack for his new family and named the place Haxan which means the witches in Swedish. He believed the land held secrets only he could fathom.
After the Santa Fe Railroad built a spur some distance from Larsen’s shack a booming cattle town took shape. Most of the people viewed Larsen either with suspicion or quiet bemusement. He died in 1874, twenty years to the day he founded Haxan. He was survived by his daughter.
Margarethe Louise Snowberry is the daughter of “Shiner” Larsen and a Navajo maiden called Black Sky. She was born in late spring on a day of snow, considered uncommon for that season but interpreted by Larsen as a sign of Great Medicine.
At the age of nine Magra was sent East to be educated. While she was gone her mother died on The Long Walk to Fort Sumner where the Navajo people were being forced by the U.S. government on what was then the largest reservation ever attempted. Though married to a European, it is thought Black Sky went with her people to show solidarity. Black Sky visited Magra in her sleep that night and told her she had passed. When Magra returned to Haxan as a young woman she helped teach Native American children on reservations and worked with her father, now a broken man, to “dry farm” until his death. Her knowledge of the desert was immense and it is believed she adopted her parents’ ability to “night-walk”under special circumstances.
One historical note: Though hers is the first name registered in Haxan birth records, the county official, a notorious drunkard, misspelled it as “Maghra”. The birth certificate survives to this day. It is part of a private collection in Las Cruces and rarely shown to the public.
Originally from Lubbock where there was nothing but “dirt, starved cattle and chiggers” Jake Strop hired on to ride drag for the Circle C Ranch. After the war, cattle in Texas were going for four dollars a head but sold north for twenty. In 1874 Jake and seven other men pushed one of the first big trail herds into Haxan. After being paid off by the trail boss (and losing his wages at a crooked faro table that same night) Jake was hired to act as deputy for U.S. Marshal John Marwood.
A fair horseman and slow on the draw, Jake was a straight shot as long as he had “time enough to aim.” Steadfast, loyal, and barely able to read and write, he deeply idolized Marshal Marwood believing he, more than any other man, could bring peace to Haxan and make it a decent place to live.
Wife of “Shiner” Larsen and mother to Magra Snowberry, Black Sky was the third daughter of a Navajo chieftain whose name has become lost to us. She died during The Long Walk in 1864. There is confusion whether she passed away from consumption or fighting off a Mescalero raid. In any event her teachings live on through her daughter. Her influence on her family, and Haxan itself, cannot be underestimated.
Few personal details are known about this extraordinary woman. She was instrumental in Larsen’s education regarding frontier life and basic desert survival after he came into the territory. It is believed by some Black Sky taught Larsen how to “night-walk” even though he almost certainly possessed this ability beforehand. What is more likely is she helped Larsen manage his innate ability and develop it fully.
Black Sky was a stern and demanding teacher. She imparted her full knowledge of the desert to Magra, including trapping and hunting and tracking skills. Later, after Magra was sent east to be schooled she is known to have said: “Our daughter is born of two worlds. She must learn to walk both without slipping.”
Many people maintain Black Sky was speaking about the Navajo and European world. But given the type of woman she was, the things she believed, and Haxan itself, Black Sky might have had other worlds in mind.
Doctor Rex Toland
A tall man in his late forties, sporting mutton chop whiskers, steel-framed eyeglasses and a trademark chemical-stained black frock coat, Doc Toland is a common sight to the people in Haxan.
After getting into some “minor administrative trouble” in an Atlanta hospital – which had more to do with the hospital director’s wife, a moonlit night and a shotgun -- Dr. Toland gathered up his pills and his forceps and came West, eventually settling in Haxan, New Mexico. One of the first residents, Toland saw Haxan change from a sleepy little New Mexican town into a rough and tumble Gomorrah.
Good at his job (when he’s not caked-out on laudanum) Toland is liked and respected by most people in Sangre County. He is the only doctor in four thousand square miles so he keeps pretty busy setting broken bones, applying poultices and delivering the odd baby. He is also the only coroner in Sangre County. As a result Toland finds himself well-steeped in coroner’s fees, and a blizzard of paperwork, ever since John Marwood assumed his position as U.S. Marshal.
Hew and Alma Jean Clay
Hew Clay met and married Alma Jean Vickers, a freckle-faced strawberry blonde who was pure Pennsylvania Dutch, in 1855. She was a precocious girl with a quick tongue and flashing eyes. But the calm demeanor and measured speech of Hew Clay, a failed businessman from New York, softened her heart and drew her inexplicably toward him.
They were married against the wishes of her parents and bought a farm in Kentucky. After three years of failed crops they sought help from Alma Jean’s family to see them through the winter. Having never forgiven her for “marrying down” they ignored her pleas. Broke and starving, Hew and Alma Jean packed everything they had and wandered across country, finding work and saving money when they could. They finally reached Haxan and decided to homestead in this terrible, raw country.
They purchased a plot of land, dug for water and raised stock. They had a boy the following year who died of scarlet fever. The same fever almost killed Alma Jean and rendered her unable to have any more children. When the Civil War ended Hew learned a railroad spur was going to be built across his property to handle the cattle drives streaming north out of Texas. Seeing their opportunity at last he and Alma Jean sold their place to the Sante Fe Railroad, took out a separate loan from a Las Cruces bank (the Haxan bank didn’t have the requisite funds) and began to build their hotel.
After the Haxan Hotel was completed Alma Jean disappeared. She had gone to dig up her son’s grave before the ground was covered forever by the railroad. She rode through the night with the little skeleton all the way to the top of Cottonwood Butte. When Hew asked her about it the next day she explained she “wanted her baby to be nearer to heaven because Haxan is too close to Hell.”