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El Cobre! An Historical Novel

By Catherine Holder Spude

Cobre, copper.  A country can't fight Indians without brass cannon and cartridges. A woman can't cook a meal without a copper pot. A nation can't have an economy without millions of copper pennies. In 1872, the richest copper in the world comes from New Mexico, from the Santa Rita del Cobre. 

Michael Hawke travels from Colorado to New Mexico to acquire the richest copper mine in the known world. Nothing will stop him until the Santa Rita del Cobre belongs to him and his investors. When he sets himself a task, not assassins, not Apaches, not illusive deeds, not the law itself will stand in his way. And once Hawke has master-minded a plan, nothing can change it. Not even the love of his life will swerve him from his chosen path.


Soledad San Diego de Juarez has loved Antonio Valdez since she was a child, but her brothers and her uncle value her dowry more than her wishes. Carlos Juarez gives them four cattle and two horses for her, so she marries a man whose cruelty kills their first child. When Antonio seeks to comfort her, he finds a knife in his gut. The priest and the alcalde would have absolved Juarez had Tony died. Only with the help of an old Apache woman does he live. Soledad's only hope is the return of el patrón, an impartial judge, one who is not related to anyone in Santa Rita, a man who can make things happen, quietly, quickly, without question. Hawke comes to Santa Rita, and Carlos perishes.


Antonio Valdez thinks Soledad will be his, only to find she has turned to el patrón, Hawke, instead, as a student seeks a teacher in learning once again the ways of passion, but from one who shows no emotion. Hawke and Soledad both promise him she will be his one day, that she will bear his children, for Hawke will inevitably leave Santa Rita. So for the love of Soledad and that of his patrón, Tony stands by their sides through the struggle to wrestle the Santa Rita from the hundreds of squatters who occupy the valley, as Hawke seeks to clear the deed to the Spanish land grant.


Based on the true story of the efforts of Coloradoan capitalists to consolidate the American ownership of the Santa Rita copper mine, ¡El Cobre! delves into the rich borderland culture of southwestern New Mexico and explores the strengths of its indomitable people, Hispanic, Apache and Anglo.



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El Cobre,

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[an excerpt]




TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 1872.  Hawke stopped on the boardwalk outside Ben Doogan’s Dusty Rose Saloon just as the sun set in a blaze of fire at the end of the street. What was it about Texas? Even the heavens felt obliged to prove other places inferior by comparison. He watched the few clouds on the horizon turn reddish orange against the impossibly blue sky. Of course, that was New Mexico out there, where the sun was setting. It wasn’t Texas at all. This dusty street might be in El Paso, but where the sun had just disappeared lay a copper mine that Hawke meant to be his some day, the Santa Rita del Cobre. The rich glow in those clouds came from New Mexico, not Texas.

This saloon was a cut above the usual, for El Paso. He’d been in it once already. Dirt packed floors, rough wooden benches pulled up under the unfinished tables, a squeaky piano with some of the keys missing. The piano made it better than the usual, the piano and the tables and the quality of the whiskey. He didn’t think Doogan cut the whiskey with anything but water, and not much of that. He’d chosen it deliberately. He wanted something more than just a place to wet a dusty throat and to warm a cold thigh. He needed information. For the kind of information Hawke wanted, he had to come to a place with some class. The Dusty Rose fit the bill, or so David had told him.

He could have found a tasteful place across the border in Paso del Norte, if that’s what he wanted, a saloon with crystal chandeliers, red leather and dark cherry wood. Paso del Norte had ten thousand people, dons, their doñas, fine gambling parlors, politicians who knew how to treat a man with respect and finesse. But he needed information. They wouldn’t have what he required. He looked for the title to the Santa Rita. He was sure it was here in this little hell hole called El Paso. Hawke had already searched, and failed to find it, in Paso del Norte.

He paused only a moment to squint through the gloom of low light and cigar smoke to locate the men he came to meet. There they were, near the back. The bar lay off to the right, as expected, gaming tables to the left.

As he moved past the gamblers, Senator Fontaine caught his eye and motioned him over to his table near the back of the room. Hawke recognized Judge Conley with him, and smiled. The two New Yorkers, Hawke had heard, were the best of friends, had started an Episcopal church in an abandoned adobe building and already had wrested control of El Paso from the Spanish dons who used to own the city. If anyone knew if the title to the Santa Rita Land Grant sat in El Paso, these men did.

Hawke removed his hat, smoothing his thick hair, which had only started to turn gray at the temples. He sat at the senator’s invitation. He and the men at the table had just launched into the civil niceties expected of such a meeting when a tall, lean man sauntered to the table. His steely eyes bored through Senator Fontaine. He ignored Hawke and Conley.

“Damn you sonnuva bitch, Fontaine. I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you ‘round this place again. You done me wrong. I don’t have to keep lookin’ at you every time I wanna’ buy a drink.”

Hawke expected a hush to fall over the gambling crowd, but no one appeared to notice. Apparently this man and his feud with the senator was well known. “Mr. Wilson, I suggest you leave, if you don’t like my patronage of the Dusty Rose. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have important matters to discuss.” Fontaine turned away from the drunken man contemptuously.

Wilson slammed his hand down in front of Fontaine, but turned his reeking breath into Hawke’s face. “Like the deed to the Santa Rita? I hear you been asking a lot of questions about that land grant, haven’t you, Mr. Hawke?” He stood back, crossing his arms. “Well, I’m not so sure I’m very happy about you and Mr. Moffatt and Senator Chaffee knowing anything at all about the Santa Rita.”

He took one more step back, drew a small derringer out of his pocket, and fired three times at Hawke. As the first shot went off, the Senator grabbed up his cane, pummeling Wilson with it. The first bullet pierced Hawke’s left arm. The second sliced through five letters before his watch stopped it, just above his heart. The third grazed his right temple, leaving a glorious rivulet of blood that impressed every man in the saloon. Not one wound left him unconscious. None crippled him. All of them infuriated him.

The saloon burst into chaos. The gamblers, once so complacent about Wilson, now watched in obvious disbelief as he escaped through a back door. Fontaine shouted to Conley to get up a posse and go after him. Hawke tore off his jacket and tried to bind up his own wounds, pushing aside an overly helpful mejeza who just got in the way. He did grab a couple of towels that she brought him, and tearing them up, finally got the blood out of his left eye.

“Who is that bastard?” he barked at Fontaine, above the general bedlam.

“Benjamin Wilson. Member of the Texas syndicate that’s buying up Santa Rita.”

“I’ll eat him alive,” growled Hawke as he allowed a scowl to mar his usually expressionless face, and his steely blue eyes flashed with an uncharacteristic anger. “No one walks up to Michael Hawke, tries to gun him down and lives to talk about it.”

Silently fuming, the blood still oozing from his left arm, he managed to walk coolly out of the swinging doors.


Fifteen minutes later, Hawke felt as cool as he looked, which meant Wilson was already a walking corpse. Judge Conley had convinced him he should come to his home where his wife had bound up the arm, then the judge let him borrow his M1867 Werndl, an infantry rifle with much greater accuracy than the Colt revolver that Hawke carried at his hip. Hawke did not want to chance missing the shot, so agreed to the rifle. Then he joined Conley on the street.

“I get the shot, Judge. No one else,” he stated in a tone that brooked no argument.

The judge appraised him coolly. “You get two shots. Then its open season,” he countered.

Hawke nodded, knowing he wouldn’t need two shots.


Hawke watched Fontaine walk into the third dive, Los Cajones. The old man they had talked to down the street said he had seen the Texan in there. Fontaine would send him out. The words came clearly through the swinging doors.

“Hawke is looking for you, asshole. You shouldn’t have missed. You’ll be dead within the hour,” he drawled in a conversational tone.

“Up yours, Senator,” Wilson replied, equally sanguine. Hawke could barely see into the dim interior, but he thought that the Texan stood, drawing the eyes of his distrustful political rival to him. A swift upper cut to Fontaine’s jaw laid Hawke’s colleague on the floor.

Tex” flipped a silver dollar to the bartender. “For your trouble in cleaning up the mess.” He sauntered to the door, his thumbs stuck in his belt.

A crowd had gathered in the street. “Tex” smirked at them, as if they came to cheer their hero, the next territorial senator from El Paso. Then his eyes fell on Judge Conley at the head of a small group of men. The smirk turned into a broad grin.

“Think you can take me in, Judge?” he chuckled.

He reached for his coat pocket, where the derringer had lain earlier. A shot rang out and blood spouted from the Texan’s right hand. Wilson stared at it blankly, and then turned his gaze to the man standing on Judge Conley’s left.

“Hawke,” he stated flatly.

“I’ll own the Santa Rita,” Hawke growled.

“Over my dead body,” laughed the Texan.

“So be it,” pronounced Hawke. He raised the Werndl to his waist and fired, apparently without aiming. “TexWilson fell to the ground, blood blossoming from his chest.


Doc Larson plunked the lead pellet into an earthenware dish, and then sloshed some alcohol onto the open wound on Hawke’s arm. Hawke gritted his teeth, but didn’t let so much as a moan escape. The laudanum must be starting to work. The blasted hole had been boring a throbbing cavity through his biceps all morning. Now it simply felt like a red-hot poker had pierced him. The alcohol provided a sort of relief. He almost welcomed the change in the quality of the pain. The doc started to sew up the underlying muscle.

“So, what you doing in El Paso?” the doctor asked, as if passing the time of day.

The normally reticent Hawke found himself answering, the laudanum loosening his tongue. “I’m going to buy the largest copper mine in the world, and I need the title to make sure its mine,” Hawke stated, succinctly.

“You that rich? I cost a lot to a rich man.” Doc’s eyes gleamed.

“It’s not my money. David Moffatt, the banker in Denver, and Jerome Chaffee, the Colorado Senator, they sent me here. It’s Moffat’s money. I’m the brains, he’s the cash. Chaffee is the power. We divide all profits, three ways. I can’t lose.”

Hawke didn’t brag. He told the simple truth. He had more smarts than Moffatt and Chaffee possessed in combination. The two of them knew it and trusted him implicitly. Michael Hawke would get them the Santa Rita, and they would own the copper of the New World in addition to Colorado’s gold.

“Copper. Why would two men like David Moffatt and Jerome Chaffee want copper?” Larson asked.

Cobre, copper. A country can’t fight Indians without brass cannon and cartridges, a woman can’t cook a meal without a copper pot, a nation can’t have an economy without millions of copper pennies,” Hawke explained. “The richest copper in the world comes from New Mexico, from the Santa Rita del Cobre. Why do you think America fought so hard to win the Mexican War, to get this sorry, sun-baked land? The men who rule Santa Rita rules the nation. Moffatt, Chaffee and I plan to be those men.”

“You think you can pull this off, huh?” Larson grinned.

“I know I can. All it takes is a good plan, money and patience. The Santa Rita will be mine.”

The doctor snipped the last of the excess cat gut hanging from Hawke’s arm. Already the pain began to subside, with the wound no longer open and gaping. Larson began to wrap it with gauze.

“Title to the land grant, should you find it, won’t do you much good,” the doctor cautioned.

“How’s that?” Hawke asked, unconcerned.

Doc Larson handed him a newspaper. “Look on page two,” he suggested.

The article was brief. The Silver City attorney, Horace Ogden, had recently published a copy of the new 1872 Mining Law in the local newspaper, which allowed a man to stake a claim, record it and start mining it without proof of title. The law had caused a claim rush to the Santa Rita valley. An area judge, Julius Wade, had declared the law invalid because of the land grant, but the Anglo miners ignored him. Half the valley had been staked, and more of it disappeared daily.

“Yeah, Mr. Ogden and I have an understanding,” Hawke assured the doctor, rotating his left shoulder to test the usability of his arm. “I’ve planned for this. A smart man doesn’t use only one way of accomplishing his goal. I know what I’m doing.”

He slapped the paper on the table as he jumped to the floor. “What do I owe you, Doc?”

The doctor grinned. “Nothing, Hawke. It’s been a pleasure meeting you. Send Mr. Moffatt my way the next time he’s in El Paso, when he builds the railroad terminal here. I’ll settle up with him.”

Hawke grinned and shook Larson’s hand, slapped his hat on his head, and sauntered out the door, already thinking about his upcoming trip to Santa Fe.




FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 1872. Antonio swept his bride across his threshold and with ease set her on her feet amid billows of white satin and lace. The veil fell across her face, and he pulled it aside with trembling fingers, brushing her cheek as he did so. Soledad looked deep into his smoldering eyes, losing herself once again. How many times in her dreams had she given herself to this man? Now that he possessed her in the eyes of the church, he could possess her the way they had both longed for since the day of her quincetenario, the celebration of her fifteenth birthday, when her aunt and uncle declared her a woman and of marriageable age. At that time, the whole village had known that Soledad and Antonio would wed. Now that he had become crew boss at the Santa Rita mine, he felt he could support her and the children that would come.

She trembled in unison at his touch, having desired it for so long. A stolen kiss, a caress of her tightly braided and bound hair, a hand on her elbow as he escorted her to mass on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, that was all she had felt of his strong hands and sensuous lips. Her body told her how much more he had to offer her. His yearning gaze, his naked torso, made strong and muscular by the work in the mines, glistening with sweat when the men washed after a shift in the mines, even the flutter of the pulse at the base of his throat made her ache with a desire to hold him, to feel that chest against her breasts, to do what Tía and Tío did late at night under their blankets, to make the same muffled cries of joy, that she heard from her aunt, to give him the children they both knew they would create of their love.

And now, finally, he could touch her all the places they both longed for him to know. His lips found hers, in a kiss far different than the chaste peck he gave her in the sanctuary, in front of the priest and her brothers and aunt and uncle. It seared her bones from her teeth to her toes, then centered in her womb, vibrating there like the shock of a trembler.

She laced her fingers through his thick, dark hair, always too long, but always clean and shining. She had wanted to stroke that hair for so long, and now she could. In return, he pulled the pins from her heavy, black braid. Using all of his fingers, he combed out the waves, telling her with his touch how long he’d wanted to fondle her tresses.

Still stroking her hair, he pressed his hard body against hers, pulling her to him, so there could be no escape had she wished it. She could never wish to leave those arms. His hungry mouth traveled up her jaw, to her ear, then down her throat and across her bosom. Hers did the same to him, learning from him, knowing instinctively that what pleased her would bring joy to him as well. She put her lips in places he would not expect, places hard to get to, intimate places few people would touch, behind his ear, beneath his jaw, where she could see his racing blood surging through a vein, in the hollow of his throat.

And then he began to untie the bows on her back, to loosen the satin dress she had so carefully sewn for him. He pulled each bow, and then slipped each knot without looking, Tía having tied them for her in such a way that he could do it easily as he stood before her, reaching around the back. With the last bow, the bodice sagged forward and the sleeves slipped off her shoulders. He reached to her creamy, coffee-colored skin, and, running his hands down her arms, gently pushed the sleeves off, pulling the bodice with them. She wore only a corset under the dress, no layers of chemise and other underwear as high fashion demanded.

She had borrowed the corset, not owning one, and it belonged to a young woman not nearly so well endowed as she. Her breasts strained at the thin cotton above the stays, the buttons of her dark nipples bulging at the rounded apex of the captive pair. She felt Antonio’s dark, burning eyes on those nipples and wondered that he did not scorch the cotton off with the strength of his desire. Smiling, she began to unbutton the short, dark jacket he had worn at their wedding.

And so they took turns undressing one another, until he wore only his shorts and she remained only in her corset and a petticoat.

“Do you know how to undo the laces?” she asked him, timidly, as he turned her in his arms.

“I’ll figure it out,” he assured her, not answering the deeper question, the one that wondered if he had unlaced a corset before.

“Start at the bottom,” she suggested. But he already had, after a final gentle squeeze of her captive breasts. When he had loosened the laces sufficiently, he pulled the corset down over her petticoat, not turning her, waiting to see what he had uncovered until he had rid her of the imprisoning garment. After she stepped back, away from it, he turned her to him, her naked breasts crushed against his chest, his lips again searing her bones.

His strong hands wandered slowly over her shoulder blades, then around the curve of her back, to her waist. Each hand mirrored the other, on either side of her body, a symmetrical stimulation of all sensation. He drew his hands to her sides, and then began his upward sweep, stopping near her breasts, the ones he had not yet laid eyes upon.

Then, and only then, did he slowly push her back so he could gaze upon her nakedness, upon the source of pleasure for both of them, the spring of joy and health for the children she would give him. He gazed in wonder at them, at the beauty of their perfect shape and color. She watched his face, feeling only an unstoppable need for him inside her as the surprise and delight spread across his countenance.

He didn’t touch her even then, but thumbed the three buttons on her petticoat through their holes. With a single downward pull, he revealed her nakedness and the soft, dark arrow that pointed to where all his desire would be fulfilled. She reached forward and down to remove his last article of closing, but he stepped back.

“No, just let me look,” he begged.

So she withstood his burning scrutiny as he lowered his own shorts and revealed the strength of his desire, rigid, massive and fully engorged.

“Don’t be frightened,” he assured her. “I’ll go slowly. I’ll try very hard not to hurt you.”

“I’m not afraid,” she assured him. “How can something hurt when I want it so badly? I doubt I’ll feel anything but exquisite release.”

Then she took the calloused hand that she yearned for and placed it on her breast, closing her eyes against the agony of the pleasure his touch gave her. Finally he caressed he breast, slowly pushing her towards the bed as he did so, step by slow step. He brushed his thumbs across each nipple, showing her how much more exciting it felt when a man did it than when she experimented on herself.

Tía had taught her how to give herself pleasure, and Soledad had tried out various sensations as well. Tía said that passionate women kept their husbands loyal, made them strong, and ensured a good father for the children. Soledad knew what she wanted of Antonio and would be able to instruct him. While she knew her imagination would have limits, she also understood that his would add to hers, and that many new joys awaited her.

Antonio surprised her by backing her onto the bed. They tumbled into it together, her legs wrapping his, his mouth seeking a breast. Oh, yes, a tongue and teeth did so much more than could hands and fingers. Nothing could substitute for the man connected to that tongue and teeth, the man who loved his woman.

When she could stand the torture no more, she cried aloud to him. “Antonio, please! I must have you now! ¡O matame! Kill me, now. I can’t stand this any more,” she begged of her man.

Only then did he roll aside slightly, so he could put two fingers in the place where she needed him so badly, confirming her readiness. He spread her slipperiness about her opening, to ease his way in, not wanting to hurt her anymore than he knew he would. Soledad shuddered at this touch, knowing how close she lay to the edge of ecstasy, wondering how long it would take him to catch her as she fell into oblivion.

Then, with one last suckle on her breast, and all of his glorious weight upon her body, she felt the smooth curve of his shaft at her doorway, pushing slowly, relentlessly, insistently past the last, thin veil of skin that resisted him. She predicted correctly. He couldn’t hurt her, so greatly did she need him. The sharp feeling as he entered where no man had ever been only added to the desire she had for him. All conscious thought ceased, and Soledad gave herself over to the world of sensation he pulled them into.

When she opened her eyes, she held only a memory of stars exploding, of Antonio’s weight pinning her to the bed so she wouldn’t fly to the heavens with the waves of pleasure that surged through her body as he pumped his life-giving essence into hers. Oh, Madre de Dios, what a gift you have given women, to bestow upon us such joy, Soledad cried to her Savior’s Mother. What a sacrifice you made that you should bear Him without first knowing this!

Soledad turned to wrap herself in her lover’s embrace to find only empty sheets and blankets, once again. As usual, the tears spilled from deep in her chest, from a seemingly endless well.

“Antonio, my Antonio! Why couldn’t this be?” she sobbed into her pillow, as her nightly fantasy dissolved into thin air.




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