The Chivalrous Californio

Rinaldo Cuneo, Bay Area Hills

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. His heroic and chivalrous behavior, a blend of his Spanish-Mexican cultural heritage, is at odds with the nefarious schemes of his stepfather:

Adjusting his wide-brimmed hat, Michael headed southeast through the streets of San Francisco. The fog’s chilly arms enveloped the sun, robbing his warmth. A putrid stench from muddy sewers offended his nostrils every time he inhaled. He quickened his pace toward the wharves and clean sea air.

He had spent three days in the stifling courthouse with other disillusioned Californios, Spanish- and Mexican-Americans like himself, battling the arcane mix of laws that purportedly established rightful ownership of land they had worked and lived on for decades. So many had already lost their abundant ranch lands to the flood of Eastern settlers, unable to cope with changing rules that favored a different faction every few months.

Jamming his fingers into his trousers’ pocket, Michael patted his lawful title of land in Gold Country, officially documented in his new identity, not tied to his stepfather at all. Any association to Diego Salazar and his infamous cold-bloodedness repulsed him.

He marked off the time in cadence with his footsteps. Twelve years to escape from under Diego’s thumb. Six years to win his inherited land in Gold Country, in spite of Diego’s loathsome tactics. Two years to fulfill his deathbed promise to his mother. Just a mite longer and he could finally step foot on Father’s bequeathed land, free to start a new ranch as he saw fit.

“Michael Rivers. Michael Rivers. Michael Rivers.” He practiced the new moniker under his breath. Americanizing his name still honored Father’s heritage. He’d insisted his son learn perfect English to adapt to their latest government. Miguel de Los Rios no longer existed.

His father’s friends had resettled in Mexico once war with America broke out. After he died and Mother remarried, her remaining neighbors bowed before Diego’s ruthlessness. Michael suspected Diego’s influence among the powerful in San Jose and beyond started with opportunistic land dealings. They continued through unethical arrangements taking advantage of ever-changing leadership, as California became America’s golden child. Not one person would risk financial ruin from Diego’s or his cronies’ retribution, not even as a favor to Michael.

Image courtesy of Rinaldo Cuneo, Bay Area Hills

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