Excerpt from El Paso by Winston Groom, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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El Paso

by Winston Groom

El Paso by Winston Groom X
El Paso by Winston Groom
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

Preface

Novels don't usually need forewords but in this case it seems useful that the reader know the background of the events depicted herein.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century the Mexican government— in eternal social and financial turmoil—started selling off vast tracts of land in its desolate northern provinces on the notion that wealthy American entrepreneurs would exploit the land by building infrastructure that the government in Mexico City could not afford. Accordingly, the Guggenheims began to develop large mining operations in Northern Mexico, Harrimans built railroads, Morgans, Hearsts, and Whitneys developed enormous livestock ranches, and so on, employing thousands of Mexican citizens until, inevitably, the revolution moved northward.

the gist of this story—the kidnapping of children by the legendary revolutionary general Pancho Villa, and the manhunt through the Sierra Madre— was suggested to me by a dear friend, the late Edwin "Eddie" Morgan, of the New York Morgans, whose grandfather owned an immense cattle ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico, that in 1916 was attacked by Villa's army and later confiscated by the Mexican government during the revolution. Eddie regaled friends with stories of his grandfather and entourage riding in his private railcar from New York down to Chihuahua, the purchase of the bear in Nashville, and the great cattle drive to El Paso. Pancho Villa actually strung up Morgan's ranch manager and had him sabered to death—the same manager who, when once asked by a large Chicago meat packer if he could supply thirty thousand head of cattle, wired back: "Which color?"

those were strange and romantic times for the new century, with the Great War raging in Europe and the Mexican Civil War threatening to spill over into the United States. Colorful American characters, from the journalist socialist John Reed to the misanthropic satirist Ambrose Bierce, soon found themselves tangled up in the thing, for better or for worse, and although this is not a "historical novel," I couldn't resist throwing them into the story. Serious students of the period will find that I have tampered with the evidence from time to time to present the more interesting tale, which—as I am also a writer of history—I usually try never to do. But in this case, as a novelist, I think I can get away with it.

Winston Groom
Point Clear, Alabama
January 2016

PART ONE
Into Mexico

One

Often, when he was anxious or depressed, Arthur Shaughnessy would stand behind his large desk in the First Vice President & General Manager's Office of the New England & Pacific Railroad Company's operations headquarters in Chicago, looking through the plate-glass window at the rail yards. From his vantage point three stories above, endless miles of rail track led into and out of the yards as far as the eye could see. Abutting the coal piles—each its own mountain of black with a towering metal crane and shuttle jutting out from the top—were hundreds of outdated and rusting boxcars, flatcars, passenger cars, and locomotives parked on sidings, waiting for the scrap heap. But closer, the scene was more animated. Engines of all types were arriving and departing; hauling freight, passengers, and in some cases other engines—yard locomotives pulling or pushing a big sixteen-sprocket beast to the roundhouse or repair sheds.

the trains came from all points of America: up though New Orleans and the South with cotton, fruit, and the spoils of the Caribbean; down from Wisconsin and Michigan with dairy and wheat; from the Pacific with lumber, the Southwest with livestock for the packing houses, the Midwest and Great Plains with corn and grain, coal from Kentucky and West Virginia; from Pennsylvania, steel; from the Rockies with metal ore for the smelters; and from the Atlantic Coast, finished goods—clothing, furniture, glassware . . .

Excerpted from El Paso by Winston Groom. Copyright © 2016 by Winston Groom. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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