James Lee Burke
To my mother,
Mrs James L. Burke, Sr,
and my aunt and uncle,
Mr and Mrs James Brown Benbow
My great-grandfather was Sam Morgan Holland, a drover who trailed cows up the Chisholm from San Antonio to Kansas. Most of his life Great-grandpa Sam fought whiskey and Indians and cow thieves and with some regularity watched gully washers or dry lightning spook his herds over half of Oklahoma Territory.
Whether it was because of busthead whiskey or just the bad luck to have lost everything he ever worked for, he railed at God and the human race for years and shot five or six men in gun duels. Then one morning, cold sober, he hung his chaps and clothes and Navy Colt revolvers on a tree and was baptized by immersion in the Guadalupe River. But Great-grandpa Sam found no peace. He sat each Sunday on the mourners' bench at the front of the congregation in a mud-chinked Baptist church, filled with an unrelieved misery he couldn't explain. One month later he decided to ride to San Antonio and kill his desire for whiskey in the only way he knew, and that was to drink until he murdered all the warring voices inside his head.
On the trail he met a hollow-eyed preacher whose face had been branded with red-hot horseshoes by Comanches north of the Cimarron. The preacher made Sam kneel with him in a brush arbor, then unexpectedly grasped Sam's head in his hands and ordained him. Without speaking again he propped his Bible against Sam's rolled slicker and disappeared over a hill into a dust cloud and left no tracks on the other side.
For the rest of his life, Great-grandpa Sam preached out of the saddle in the same cow camps his herds had trampled into shredded canvas and splintered wagon boards when he was a drover.