Smith Munro chronicles his experiences at a stagecoach station in New Mexico territory in a diary he receives for his 12th birthday in 1860. Smith helps his father change mules and feed the passengers traveling to and from California on the Overland stage line. It’s a lonely life, with few neighbors and constant fear of Apache attack. Then Smith’s brother Julian arrives unexpectedly, having resigned his Army commission, intending to fight for the South in the coming war. This distresses both Smith and his Unionist father, but that’s nothing to their dismay when they learn that Julian is conspiring with bandits to steal a payroll shipment from the stage, which he claims is destined for the Confederate treasury.
I hadn’t read anything with this setting before, so the details about stagecoach station life were interesting. The unusual angle of mules being the featured livestock in a Western instead of horses was also enjoyable. I was a little skeptical about desperate bandits allowing Smith to write in his diary while he was being held at gunpoint, despite his brother’s protection, but that’s only a quibble. Multidimensional characters and a plot that kept me guessing make this a compelling Western.