Author Wanda Snow Porter
Spurs for José, a young adult novel, will be released by Whimsical Publications on Nov. 1st.
An unforgettable journey based on true events, Spurs for José brims with action and excitement. It is a coming-of-age story, not just for one young Indian vaquero, but also for California as it becomes the thirty-first state of the United States.
In the fall of 1846, when José Rodriquez turns twelve, his papa says next spring he must help tame Rancho Grande’s wild colts. He knew this day would come. For on the Alta California rancho, being a vaquero and training horses was his family’s tradition. Vaqueros’ horsemanship and roping skills were legendary and their lives full of danger. Many vaqueros had been killed or crippled while riding the mustangs. Did he have enough courage to ride the wild ones and measure up to his papa’s expectations?
Worried, José decides only luck will help him be fearless enough to ride the wild colts, luck he will get from a pair silver spurs and chaps made from a brave bull’s hide. But he has no money. How can he buy silver spurs? Then the Mexican-American war starts. And a few days before Christmas, Colonel John C. Fremont’s battalion camps on Rancho Grande and everything changes.
Spurs for José excerpt:
Pedro sat beside José, opening his palms toward the fire to warm his cold hands. “I hear Tomas is making you chaps from the bullhide. He says the bullhide is lucky, but it is unlucky. The bull fell first, so he didn’t win. No, I wouldn’t want chaps made out of the hide of the loser. Those chaps will be cursed.” Pedro’s dark eyes glared at José.
He glared back at Pedro. “The bull was brave and his hide will have magic power. Tomas said the chaps will be lucky.”
“What would Tomas know about luck? Look at him. He is crippled. How do you think he got that way? He was cursed. That’s how, cursed and unlucky.” Pedro stood and spit in the fire.
José stood, too, clenching his fists. “Nobody asked you.”
Pedro pushed his face into Jose’s. Even though he was older, they were the same height. He grabbed José’s hair and jerked his head back. José struck out with his fist, punched Pedro’s jaw and knocked him backward onto the ground. Then he jumped on top of him, and they wrestled in the dirt.
“What is going on?” José’s papa asked as he and Uncle Miguel pulled the two boys apart, lifting them to their feet. “You two settle down. You need to work harder if you have energy to waste on fighting. Go get more wood for the fire. Right now, go!”
The boys glared at each other as they dusted themselves off and went together to collect wood. They didn’t speak as they carried armloads of wood back to where the men sat warming themselves. José was angry. Pedro had put doubt in mind. Was the bullhide really cursed?
Wanda’s Words About Writing
I never planned to be a writer, but when teaching horseback riding, I wanted to make a list of safety rules for my young students, but decided a story would be more fun for them to read and make it more likely they’d remember to be cautious around horses. That short story ended up in an anthology entitled, Along the Way: Our Unique Relationship With Horses. Published for the benefit of young dressage riders, the payment for my story was one copy of the book. When it arrived in the mail, I opened the package. What a thrill. My story was among those of famous authors like Charles De Kunffy and Jane Smiley. This hooked me on writing for young people and inspired me to write and illustrate the Burro Picture Books Series published and sold by the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos at danaadobe.org.
As a docent for Dana Adobe, I research California history to help school kids learn what life was like on a California rancho 150 years ago. My interest in history, experience as a riding teacher and horse trainer inspired me to write Spurs for José. After I finished writing about José’s adventures, it was strange. Though he is a fictional character, José became so real to me that I searched for a record of his death or grave site, without any success. Sadly, as with many Native Americans, if he had really existed, I mostly likely will never know it. But when I sit on the veranda next to Dana Adobe’s thick walls, built long ago by Chumash Indians, it’s easy to imagine his ghost lingering there. I believe that’s what motivated me to tell José’s story.