Monday, April 22, 2013

Peacemaker Nominee: Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill by Troy D Smith #western

Christmas Comes 
to Freedom Hill
Peacemaker Finalist, 
Best Short Story

First published in Christmas Campfire Companion, Jan. 2012
Released as an e-book single, Nov. 2012

Little Danny Jordan and his family joined a wagon train headed West after the Civil War... they were Exodusters, ex-slaves banded together to establish their own town, which they named Freedom Hill. But a greedy cattle baron wants the town gone, and threatens to bring an army to burn it down if the Exodusters aren't gone by Christmas. Danny prays for a miracle for his town, but especially for his pa --a Union veteran who is now the marshal of Freedom Hill...

A touching story of faith, hope, and love by award-winning author Troy D. Smith

About Troy:
Troy D. Smith, Author
Troy D. Smith is a past winner of the Peacemaker Award, as well as a winner and three-time nominee for Western Writers of America’s Spur Award. A native of the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee, he received his doctorate from the University of Illinois and is currently Assistant Professor of History at Tennessee Tech University, where he teaches U.S., American Indian, and Japanese history. Smith is currently the president of Western Fictioneers, and is also president of the TTU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. To learn more about Troy, visit his website, Twitter, or Facebook.

Troy talks about the story:
This is actually a story I had wanted to write for a long time. I’d had it tucked away in my brain, percolating, for years. All I really had was the setting: I wanted to write a story about the “Exodusters,” a movement in the 1870s in which thousands of ex-slaves took their families westward, often in wagon trains, to start a new life away from the hazards and indignities of the Reconstruction South. These groups often started their own towns, at first in Kansas and later in Oklahoma.

I wanted to write about one of those towns. Early on I decided it was going to be on the Kansas Prairie, and be called “Freedom Hill” even though there was no hill anywhere in sight. And I wanted it to be about a little boy, now grown, remembering the courage of his father.

Then a friend of mine, Terry Burns (literary agent and an excellent writer), told several of us western writers who kept in close contact about a new project. An independent publisher, Port Yonder Press, wanted to release an anthology of western-themed Christmas stories. I was onboard immediately. As I was trying to think of something appropriately heart-warming and inspirational about the West and Christmas, it dawned on me that I could turn that long-gestating Exoduster story into a holiday tale.

I framed the story in the 1930s, with a WPA field agent interviewing my narrator, an old man in Kansas. During the Depression, the Roosevelt administration started several public works projects designed to put unemployed people to work –there were a lot of building projects, for example. One of the agencies created for this purpose was the Works Progress Administration. One of WPA’s projects, designed to put jobless teachers and journalists to work, was to hire people to travel all through the South and Midwest and interview every living ex-slave they could find. The resulting collection of slave narratives has proven invaluable to scholars. In Oklahoma, by the way, they went further and interviewed all the elderly people in general they could find, black, white or Indian, which resulted in the Indian-Pioneer Papers, also a treasured resource for historians of the West (there are 80,000 entries in the Indian-Pioneer Papers alone.) I have used both of these archives extensively over the years, both for my historical fiction and my dissertation.

Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill, then, is a story told by an elderly black man in the 1930s about his childhood, his brave father, and the magic of Christmas.

Excerpt of
Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill
by Troy D. Smith

I was eight or nine years old when we got on that wagon train headed West. It was one of those Singleton expeditions. Pap Singleton, he was an old colored fellow from Nashville, used to be a slave when he was young but ran off and made a good bit of money. Things was hard down South in those days—of course, they always have been for folks shaded like I am, but in some ways those days were even harder than slave times had been. The Union soldiers had all went home by then, you see, and the same folks were in charge again that had been running things before the war. And they were none too happy with colored folks, no sir. The U.S. government had promised us forty acres and a mule, but it was just empty air—and them old Confederates weren’t aiming to give us even bright promises. Singleton started putting together his expeditions, talking colored folks into coming West with him for a new start. And a good many of them did. Exodusters, they were called. On account of they were leaving the land of slavery, just like the old-time Israelites left Egypt, and heading toward a promised land—a land that was more dust than milk and honey, but sweet to their souls just the same.

My daddy, he liked the sound of that. Painting it with Bible words made it even prettier to him, because he was always partial to the Good Book. His mama gave him a Bible name, Gabriel. During the war, he ran away from his old master and swam across the river to where the Yankee soldiers were. He joined the Union Army, and then it came time for him to choose another name for himself, a family name. A lot of those old slaves named themselves after their masters, but Daddy didn’t want any slave name. So he called himself after the River Jordan; he was born again, in freedom, just like being baptized, when he swum that river to the Yankee lines.

I remember the day he first set me up in that wagon next to my mama, and we commenced to roll away from the only world we had ever known.

“You remember them stories I told you, Danny, about the baby Jesus?”

I nodded.

“Them wise men,” he continued, “they followed that star a far piece. One of them was black as we are, at least I’ve heard it told that way. Anyways, freedom is a star, boy. It used to be the North Star, but I reckon we’re fixing to follow one that leads West. So say goodbye to Egypt, son. The Lord is out yonder, waiting for us to find him.”

Singleton planted colonies all over Kansas and Indian Territory, and others like him did the same. Our little group, I reckon there was about fifty or sixty of us all together, we stopped at a spot near the banks of the Neosho River. We got the land off the government—it used to be part of an Indian reservation. We filed to homestead it, all according to law. It was my daddy’s notion to name our little town Freedom Hill; right away, several people pointed out that there isn’t any hill there. Shoot, there’s not even a rise.

“Elevation don’t mean nothing,” Daddy said. “It’ll be a hill, once we get it built. We’ll be a city on a hill, just like the Good Book says, shining for the whole world to see.”

There was a chorus of amens, and we all set to work building. It takes more than buildings to make a town, though, so after awhile we set to work voting as well. We elected ourselves a mayor, and a council; everybody agreed that to be a real town we needed a marshal, too, and everybody agreed it ought to be Gabriel Jordan, one-time company sergeant in the 13th United States Colored Infantry and hero of the Battle of Nashville. Daddy still had his old cap-and-ball revolver—he didn’t have a holster for it, so he kept it stuck in his belt. The town blacksmith made him a crude tin star. Daddy kept the badge in his pocket, since everybody knew who the marshal was. He never did go in much for what you might call symbols of authority, he didn’t like to draw undue attention to himself. My daddy was the most dignified man I ever knew, but he wasn’t burdened by a lot of false pride. Besides, it was mostly a ceremonial office. Freedom Hill never had much call for an actual lawman.

Leastways, not until Bob Horner and his bunch rode into town.
# # #
Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill
is available at:

Congratulations for your nomination, Troy!

The Lifetime Achievement Peacemaker will be presented to Robert Vaughan

  • City of Rocks (Five Star Publishing — Cengage) by Michael Zimmer
  • Unbroke Horses (Goldminds Publishing, LLC) by D.B. Jackson
  • Apache Lawman (AmazonEncore) by Phil Dunlap
  • Wide Open (Berkley Publishing Group) by Larry Bjornson
  • Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill” (Christmas Campfire Companion — Port Yonder Press) by Troy Smith
  • Christmas For Evangeline” (Slay Bells and Six Guns — WF ) by C. Courtney Joyner
  • Keepers of Camelot” (Slay Bells and Six Guns — WF) by Cheryl Pierson
  • The Toys” (Slay Bells and Six Guns — WF) by James J. Griffin
  • Adeline” (Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT — Goombah Gumbo Press ) by Wayne Dundee
  • High Stakes (Musa Publishing) by Chad Strong
  • Wide Open (Berkley Publishing Group) by Larry Bjornson
  • Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starr ( Publishing) by Phil Truman
  • Last Stand At Bitter Creek (Western Trail Blazer) by Tom Rizzo
  • Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave (Sunbury Press) by Mark Mitten
Winners will be announced on June 1, 2013 


  1. Troy, now I have to get this book. I believe we have a town founded by Exodusters in our area of N. Central Texas called Annetta. Now there are two Annettas, one black and one anglos. I am not sure it was Exodusters, but Annetta is very old, so the time period would be right. I am so pleased to learn about the papers on file. You didn't say where to access them, but I suppose the National Archives would be a starting place.

  2. Troy, the excerpt is so well written, I can only imagine the rest of the story. Another on the TBR list. Congratulations to all the nominees. In my mind every one is a winner. Doris

  3. Wow, Troy. You're one of only a handful of people I've ever heard talk about the WPA's documentation project. My mother's much-older brother was one of those unemployed journalists who worked on the project. Now I'm REALLY eager to read this story. :-)

  4. Thanks, y'all! And that is so cool, Kathleen, I bet I've read some of his interviews. I used the narratives EXTENSIVELY in researching Bound for the Promise-Land.

    Slave narratives:

    Indian-Pioneer papers:

  5. Troy, I would have known this was your story even before I saw your name on it. You always have such a distinctive voice with your characters, and of course you know how much I love them. This is one I have not read yet! Congratulations on your nomination. I don't know how we are going to wait until June, but I'm so thrilled to be in the company of so many wonderful writers, it makes the waiting a little easier.


  6. Awesome! Congrats, Troy - you're such a talented writer, I was totally immersed in the story. Another one added to the TBR pile, and I haven't even gotten to Rednecks yet.

  7. Much obliged for all the kind words!

  8. I'm intrigued, also. Loved the excerpt, and I'm always eager to learn history, especially new-to-me events and situations. I've heard of this project (probably from you) but now I'm definitely going to check into it.

  9. Congratulations, Troy! It was wonderful to learn how you came to write your excellent story. Salute!

  10. Congratulations! Thanks for the excerpt and background of the story.


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