"This story was epic and sweeping, going from the wild, open plains of New Mexico to the WWI trenches and battlefields in France. It kept my attention the whole way through - there wasn't any point at which I felt the story flagged - and I was very invested in the characters' fates." -Nancy, Goodreads
Published: October 2021
In 1916, Mexico is on the brink of revolution. Despite armed bandits streaming over the border and prejudices against female ranchers, feisty little Agnes Day is determined to keep the family ranch and run it on her own terms. The last thing she wants is to fall under the authority of a husband who will keep her from the land she loves.
Her ally in the fight is Will Bowers, a strong and silent New Mexico Guardsman assigned to nearby Camp Columbus under General Blackjack Pershing, but Will hides a dark and disturbed background that stops him from committing to any one or any place. Then the United States enters World War I and both Agnes and Will are swept into conflagration.
Can Agnes secure a peaceful future on the Sunrise Ranch after the insanity and bloodshed of war? Dare she hope to share that future with someone else?
The Many Story Possibilities in Fort Bayard
I visited Fort Bayard back in the spring of 2018, when the ideas that eventually became my novel A Blaze of Poppies were just random ideas flitting around in my subconscious. Located in the foothills of the Gila mountains in southern New Mexico, Fort Bayard has a long history that touches on many of the wars that America has fought.
Fort Bayard was one station in a line of 24 heliograph stations. These relayed messages between forts by Morse Code, using the sun and a mirror. Because Apaches and outlaws could cut telegraph wires but not meddle with the sun, heliographs were the preferred method of communication at the time.
The man charged with establishing the heliograph stations was a young Second Lieutenant named John J. Pershing, who would go on to become the famous Blackjack Pershing. Pershing plays a role in the events in A Blaze of Poppies.
After the Indian Wars, Fort Bayard was no longer needed for military purposes. Its location in the clean thin air of the mountains led it to become the first military sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis. During World War I, the period when A Blaze of Poppies is set, it also housed soldiers who had suffered from poisonous gas attacks.
During WWII, German Prisoners of War lived here, repairing buildings, tending the orchard, and caring for the burial grounds that became a National Cemetery in 1976. The fort continued to serve as a long-term care facility for veterans and civilians alike after it was transferred from Federal to State control in 1965. Finally, in 2010, a more modern medical facility was built just down the road.
At the time I visited Fort Bayard, I marveled at the beautiful, mountainous setting, with wide, blue skies and big vistas. The buildings were in disrepair, but were filled with suggestions for historical narratives. I thought it could be the setting for a "wild west" story, a love story between a young gas victim and a nurse, or a story of longing for home by a young German POW. I’ve used it for A Blaze of Poppies. Perhaps I’ll use it again, for another story set in another time.
About the author:
A lifelong New Mexican, Jennifer Bohnhoff loves travel and history, so it should come as no surprise that many of her books are historical novels set in beautiful or interesting places.
She taught Middle School Language Arts and New Mexico History for years, but has left to become a full time author. She loves helping people reach that "ah hah" moment when they suddenly understand the connections between themselves, the past, eternity, and the world around them.
Mrs. Bohnhoff is the mother of three handsome men, the mother-in-law of three beautiful daughters and the grandmother of three very smart granddaughters and one grandson. She lives in the mountains of central New Mexico with her husband, Monstro the wonder dog, and a petulant stinker of a cat who cares nothing for her writing.
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