Order West of Penance
Published by Cengage

Published by Cengage

West of Penance

Archbishop Lamy’s story inspired me to write West of Penance

Archbishop Lamy

Archbishop Lamy

A few years ago, I heard a startling true tale of old New Mexico from a friend of mine, Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire. He said that the newly appointed bishop of the diocese of Santa Fe, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, didn’t care for the small adobe church in the center of Santa Fe when he arrived there in 1851. He envisioned a large cathedral, like those in his native France, to serve as the mother church of this southwest archdiocese that covered an area roughly the size of present day New Mexico, Arizona, and part of southern Utah. It had taken Lamy nearly twenty years to raise the funds to begin construction. But cost overruns and delays constantly plagued him.

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He received donations from various sources. Jewish businessmen like Abraham Staab and the Spiegelberg Brothers, attorney Thomas Catron, and others made generous contributions to the cathedral fund. And Lamy did not discriminate when it came to accepting money. Maria Gertrudis Barceló, better known as Doña Tules, proprietress of a “comfort station” in Santa Fe, providing arguably the finest gambling and prostitution services around, donated $1,000 to the building effort, a tidy sum then. (She is buried under the south transept of the cathedral.) But still Lamy needed more money. He had even sold his carriage to help pay construction costs. By 1875, with his cathedral only partially completed, Lamy, now an archbishop, set out on horseback across the archdiocese to ask for loans from his parish priests. (Many of them he had recruited from trips he’d made back to France.) Stopping in the village of Mora, Lamy told the young priest there, Father Garassu, he would repay with interest any money the priest could loan him. Father Garassu said his parish was poor and in desperate condition. Lamy was about to leave when the father asked Lamy how much money he had already gathered. Lamy said he only had a few dollars. Father Garassu asked the archbishop if he would trust him with those dollars and remain there and take care of his parish for a few days. “And if I return with any money,” the priest said, “you must not ask me how I came by it.” Lamy agreed. Father Garassu kissed the archbishop’s ring, saddled his horse and rode away. Returning a few days later, the good father handed Lamy a sack filled with coins and greenbacks. About two thousand dollars worth. Astonished, Lamy thanked him and asked how he had gotten the money. Father Garassu reminded him of his promise not to ask. Grateful, Lamy departed. About ten years passed. Lamy was now old and ill. Priests from across the archdiocese came to pay their respects. When Father Garassu sat by his bed, Lamy recalled his promise not to ask how the priest had come by all that money, but he hoped he would tell him now. Father Garassu said that before he joined the priesthood he had been in the French Army, and had learned many ways of the world. One of those was how to gamble. He told Lamy he had taken his few dollars and ridden to Fort Union some thirty miles away. The officers there had invited him to play cards on previous occasions and he’d always declined, but not this time. It was payday and the good father had cleaned them out. What a great story, I thought. And then I wondered, what if Father Garassu had been robbed on his way back to his parish?

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As Featured On True West Magazine

  • This is a fascinating and unusual bookThis is a fascinating and unusual bookRandi Samuelson-Brown on Goodreads

    This is a fascinating and unusual book. The story follows a Frenchman through a series of wild travails. … I don't want to give any spoilers, but I was wondering HOW the author was going to end this story - and he did an admirable job that stayed true to both the plot and the main character. Well done! (Five out of five stars)

  • Great Story of the American West!Great Story of the American West!Hyacinth

    This nicely structured novel moves briskly through a neglected area of New Mexico history: the struggles between settlers and big business land grant interests in the Colfax County wars. Clagett tells a good story, imagined around Bishop Lamy's cathedral and filled with famous New Mexico characters and some thoughtfully conceived invented ones. The author likes to explore stories overlooked by other Western writers (see his novel on California's Joaquin Murieta) and has a grasp on the real Western landscape and the men and strong women who survived in it. If you like history of the American West, this novel will add to your understanding while entertaining you. (Five out of five stars)

  • God’s LegionnaireGod’s LegionnaireCFC

    This author's second western novel combines historical fact and legends producing a remarkable story that does not resemble traditional westerns of today. The story narrative tells of a professional gambler forced to flee France in 1861 after a justifiable killing. To expedite his escape from France, he enlisted under a fraudulent name and serves in Mexico, which in 1863, is under the French rule of Emperor Napoleon III. After surviving the French Foreign Legion's most heroic battle at Camerone, which the author describes in detail, the main character, who by now is a battle hardened life taker, has made an oath to God that should he survive the battle he will spend the remainder of his life in service to God. In 1875, keeping his word to God, the main character is serving as a parish priest in New Mexico. The character is approached by the Bishop of Santa Fe who is attempting to raise money for ongoing construction of the Cathedral in Santa Fe. Although the character has no money to donate for the construction, he does have former talents that could be useful in this fund raising project. From this point on in the story, the author transports the character back to his former life as a gambler where he once again faces corrupt scoundrels, thieves, a professional killer and a woman, while constantly trying to remain faithful to his promise to God. The reader is in for a fascinating adventure in this must-read novel. (Five out of five stars)

  • Great WesternGreat WesternAmazon customer

    Excellent!! Great western couldn't put it down. (Five out of five stars)

  • Highly recommendedHighly recommendedR.C.C.

    If you like stories about the old West, if you like a book that holds your attention and interest, if you like action and honor and history, and, if you love New Mexico the way I do, you must read this well-written and, at times, spell-binding book! It will make you smile, feel sad, and learn. (Five out of five stars)

  • Would make a great movieWould make a great movieMike Beste

    I'm a big fan of this author. He tells a great tale and it is very well written. Tom leaves you wanting more. Wonderful story of a region in New Mexico that is absolutely beautiful but not often written about to my knowledge. Can't go wrong with West of Penance and like The Pursuit of Murieta, would make a great movie. (Five out of five stars)

  • A top book to readA top book to readJulian Sanchez

    I thought it was a very interesting! I liked it very much! (Five out of five stars)

  • Don’t miss this wonderful story!Don’t miss this wonderful story!Scrappy

    This is one of those books you rarely find. The story is so well written you cannot put it down. I read it in one sitting.
    The author, Thomas Clagett, takes you on a remarkable journey of surprise and suspense. Do yourself a favor
    and read this terrific story. I didn't want it to end. Don't miss it! (Five out of five stars)

  • Great Colfax County War storyGreat Colfax County War storyLoretta Toffelson

    There were a lot of pieces to the conflict that engulfed New Mexico’s Colfax County in the 1870s–the conflict we know today as the Colfax County War. As far as I know, no one has ever provided a good fictional account of how some of those pieces fit together and just who did what to whom. Until now.

    The hero of Thomas D. Clagett’s West of Penance doesn’t get to Colfax County until a little over one-third of the way into the book. But once he does, he’s in the middle of events that actually happened. Events that Clagett lines up nicely and for which he provides explanations that not only make sense, but make for a great story.

    Although Father Graintaire and the woman who takes him in are fictional characters, everyone else in this section of the book actually existed. Based on my own Colfax County research, Clagett’s conceptions of them and their actions are right on target. The portraits of Clay Allison and Sheriff Chittenden, and the explanation of why Cruz Vega was in William Lowe’s cornfield the night he was lynched are especially well done. And Clagett’s portrait of Santa Fe Ring attorney Melvin W. Mills gave me new insight into Mills’ character. I wish I’d read West of Penance before I wrote his scenes in The Pain and The Sorrow!

    Given how well Clagett handles the Colfax County material in this book, I think it’s safe to assume that the first part of West of Penance is just as authentic. I certainly feel like I know more now about the French Foreign Legion than I did before I read this book.

    So, if you’re interested in the French Foreign Legion at the battle of Camerone and the role they played in acquiring Mexico for France, or in New Mexico’s Colfax County War, I recommend that you read West of Penance!

  • A historical novel for the western genre — a unique idea, and it works!A historical novel for the western genre — a unique idea, and it works!Charles Johnson via Goodreads

    Behold the cliched western novel - a gunfighter or two, a saloon singer, a haunted gold mine and a tribe of hostile Apaches. Not here – not here at all in Thomas Clagett’s WEST OF PENANCE. Through some fine historical research and hard work, here is a superb story spun out of a famous French Legion Battle, a Catholic clergyman and a land grab plot in the wild west days of New Mexico. Though the setting may be the American Wild West, Clagett weaves a tale that extinguishes all of those “Western Novel” clichés, delivering an interesting and exciting story as the reader follows Clement Grantaire from his humble military beginnings (on and off the battlefield), his growth as a spiritual leader, and his attempt to make good on a promise to a man he owes so much. This is a swell combination of a historical novel and the western themes of the Great American Frontier.

    We first meet Grantaire in a poker game in Paris, France. No sign of a western tale here. On then to a flight from the law and into the secret life of the French Foreign Legion – still no cactus or horse in sight. Jump a few years, and the reader finds Clagett’s main character, having experienced a change of morality, serving the poor in the arid west of the territories of the new American frontier. Now, we get a savory taste of a western. Clagett weaves more of his tale, and sure as the sun sets beyond the hills, here’s our western, complete in its setting and its characters.

    It is the late nineteenth century at the New Mexico/Texas area. Towns are growing as the settlers are arriving to farm, to be merchants, to create a new state. However, rich men hungry for more and more land, use every legal angle and corruption to gain acreage, strong-arming many in search of wealth. It is in this world that we find Clement Grantaire and a majority of his tale. Will he get help from the Sheriff? Who can he trust? Turns out, some are more trustworthy than others, and some are so corrupt that they can’t help but get in Grantaire’s way.

    The worst of this bunch were those who chose to steal as much land as they could – be it through intimidation or even raw torture. The names and personalities are for the reader to discover – and those scalawags are as nasty as the rattlesnakes in the rocks.

    Clement Grantaire’s allies a few, but effective. Some of the henchmen of the land grants bosses have a change of heart, for example, but it the strongly able lady rancher Rachel Scott who provides the encouragement Grantaire needs.

    Thomas Clagett gives us deep characters, both the good and the evil. He gives us realistic scenes as the characters interact. He gives us colorful descriptions, concise dialogue, and solid emotions as we learn to love and detest each character and situation.

    Thomas Clagett is a well-trained writer who has also done work in the film and television. WEST OF PENANCE is his second novel. Let’s hope Mr. Clagett continues to blend his practice of historical research with the world of the western genre.

  • Fine swashbuckling novelFine swashbuckling novelSusan K. Salzer

    In this fine swashbuckling novel, Clagett gives us the memorable Clement Grantaire, card sharp, man of God, protector of women and more. At times funny, suspenseful and heartbreaking, West of Penance is a Western novel the way The Count of Monte Cristo is a book about a prison break.

    Susan K. Salzer, author of Up From Thunder


  • A splendid tale of honor, courage and choicesA splendid tale of honor, courage and choicesMonty McCord

    A splendid tale of honor, courage and choices, which are woven into the vicious history of the Santa Fe Ring.

    Monty McCord, author of Mundy's Law


  • Clagett’s period details are impressive and vividClagett’s period details are impressive and vividLucia St Clair Robson

    An ambitious, thoroughly researched story of the adventures of Clement Grantaire. Clagett's period details are impressive and vivid.

    Lucia St. Clair Robson, author of Last Train from Cuernavaca


  • Highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.Highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.Amazon Reviewer

    WEST OF PENANCE is well paced, engaging and has an emotional kick. The story is filled with temptations and violence and believable characters. The hero is Clement Grantaire, who becomes driven to redeem his past. The book has a wonderful sense of place, whether in 1863 with the French Foreign Legion in Mexico or in 1875 on the rolling plains of New Mexico. It's telling of history feels well researched. The Battle of Camerone is brilliantly described. The Santa Fe Ring is shown to be what it was, a corrupter of the economy and politics of the Territory of New Mexico. Even so, the Santa Fe Ring could be as fearful as they were greedy. The forts, towns, churches and livelihoods of New Mexico are woven into a clearly told story that moves swiftly and is never boring.
    Highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

    Stephen R Hedstrom

  • What an entertaining read!What an entertaining read!Historical Novel Society

    What an entertaining read! Prepared to be immersed in the story’s twists and turns while Father Clement tries to get his money back while involving himself in the land war and helping the woman who saved his life. The novel is well researched in New Mexican history during the late 19th century. Also, be prepared for a surprise ending!

  • The Real Wild WestThe Real Wild WestAmazon Reviewer

    What do a card shark in the gambling salons of Paris, a soldier in a desperate battle in Mexico and a parish priest serving his flock on the American frontier have in common? Quite a bit, as it turns out, because in Tom Clagett's West of Penance they are the same man. Clagett weaves a tale of non-stop adventure, historical relevance and ultimate redemption that entertains, inspires and commanded my attention from page 1.

    Verified Amazon Purchaser


    Ever read a book that grabs you right away and you can’t put it down? West of Penance is just that kinda book. It grabs you on page one and never slows down. It was one of those books that I could not set down until I finished it and then when I did I was sorry it was over. Very well done.

    If you like action packed and full of surprises then you will love this book. But that’s not all it is. It’s a well written historical fiction piece of literature. The main character is both likable and easy to identify with. The author places you not only right at the scene but you feel like you’re literally in the main characters skin. You become the main character. It’s that well written. I could say a lot more but I don’t want to spoil your fun reading it for yourself. I hate it when reviews give away the story line.

    I love books, really good books, and I’ve read a lot of them in my day. But “West of Penance” I would put at the very top of the list. Very well written. Definitely a must read. I’ve got it sitting on my “best of my books” shelf. These are my books I consider worthy of a second or third reading. It’s really that good.


    Jay Allan

  • This is a MUST read.This is a MUST read.Amazon Reviewer

    I found West of Penance to be a very well written book. It certainly holds your attention from beginning to end. As a new resident of New Mexico, I found myself travelling along with the main character as the story develops. I must admit, there were several surprise moments, as I did not anticipate the correct outcome. This just added to the suspense. For me, the ending was sad, as I found myself hoping the main character would weather the storm and return to his chosen vocation. This is a MUST read.

    Enjoying Eldorado


Thomas D. Clagett is a Member of Western Writers of AmericaNew Mexico - Arizona Book Award Winner

Thomas D. Clagett is a Member of The Author's GuildNew Mexico - Arizona Book Award Winner


Thomas Clagett Post Image - Western BGTom has always had a love of the West, of film and of writing. Born and raised in San Diego, California, he attended the University of Southern California. He spent more than twenty years in Hollywood working as an assistant film editor, as well as freelance writing. Devoting himself to writing historical fiction full-time, he and his wife Marilyn moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they adopted their cat, Cody, whom they are home schooling with great success.

Thomas Clagett Post Image - Western BG

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