WHERE THEY BURY YOU
Where They Bury You
Based on the novel by Steven W. Kohlhagen
Copyright 2013 Steven W. Kohlhagen
Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: A beautiful Santa Fe poker dealing con artist struggles to achieve her dream of a Washington Territory ranch against her duplicitous fellow con men, a crooked U.S. Marshal, and the intrusions of the Apache, Navajo, and Civil Wars.
January 1861. Lily Smoot, a former Nevada prostitute, arrives in Santa Fe to start work as a poker dealer in a downtown saloon. Two San Francisco con artists, Augustyn P. Damours and Jim Danson, arrive in Santa Fe hard on her heels. In a smoky saloon, while Lily is dealing a game that includes Damours and Danson, she spots Joseph Cummings, who knew the two men in San Francisco, walk up to the game.
Cummings, belittling the two men’s small time cons, proposes they combine forces in a much larger scam throughout the Territories. He stuns the two of them with his knowledge of both Lily’s past and her opinion of Damours’ criminal genius. Damours and Lily run into each other by chance that night during a Santa Fe Fandango and fall in love.
The con artists set in motion a plan for both Damours and Cummings to join, and ultimately, fleece the army. Duplicity among the group becomes apparent when the three men are introduced to a fence, a local merchant, who, unbeknownst to them, is in Lily’s pocket.
Kit Carson, American frontier hero and now Indian agent, and Colonel Edward Canby, head of the Union Army in the Territories, confront the inevitability of the coming Civil War and the escalating tensions created by their conflicting responsibilities for the U.S. Army, the Indians, and the New Mexicans.
A group of Mexican bandits violently ambush Damours and Lily outside of Santa Fe. At the last minute, some of Carson’s Utes, who had been tracking the thieving Mexicans from the reservation, rescues them after Damours’ near-fatal, disastrous attempt at self-defence.
Now forewarned about Damours’ weakness under fire, Lily manipulates a priest into getting Damours a non-fighting job in the New Mexico Volunteers through his friendship with its leader, Captain Rafael Chacon.
The con artists find themselves under increasing pressure as a result of both the increased Apache and Navajo skirmishes and the growing rumours of the impending Civil War. The stress drives them into a state of incendiary mistrust and increased anxiety about Damours’ slow progress and Cummings’ lack of progress in getting into the army.
April 1861. Word reaches Santa Fe that the Civil War has started. Carson resigns as Indian Agent and joins the U.S. Army. General Henry Sibley and his Texans head to take the West for the Confederacy. In response, the Colorado Volunteers, the New Mexico Volunteers under Carson and Chacon, and Colonel James Carleton’s California regulars mobilize to reinforce Canby’s U.S. Army regulars in New Mexico. And, with the rebels coming, Lily increases pressure on the con artists to revise their fencing and laundering cons and to speed up Damours’ and Cummings’ entrances into the army.
An advanced battalion of the approaching Texans successfully takes the southeastern part of the Territories. Chacon physically attacks Damours for his misbehaviour as an officer, and Canby takes Damours off Chacon’s hands by appointing him as his aide de camp in the Union Army.
Sibley’s Confederate Texans march into New Mexico from El Paso, putting the western Territories in the crosshairs of the approaching Civil War battles in the west. With war imminent, Damours and Lily accelerate their embezzlements from stealing/laundering official U.S. Army mail.
Danson, bored and now resentful at being increasingly left out of the scams, launches a Santa Fe bank robbery. The night before the robbery one of the robbers, a local prostitute, discovers that Danson is sleeping with her friend Lily and confronts her. The next morning, with the prostitute emotionally distraught, the bank robbery degenerates into emotional confrontations and unplanned gunplay. The prostitute/bank robber knifes Danson as he exits the bank, and one of the robbers shoots her in the act.
Stunned by the possible impact of the disastrous bank robbery on their cons, Lily works to minimize the effects of the fiasco; to overcome the resulting growing internal tensions among the remaining con artists; to regain trust for Damours in the army; and to deal with the increasing evidence of Cummings’ now-obvious cowardice.
February 1862. Damours, Canby, and Carson are all at the battle of Valverde, where the Texans soundly defeat Canby and his Union Army, and head north, planning to capture the Colorado gold country and then California. As the Texans head toward Santa Fe, the con artists confront each other about how to salvage both their money and their cons. With the outcome of the war now more uncertain, the partners agree that Cummings’ cowardice makes it imperative that he ride to Taos to avoid the war.
March 1862. Battle of Glorieta. The Texans win again, but then the just-arrived Colorado Volunteers find and destroy all their supplies and horses. Sibley’s “victorious” forces, now starving and with no supplies, abandon the western Territories and ride, undefeated, back to Texas.
With the war in the west now in the past: Cummings buys the vacant Santa Fe Marshal job and a commission as a major in the U.S. Army; Canby orders Carson to subjugate the Mescalero Apaches and the Navajo; and all await the tardy arrival of now-General Carleton and his Californians.
With Cummings safely in place as Marshal and with Carleton coming to replace Canby as well as his aide de camp Damours, the con artists accelerate their embezzlements. Damours increases the laundering of official checks through his poker games, stealing more money from the Church, and then embezzling money from the governor’s requisitions. Chacon gets embroiled in a hostile physical confrontation with Union Army regulars and escalates it with Marshal Cummings, a product of their mutual disrespect.
Carleton and his Californians arrive in Santa Fe. Damours says goodbye to Lily, casually mentioning in bed that Canby has been reassigned to D.C. and is taking him with him. The money? He can’t just take it and go AWOL, as the U.S. Army would be after him in minutes. A sceptical Lily listens as Damours tells her their money is safely hidden away and he’ll come back for her.
Carleton immediately assigns Carson and Chacon the job of removing the Indians to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico, and, as expected, discovers the extent of Damours’ embezzlements. He, astonishingly, sends Cummings chasing after him to arrest him in D.C. and recover the cash.
With the money hidden, Damours now gone, and Cummings taking Lily with him to, bizarrely, chase down Damours, the remaining con artists confront each other on plans to recover all their hidden money and its eventual disposition.
In Canby’s War Office in D.C., Damours intercepts Carleton’s telegraph intended for Canby. It details his embezzlements, orders him to be arrested and tried, and reveals that Cummings is on his way to bring him back. Damours hastily invents a medical pretence for Canby, and gets permission to go to New York. He then, in fact, deserts.
Cummings and Lily reach D.C. by train, sleeping together and sparring over their mutual needs and mistrust. When Cummings arrives in D.C., now-General Canby confesses his shock at the Damours allegations and his further surprise that Carleton sent Cummings, of all people, after Damours. At Canby’s direction, Cummings heads to New York chasing Damours, Lily in tow.
Cummings and Lily follow Damours’ tracks northward. With Lily manipulating Cummings’ route, they find and confront Damours outside of Buffalo, on his way to Canada. During a bitter and near-violent three-way confrontation, duplicity upon duplicity is revealed as they come to a dramatic three-way stalemate. They force each other to agree to go their separate ways and to meet to split the money in Santa Fe.
Returning to Santa Fe, Cummings runs into Chacon and weaves a tale that he chased Damours to Cuba, where the fugitive shot himself in the head. He then brazenly produces a second false version for Carleton and Carson that he vainly chased Damours to the Canadian border, the War Office refused his request to pursue any further, and he has thus returned empty handed.
After Carleton’s failed meeting with the Navajo chiefs, Carson orders Cummings to accompany him in his coming war on the Navajo.
The Damours embezzlement news hits New Mexico papers just as the Navajo chiefs refuse one last chance to surrender. Cummings’ last act as he prepares to ride out with Carson against the Navajo is to confront and threaten the remaining partners, worming clues from each about the whereabouts of the money.
After Cummings leaves with Carson’s Army, Lily and the remaining con men discover that their hidden money has been stolen and that Damours’ buried cash has been dug up and is now gone. Concluding that Cummings headed out with their money, they send for Damours to return to New Mexico.
Carson and Cummings lead the army west, out against the Navajo. After a month of marching and pursuit without finding any Navajo, Carson orders Cummings to lead a scorched earth policy.
A man approaches Cummings with written orders from Carleton to a meeting in an arroyo a few miles from camp. When Cummings arrives deep in the arroyo with his packhorse, Lily, Damours, and the other con artists confront and trap him. Threat follows counter threat, and Cummings decides to call their bluff, turning to leave. But he is blocked from behind, rifle aimed at his chest. He turns back, Lily bids him goodbye and they shoot him point blank. They split the money on Cummings’ pack horse, but, since Lily had previously determined that his saddlebags held only his clothing, they leave those bags untouched.
The embezzled cash is distributed and, with their fortune secured, Lily and Damours head to the Washington Territory to start Lily’s ranch.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Opening credits, Visual: 1860s New Mexico stagecoach riding through the high desert, with Title card: “During Kit Carson’s August 1863 roundup of the Navajo Indians, Santa Fe’s Provost Marshal, Major Joseph Cummings, is found dead in an arroyo. The murder, as well the roughly million of today’s dollars in his saddlebags, is historically factual. Carson’s report in the U.S. Army records that Cummings was shot by a lone Indian is implausible. What follows is the mostly true story of an actual group of New Mexico con artists and a more likely explanation of the Marshal’s demise in that arroyo.”