Thursday, June 05, 2014
Review: Finding Billy Battles
By Ronald E. Yates
Create Space, November 2013
About the Book
Western Kansas 1860. Billy Battles is born on a remote homestead just off the storied Santa Fe Trail. More than one hundred years later a great-grandson inherits two trunks filled with Billy’s personal effects. In those trunks are several secret journals that reveal an astonishing life of adventure and violence that until now was obscured by the haze of time and Billy’s desire for secrecy.
The journals tell of a man both haunted and hunted who, in a desperate search for peace and redemption, journeys far from the untamed American West to the Far East, South America, and Europe. In amazing detail they describe Billy’s interaction with a wide assortment of men and women—some legendary, a few iniquitous, and many lost to history. They also recount his participation in such cataclysmic events as the Spanish-American War, turmoil in French Indochina, and violent revolutions in Mexico and South America.
Complying with Billy’s last request the great-grandson assembles the journals into a compelling trilogy that reveals a man often trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control, but who nevertheless manages to persevere for ten decades.
Yates’ story opens with a young journalist inheriting journals that tell the tale of his great-grandfather’s incredible, mysterious life. In this first installment, Billy is a young man who leaves home to try his hand at the newspaper business and to reclaim land abandoned by his widowed mother years before. When Billy arrives at the homestead, he finds it occupied by a notorious gang of outlaws and a shoot-out ensues. The outcome of that gunfight will haunt Billy for the next decade and make him a fugitive, from both the law and the gang leader who is bent on revenge.
On his travels throughout the west, Billy encounters such notable figures as Wyatt and Virgil Earp, Doc Holliday, and Oscar Wilde, as well as various political refugees, politicians, and lawmen. Billy marries and settles into a career as a roving reporter, but no matter how far he runs, his past will not allow him a peaceful present. Grieving and confused, Billy takes a giant step into the unknown, leaving his family far behind in search of redemption.
The author describes this tale as “faction”—the story uses actual people and events as well as oral narratives to create the fictional framework. Readers get a colorful picture of the “real” Wild West in late nineteenth century Kansas and an in depth look into the guns, trains, hotels, and even the jargon, of that time and place. The foreshadowing at the end of each chapter gets rather heavy-handed as the book progresses, and the format—long passages of one-person narration—can make the book feel longer than it actually is, yet the theme of trying to outrun the inescapable moments of one’s past remains powerful.
Rebecca Henderson Palmer