Just in time for Christmas, my new novel arrives on December 16!
DILLY is the story of abused orphan boy, Orville “Dilly” Dillard Jr., who travels west from Ohio to Wyoming in the summer of 1893 and ends up at the Hatterson Cattle Ranch. He gains friends—as well as a few enemies—and dares to wonder if he’s found a home after all. He also finds himself smack in the middle of the infamous and all-too-real Sheep Wars, in which dozens of sheepherders are murdered and few of the attacking cattlemen are held accountable. No matter which side Dilly chooses, he’ll have a brutal fight on his hands.
Five Star Publishing, 213 pages, December 16, 2020
Pre-orders available at Amazon. Intrigued? Read the excerpt below….
By Matthew P. Mayo
Release date: December 16, 2020
Pre-orders available at Amazon
Big Horn County, Wyoming
Once again, I look back on that day so long ago when I was drawn to the Hatterson Ranch, and I shake my head. What would my life have been like if I’d kept walking? A number of people would not have died, I know that much. Some of them I cared for deeply, one in particular.
So with the view that long years give a man, if I could do it over again, would I stop at that ranch gate or would I keep on walking?
That’s when I hear the stove door squawk in the kitchen, and a log being chunked into its hungry mouth, and I smile and regret my thoughts. That is my Felice, using her apron as a hot pad to shut the door, saving the fancy flowered hot pads I bought her for Christmas last year, still hanging on the hook behind the stove, never used and never would be. Too pretty, she’d said, shaking her head.
I reckon it’s a good thing I was born with a keen curiosity to see what that ranch was all about, else I never would have met her.
I shift in my chair on the porch and shout through the screen door. “Hey, Felice . . . do you ever think on the sheep wars?”
I hear her footsteps, and there she is, standing on her side of the screen, drying her hands on her apron. “The past is a dead thing, Dilly. No use hauling up that sore memory from the bottom of the pond.” She shakes her head and walks back to the kitchen.
I carve a fresh knob off my plug of tobacco, snap my old, worn Barlow shut, and slide it back into my vest pocket. I pick off the lint and it occurs to me how right she is.
As I chew that tobacco, savoring the sweet molasses and applewood flavors, I fold my hands over my belly and fall to musing, the perfect pastime for a lazy Sunday afternoon. As I recall, that day I came upon the Hatterson Ranch had been a Sunday, too.
Hell, even if it wasn’t, it should have been.
I am not from here, I remember saying to a thin fellow in a boxcar one time, as a response to his question. I have never heard before or since a man fart so much as that skinny drink. He called it “bilious ructions,” but I spent the entire time in that dank boxcar with tears in my eyes, only half of them for the situation I’d found myself in—that of traveling alone across the country. “Ain’t none of us are from here, son,” he’d said. “That’s why it’s called a frontier. Raw and woolly and untrammeled by interlopers.”
I didn’t understand half those words, but I drew his meaning. Back in the spring of 1893, that part of the country was indeed still untrammeled.
I have since learned the meaning of the word and I trot it out like a fairground pony now and again to impress people, mostly my wife. She’ll snort and go back to her sock mending. I am hell on heels, she says. It’s because I am always looking up to you, my dearest, I tell her. She snorts again, but I see a tiny smile on her pretty mouth.
Nowadays, of course, this part of the U.S. of A is fair to bursting with all manner of people from all over the world. You have the Chinese—a more polite and kinder people you will not meet. I am proud to count two of them as my close friends. But I would not wish to cross them in a fight, fair or otherwise. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and I think he learned it from a Chinaman.
Then you have the Irish, also some of the kindest folks you are likely to meet. But you get one of their breed riled or drunk (usually one leads to the other), and you best duck and run. Then there are Italians. Again, good people but a whole lot like the Irish and the Chinese. It’s coming to me as I write this that folks all over the world are pretty much the same.
There was that Russian woman who ended up in these parts some years ago toting a pet rabbit and a mute little Mexican girl no more than two years of age. No one here speaks the woman’s lingo, and the child, as I say, can’t utter a lick, so we are left to rely on the wormy ways of our own minds to figure out her story.
But I tell you what, you have an ailment, you’d better have a deep-chested horse if you pass up her ministrations, because it’s a long distance to Doc Binner’s office in Greenhaven, some miles down the valley.
That Russian woman has cured more chesty croups and delivered more healthy bairns and eased more chilblainsand rheumatics than anyone in Wyoming. Though I wonder if she could have gained the upper hand in a battle with that skinny fellow’s bilious ructions . . .
I realize I am doing what my friend, Teapot Stover, calls generalizing. He says it’s a surefire way to raise the ire of them I am generalizing about. I can’t say I disagree.
But I will say one more thing about a certain people. The Basques. They are dearest to me of all the people I have met in my life. Not that I am a well-traveled man, though at one time, as a boy, I roved a long distance, only to find when I thought my traveling days had come to an end that my journeying had only begun. Different type of travel, though. I’ll get to that.
As I say, the Basques mean much to me. They are without debate the smilingest, kindest people you could meet. They are also the most talented, from gentling beasts to curing their ills to singing and dancing and generally whooping it up. Most of all, they are the hardest-working folks I’ve ever met.
My wife says all this praise of the Basques is hogwash. Which I find odd as she is Basque. I am not, though for years I tried every day to be one. I never really will be, of course. Nowadays I only fret over things I can change, if they need changing. The rest, I tip my hat to and move along.
The Basques come from Basque Country, which is part of Spain and part of France, and while some of them are sheepherders there, I came to find out that a good many more of them are not. But as they are clever, they picked up on the skills required of that trade and set to work here in the United States.
As sheepmen, they spend months alone, far up in the summer hill country, tending vast flocks, with no company save for their dogs and all those sheep, and a visit every couple of weeks from one of their fellows bringing up supplies and scraps of news, if there’s anything worth telling. Then there are the coyotes, the wolves, and bears. Hardly fit conversationalists for men.
The Basques have been called names I almost hate to mention in these pages, but I promised myself I would not shy from the bald truth in this document, and so I shall set down a few: sheepeater, muttonhead . . . There are others, but too much salt will spoil the soup.
I see I have been ricocheting off topics like a slug fired in a rock quarry. My wife says that talking with me is sometimes like chasing chickens. I am fond of chickens, especially under bubbling dumplings, and so I will take her remarks as a compliment, even though I know she intended otherwise.
When I first met the girl who would become my wife, she was grinding corn between stones, a slow, soft, dragging noise. That’s how I found her. I followed that scraping sound and there she was. Prettiest girl I had ever seen.
Wore one of those peasant shirts that tie at the throat. Only hers wasn’t tied and her skin at the neck and down lower was the color of Granna’s tea after she’d run more water than she ought through the leaves. The thing I remember most was that I could see down her shirt front.
I didn’t mean to, no sir, not in a hundred years would I say I did. But sometimes there isn’t a thing you can do but look. I saw a glimpse of her perfect body, and though she has changed some over the years, filled out, you might say, she has only become more perfect. But that sight, now that’s something I never told her before. Never told anyone.
And here I am setting it down on a page with a pencil. It’s time to be plain and bold and honest in all I do. Not that I haven’t been a straight shooter before now. But with our Constanza expecting the first of her own babies, our very own grandbaby, why, I feel it is time for everything I know to be laid out on the table. Shouldn’t take too many pages.
My wife is the one who bought me this stack of blank tablets, such as a schoolchild labors in, plus six fresh pencils, so pristine and straight and pretty in their red painted jackets, I almost did not have the heart to carve up the end of the first one. But I did, and here I am, my half-moon spectacles on the end of my nose, a tablet before me, and a cup of coffee not yet cold on the table beside my chair.
I cobbled together two pine planks and they rest on the arms of this rocker. Felice gave me scraps of flannel to tack to the underside at each end so I don’t scratch the chair. And here I sit, writing down my life’s story. It seems a foolish notion, as the only folks I ever heard who did such a thing were great men like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.
But when Felice gave me the paper and pencils, she held my whiskered cheeks in her hands, looked at me, into me like only she can. That is something she has done through the years when she wants me to pay close attention. She doesn’t know I do that all the time with her anyway. Her gaze pins me like a butterfly to a collector’s board.
“You are a great man to me,” she said.
I was set to disagree, but she did something she has rarely done. Her eyes got wet and she looked away. She picked up the tablet and pencils and pushed them to my chest. “For me,” she said.
And that’s why I am here. Great man or no, I am not a dumb man. When a fellow like me gets lucky enough to share his life with a woman such as Felice, he does what she says. She’s not steered me wrong yet.
Okay, back to it. If you’ve stuck with me this far, indulge me, old friend. Because the story I am going to tell you is unlike any other you will ever hear. Some of it you know, much of it you don’t. It is my story, every word the truth, because I recall that summer as if it occurred yesterday.
But before I tell you about that summer, I should tell you about me, myself, and I, the only folks I ever really knew, at least up until I was almost thirteen years of age.