THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ROMAN:A Novel of the West by Douglas C. Jones

"On the day Roman Hasford's father came home from the war in June of 1865, it was raining.  The new green of the Ozark hardwood timber was like washed lettuce, dripping clear crystals in the slow but steady fall of water from a pale sky that held the sun close above the clouds and was about to break through at any moment.  It was not a bleak day.  It was a pearl-gray day, shining and gentle, with even some of the birds ignoring the weather and making their sparkling calls that seemed, like the leaves, to be washed clean by the rain."  

In two of Douglas C. Jones' earlier novels, Elkhorn Tavern and The Barefoot Brigade, the reader learned Roman Hasford's backstory.

Because his father was a soldier in a Confederate regiment fighting in Virginia and Tennessee, Roman, at age fourteen, began to assume the mantle of man of the house as he attempted to protect his mother and sister and their home from bushwhackers and jayhawkers who ravaged and plundered the area.

If that wasn't enough, large Union and Confederate forces clashed in a major battle, the battle of Pea Ridge, sometimes called the battle of Elkhorn Tavern, that was fought on and around the Hasford farm in the Arkansas Ozarks.

But now the war had ended and Roman's father had returned.  Roman couldn't help resenting the fact that he was no longer in charge and that he had to take orders from his father, while realizing that his father had every right to give those orders.  And anyway, after the danger and excitement of the last few years he didn't look forward to settling down to the peaceful pursuits of an Ozarks hill farmer.

Therefore, at age eighteen, seeking independence from father and with an urge to see and experience the wider world, he left home.  And as many young men did after the war, he headed west.  Well, sort of.  He settled in Leavenworth, Kansas, which was actually much more north than west from his home, but in every other way very much a western frontier town.


Because he was intelligent and industrious he was able to make important connections in Leavenworth and was soon on his way to becoming a prosperous young businessman.  But not all was peace and tranquility.

Post-Civil war jayhawkers and bushwhackers were also experiencing difficulty in making the transition from war to peace and they continued to plague the border land. And to the west the Cheyenne were fighting a holding action against western encroachment and expansion.

Roman, at age twenty-two, even found himself with a small group of soldiers and scouts surrounded by a large group of Indians in eastern Colorado in what came to be called the battle of Beecher Island.  The irony was not lost on Roman that the Indians were led by a Cheyenne chief known to the whites as Roman Nose.

The battle of Beecher Island
As with Jones' other historical novels there is an intermingling of fact and fiction and an interesting mix of colorful fictional and historical characters.  Since Leavenworth was the site of the major frontier military post, it comes as no surprise that a number of real military officers make cameo appearances, including Winfield Scott Hancock, George Armstrong Custer, George Forsyth, John Pope, and Philip Sheridan.

Furthermore, the battle of Beecher Island is an actual historical event and, yes, the Cheyenne warriors were led by a chief known as Roman Nose.

Published in 1986, Roman received the Western Writers of America's Spur Award for Best Historical Western.  Later editions were published under the title Roman Hasford.

"Few writers can summon forth the agonies and joys of the rites of passage as poignantly as Douglas C. Jones, who in 'Roman' counterbalances that highly personal experience with a broader one of the coming-of-age of the American West .... as always Jones' vision is as singular as a thumbprint. -- Loren D. Estleman 

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