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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Saturday, August 13, 2016

COME WINTER by Douglas C. Jones

"It was late April and there had been a hard little rain in the afternoon, then clearing, the clouds running off toward White River in the east and the sun coming through ebullient blue sky from the Indian Territory.  It was that magic time in the Ozarks when everyone leaned forward, expecting the next instant to hear larks or see north-migrating yellow warblers."

Ozark scene in N.W. Arkansas near setting of Come Winter
Reconstruction has ended and Roman Hasford is returning home to take charge of the family farm in northwestern Arkansas.  His father has entered the early stages of dementia, brought on by his horrifying experiences during the Civil War, and his mother is no longer able to cope with the burdens of caring for him and the farm.

Roman had left the farm after his father had returned from the war.  He made his way to Leavenworth, Kansas where through skill, hard work, a little luck, and good connections he amassed a sizeable fortune, even though he was still only in his twenties.

This was his second trip back home, but the first had been for only a short spell. He had not returned alone that time, but brought with him a little black-eyed girl named Catrina Peel, who had endured an abused existence at the hands of a no-account father.  Leaving her under the care of his mother, Roman returned to Leavenworth to tie up the loose ends that would allow him to settle permanently near Gourdville, the town closest to the Hasford farm.

Now he is returning, and not alone this time either.  With him are two people: Orvile Tucker, an ex-slave who is a blacksmith and the "best horse man" Roman has ever known; and Elmer Scaggs, an illiterate, unintelligent, but extremely loyal friend and employee, who "protected Roman Hasford from hurt, from bullies, as if Roman was a little boy on a school ground...."

"But Roman didn't just settle down.  He bought that old limestone building on the north side of the town square, and men went to work there with lumber and brick and mortar and glass to make a bank out of it, some said the second bank in the whole state of Arkansas, the first being down in Fayetteville, established only the year before.  And the word went out that a man could borrow money in that new bank in this money-starved country.  With appropriate interest."

The bank allowed Roman to become a power broker in his community and the surrounding area, not just because he possessed the means to influence events through his control of his neighbor's financial prospects, but because he was also able to dictate what individuals occupied what political offices.

"Then came the day that Roman married the little black-eyed girl....

"Almost everybody who counted in the county came.  It was springtime and the black locusts along Wire Road were in bloom.  Everything smelled like honeysuckle, and there were already larks calling from the fields across the road....

"As soon as the 'I now pronounce you man and wife' part was said, Catrina Peel Hasford went into the house and up to her loft room and stayed there the rest of the day."

Roman had returned home.  He had wealth, power, and a wife.  But what did it all mean?  And how would it all end?

"But in winter the colors died and the smells dried up.  The only place such things were sustained was inside snug walls.  The orange flame of the fireplace, the aroma of roasting chicken or frying ham creating a sense of well-being, sheltered from the great world beyond the frozen windows.  Outside, it was bleak, making the inside all the more safe and comfortable.

"So things that happened in the outside world, beyond those sheltering walls, were always remembered as harsher and more bitter than they would have if they'd happened in the spring, summer, or fall.

"And the trouble came back in winter."


"The story has all the elements of classic tragedy leavened with a bittersweet humor and wit that is quintessentially American....A master storyteller is at work here, offering a singular and knowledgeable vision of the nation's final frontier days." -- Publisher's Weekly

"Fine Adventure -- the history is rich, the story is intriguing, the characters are real.  Jones' corner of Arkansas is becoming one of the most skillfully and attractively documented places in America." Kirkus Review

"Come Winter includes a townful of characters, with women as tough as the men, building fortunes in new businesses where the railroads reach. Mr. Jones has created real people in a sympathetic story...." Herbert Mitgang, New York Times

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