Author Daniel Herman works a day job as a history professor.
I hope his new book, “The Feudist: A Novel of the Pleasant Valley War,” his first essay into fiction, will be the first of many novels.
I live in the area depicted in the book and many longtime Rim Country residents who have heard stories about the war and who know the place names in the book, will find “The Feudist” a treat. In one episode, the characters ride from Little Green Valley to Houston Mesa. To do that they would have had to ride within spitting distance from my house, where I type these words. That’s cool.
We get a real taste for the lingo of the era, which I like just fine. And he puts words into the mouth of the teenage protagonist that comes close to poetry.
“From off in the distance came the plaints of a he-quail. A fading note, then a silence, like he was on a vigil for a lost companion.”
Herman is a professor of history at Central Washington University. He has gathered a bushel basket full of facts. He uses these facts to make his story. But the facts in his basket sometimes contradict each other, just as other authors have found in writing about the biggest, bloodiest and longest-running range war in history. People writing a history of the war have problems sifting fact from fiction.
So Herman switches gears from history to fiction. I tip my Stetson to him. He gets in many of the killings, the bushwhacking, lynchings and shootings, but presents them through the eyes of young Benjamin Holcomb. And just as in the real historical record, young Holcomb never is quite sure who is responsible for a particular death or why such a killing might have happened.
Herman changes the names of the historical figures just enough to avoid lawsuits or retribution.
The real-life Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens has a character based on him called Lafayette Marcus McGowan. Actual Payson saloonkeeper William Hillegas in the book becomes the fictional William Pendergast. Globe storekeeper George Heard took his form from the later actual Governor George Hunt. You get the idea. Some characters Herman made up, others he cobbled together from several actual people. Remember, this is fiction. His story takes place in, around and through the war, it isn’t about the war.
For me, it gives a feeling for what it might have been like to be in the neighborhood in those days. Some men died by chance. Others were stalked and killed. Some were tracked down, “arrested” by deputies for a day, and lynched. The events had few well-developed strategies. Many men died because other men kept a grudge or killed them on suspicion rather than by proof.
I enjoyed reading this story and the fictionalization of the tragic, confusing events helps me understand the era, if not specific details.
Yes, he mentions the pigs.
I learned a fact too. Globe took its name from a silver nugget that people thought looked like a representation of our pretty blue planet.
TCU Press titles are available in local bookstores, online at www.tamupress.com, or by calling (800) 826-8911. The book retails for $22.95.