How did Deadwood Dick get his name? Readers can learn this, and a whole lot more, in this picaresque Western from a master of the form (The Thicket, 2013, etc.).
Willie Jackson’s origins didn’t prophesy a future any brighter than that of most black Americans born in East Texas so soon after the War Between the States that he can still remember his years as an infant slave. What seals his fate, however, is looking the wrong way at the rear end of Sam Ruggert’s hatchet-faced third wife. Ruggert, not one to take this slur on his manhood lying down, organizes a lynching party. Although Willie escapes, his father doesn’t, nor does the family farm. Taking to his heels, Willie lucks into kind neighbor Tate Loving, who shelters him for several years. But when he’s recognized one day by a chance visitor, his real adventures begin. In short order he lights out again, changes his name to Nat Love, enlists in the U.S. Cavalry, deserts his post, crosses paths with four Chinese women, loses his heart to a ratter named Win Finn, lands in Deadwood, where he’s befriended by James Butler Hickok—Wild Bill to you—and wins the shooting competition that earns him his enduring sobriquet. Soon thereafter, Ruggert and two hirelings catch up with Ruggert’s long-sought quarry and exact a terrible vengeance. The tables now turned, Willie, or Nat, or Dick, plots his own revenge on the man who stole his happiness.
Noting that he’s starred in many a dime novel penned by his old friend Bronco Bob Brennen, the narrator maintains in closing: “Here is the straight record.” That assurance is a lot harder to swallow than the rest of this tall tale, which goes down smooth and easy as a vintage sarsaparilla.