The Quieting West
By Gordon Gravley
Genre: Literary / Western / Historical
This is the story of two cowboys, Billy Colter and Thomas Andrew Benton, in the rapidly changing world of the early 1900’s. Despite the forty-year difference in their ages, they become close friends in a brief time. After losing their jobs as ranch hands in Utah, they head to Denver, once old man Thomas’ stomping ground. There, Thomas spends time with Ellen Marie, a “soiled dove” he’s known all her life, while young Billy experiences the newest form of entertainment: nickelodeons.
Thomas soon receives a job offer from an old friend, and the two head to Arizona, expecting more ranch work. What they discover is a renegade group of silent film makers. Billy and Thomas are hired to protect the crew and their equipment from Patents Agents hunting down the illegal use of movie cameras. Before long, the cowboys-now-hired-guns are involved in the movie-making process. When they are lured to a world of great enchantment and seduction—Hollywood!—they find their lives forever changed. And not necessarily for the better.
It is a story of truth, fiction, and the disillusionment between the two. A story woven of humor, romance, and tragedy.
He looked at me, turned away, and then looked back. “You look familiar. What pictures have you been in?” he said to me.
I was stumped. I never knew the titles of any of the movies I’d been in. “I can’t rightly recall,” I told him. “I was Morgan Earp in one about that gunfight in Tombstone. Mostly, I rode and fell a lot.”
That was all the résumé I needed. The skinny man led me into the building, down a long corridor, and finally, onto an open lot.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“That’s a good name,” he replied, nodding his approval. Then he told me to wait while he went to talk to a gentleman who I took to be the director.
A moment later the skinny man returned. “Okay, Billy. Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to get on that horse there, and you’re going to ride out to the end of the street there. Then you’ll ride back this way, as fast as you can, and then stop the horse so suddenly that you fall off into that big water trough there. We made it over-sized so that you’ll be able to hit it better. You got all that?”
I had it. It was nothing different than I had done for Grady. I got on that horse with confidence. It was a skittish one, what with all the people and activities going on, but it took my commands just fine, and we went down to the end of the street just like we were told.
I waited a moment, set my sights on that over-sized trough, and then kicked my horse into a full run. All the time I was thinking about what Anna Beth had taught me: Do it the way Charles would do it. And I did. I must’ve soared fifteen feet from the saddle to the water-filled trough, my arms and legs flailing. I turned my body at the last moment and hit the water on my back. I sent a tidal wave of a splash up and outward, soaking anything and anyone within ten feet.
“What the hell are you doing?” the skinny man shouted at me.
I stood, as drenched as a drowned calf. “What you told me to do,” I answered.
“Yes, but not when! The director didn’t say action! We weren’t ready!”
Alan Grady’s yelling had nothing on this fellow’s. He may have been skinny but his lungs were mighty.
“Mendoza!” he shouted. Seemingly out of nowhere appeared a young Mexican boy.
“Yes, sir?” he said, like a soldier awaiting orders.
“Take Billy, dry him off and get him a new set of clothes.”
As I was hurried away I could hear—hell, everyone in Edendale probably heard—the skinny man shouting, “Get more water in this trough and clear away this mud!”
I was taken to an area behind the sets where there were racks and racks of clothes. The boy had me wait while he went through them. “How long have you been in movies?” he asked. His voice was high and feminine without any hint of “Mexican” to it.
“About a year, I suppose,” I replied, “in Prescott.”
His lack of response showed him unimpressed. He laid a shirt and pants on a rickety table beside me. “Try these.”
I quickly removed my clothes, at which the boy averted his eyes with a short, bashful gasp, and I realized he was she, a girl of not more than twelve or thirteen. It was then I could see in her brownish complexion and bright eyes of get-up-and-go and bullishness that she might be quite a pretty young lady if it weren’t for her boyish haircut and attire. I apologized and dressed as quickly as I had undressed.
“You did a great fall, Billy,” she told me.
“But you have to follow direction. If it weren’t for how good your fall was they would’ve fired you on the spot.”
“I suppose I got a little excited.”
She shoved me to hurry back to the set, which was good as everyone was impatiently awaiting my return. “What’s your name, again?” I asked her.
Her smile instilled me with the confidence that I could do that fall even better than before, which I did, and that I had made my first friend in California.
When you think of cowboys and ranch hands, poetry is probably not among the first traits that come to mind. Images of six guns and roping cattle and dusty ten gallon hats are more likely to dance in front of you. In this amazing book you get all that and more.
The prologue is written by Billy Colter, the great grandson of the protagonist of this tale.
Each chapter is headed with a snippet of a poem from William's mentor sidekick, the infamous lawman Thomas Andrew Benton. If you are not yet a fan of cowboy poets, you will be checking them out after you read The Quieting West.
Told in a calm and rational voice, you are drawn into this story and feel as if you are right there on the sidelines watching as history is being made. Tall tales, exaggeration and embellishment might be ranch hand traits, but we feel as if we can trust what we are being told by Billy Colter as he describes his friendship and travels with Thomas Benton.
From their meeting in Utah to Billy's first visit to the big city of Denver, then onto Arizona and California, these cowboys alternate falling into trouble and luck. We see the balance of their friendship gradually change. Billy and Thomas are involved in the struggling first years of the film industry where Billy finds that movie makers share some of the same traits as ranch hands.
"People change when they become famous. Good people become not so good. Bad people become worse."
If you don't feel that you are a fan of western novels, but you have an interest in historical fiction, I still suggest you pick up this book. It could expand your reading choices.
You won't regret giving this a try.
Gordon Gravley has been making up stories all his life. The dystopian Gospel for the Damned was his first novel. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Gordon moved around – California; Colorado; Alaska; Northern Arizona – before eventually settling in Seattle, Washington. Calling the Northwest his home since 1998, he doesn’t expect to be moving elsewhere anytime soon. There, he’ll continue to make up stories, and live with his wife and son.
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/gordongravley
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