On the importance of historical witnesses

Finding Billy Battles: An Account of Peril, Transgression and Redemption - Ronald E Yates

Ronald E. Yates, a journalist and professor of journalism, has turned to "faction," fiction based on facts, to tell the story of his great-grandfather, a participant in the Spanish-American War.


As a twelve-year-old boy, young Ronald was not appreciative of his grandmother's intention to make sure that he met his great grandfather, a resident of an old soldiers' home.  Before that day, he hadn't even been aware that he had a great-grandfather; besides which, it took an hour to get there, his grandmother drove too slow, and he would be surrounded by old people, any one of whom could drop dead at any moment.


As an adult, he reflects back on his boyhood thoughts, and articulates them in the Prologue.


"Those were the kind of self-indulgent thoughts that pranced through my adolescent brain that day. Today I know a lot more about my great-grandfather. The biggest regret of my life is that I was too young and too obtuse to understand what kind of human history database my great-grandfather was.   I would only learn that many years later when, as a journalism student at the University of Kansas, I began to appreciate the value of personal narratives from people who could speak firsthand about events I could only read about.


That's the way it is when we become absorbed with history.  We discover that the events and people  of antiquity are not ghosts, or simply lifeless words on a page, or fading sepia images.  They have an essence we can touch and hear and even speak to if only we have the right medium -- someone who has experienced the past with passion and perceptiveness and has the keen senses with which to make it come alive to those who, until that moment, could only fantasize about it."


This is Mr. Yates' first foray into fiction, and Finding Billy Battles is the first book of a trilogy.  From the foreword, and from the results of an internet search on the author, I find I am getting excited about this one.  It has everything I like: history and adventure; the author has roots in my home state of Kansas; and he can put words together in a pleasing manner.


i received a free preview of this book from StoryCartel in exchange for a fair review.  So, I will read on and let you know how it goes.


One Day Later:

I have completed the book and it is good and enjoyable history.  The other two books in the trilogy are already on my To Acquire list.  That being said, I must admit I'm a little disappointed that the author, who is a journalist, didn't edit the text a little more.  It appears that he used his Great Grandfather's journals without much modification, and while I enjoyed the Wild West jargon and vernacular, it would have been preferable to leave out the repetition of the tale of The Shootout at the OK Corral; once is really enough.  In my opinion, it wouldn't have hurt to tweak the dialog a bit; also, there were a few minor typos, and a homophone mistake or two (site/sight).  


Still, Mr. Yates' great grandfather was a pretty good story teller in his own right.  It was nice to get a down-home perspective of some of the notorious figures from the Old West, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson; a different viewpoint from the romanticized Hollywood portrayals.  Billy Battles saw his fair share of gun battles, claim jumpers and desperadoes.


Book one ends with Billy leaving America for the Far East, and some pretty strong hints have been dropped that we are going to learn things that aren't in the history books.  Like I said, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.