The first novel in the Barton Family Saga Series is Two Hearts, May 2019. The second, Beyond the Horizon, June 2020. The third is West River, February 2022.
West River is the final novel in the Series. Each novel tells its own unique tale. The Series covers the epic journey of a family and a nation out of the Old West.
Flustered and not knowing how she would be able to tell Buster’s father that his son had lost a fair fight, her face quivered at the thought. She knew there would be hell to pay and that she, like always, would be the one making most of the payments.
“Boys’ll be boys. He’ll heal up and maybe he’ll stay clear of fighting in the future. We’ll see to Bart, never you mind,” Kate said, her arms akimbo with the rolling pin handle still gripped tightly in her right hand.
Just when everyone had settled down and Betty was about to pull out of the driveway, a bicycle came rolling up, its young rider bleeding from the left side of his head. From the look on Betty’s face, Bill knew the drama that had just closed was about to have a second act.
“Timmy! Oh, my God! What’s happened?” Betty cried as she sprang back out of the car to embrace her young son.
Timmy had seen the family car turn onto Little Italy Road and decided to try to catch up with his mother so he might get a ride home. The side of his head throbbed with pain as tears streaked his cheeks. All he wanted to do is get home without anyone seeing him crying.
“Nothing, Ma. Just fell off my bike,” Timmy lied.
“You haven’t been fighting, have you?” Betty said, confused.
Betty knew Timmy had been trying to follow in his big brother’s footsteps, just as his father insisted. Seeing a huge red welt, the size of a fist, on the left side of Timmy’s head, told Betty clear enough that her son had been fighting. From the looks of things, somebody had caught him with a powerful right-handed haymaker that had damn near taken his head off.
Unable to hold back his tears, Timmy started crying when he realized his mother somehow knew he was lying.
“What happened, mister? You better tell me before I have to tear into your hide myself,” Betty barked, upset about Buster and now having to deal with Timmy in front of the whole Barton family no less
“Barton did it,” Timmy blubbered.
“Barton? Did that monster beat you up, too?” Betty said, pointing at Bart, her face beet red with anger.
At that moment, if killing had been legal, Bart may not have lived out the day. Just as Betty wound up to let loose with a fresh barrage of swear words, she was stopped dead in her tracks when she heard her young son’s reply.
“No. It wasn’t . . .” Timmy stammered, embarrassed.
“It wasn’t! Who then? Tell me, mister, who did you fight with?” Betty screeched.
Velda, listening from inside the tent, knew it was her turn to step out and fess up, just like her big brother had done.
“Me,” Velda said in a stout little voice, as she stepped out of the tent with her backbone ramrod straight, shoulders thrown back, and her chin held high.
It was plain to anyone who cared to look, Velda was proud of her actions and was the kind of person who never backed down no matter the odds. She might be a girl, but she was no wilting violet. Her clinched fists put a clear double exclamation mark on that fact.
“You?” Betty exclaimed, looking down at Velda and then at the huge welt on the side of her bawling son’s head.
“Yes, ma’am. He took my lunch box and threw it in the ditch and then called me names and shoved me. I hit him,” Velda admitted and then looked from Betty Geed to her parents and awaited the verdict.
“Timmy Geed, you tell me now, is that what happened?” Betty said, her mind spinning, unable to process what seemed unbelievable. “Did you shove and fight with this little girl?”
How much hell would have to be paid when their father came home, she could no longer calculate. Both sons beaten bloody on the same day by the same family, with one of them beaten by a girl no bigger nor taller than a garden gnome.
Bert, his left shoulder bleeding, came up the street with a sour look on his face and rolled Willie’s body over with the toe of his boot. As the body turned over, a growing pile of gold coins spilled out of Willie’s shredded, bullet-riddled shirt. Bert quickly understood the reason why the man had been able to take several gunshots to his midsection without so much as receiving a nick. Though the face he looked down at was now missing its left eye and had been bloodied, Bert could still easily identify it as Willie Dunhill’s. He was sickened by the high price Phil Roberts had paid for tracking down the wily, one-armed gunslinger. Bert had his own theory on Willie’s probable paymaster for all the gold that now laid in a pile next to his lifeless body.
“Well son, you best give me that pistol now,” Bert said to John, who was still lying in the middle of the street, pistol in hand.
Taking the pistol from John, Bert turned and was surprised to find Tom Burton on the boardwalk nearby. Looking at Burton, Bert motioned toward Willie’s dead body and then toward John, and asked, “These two yours?”
“John Barton there is one of my best riders. I’ve no idea who the one-armed hombre was,” Burton said, meeting Bert’s stone-eyed glare with one of his own.
“I met the man in a saloon in Saint Joe two months ago. I don’t know him other than he had a friend who liked to fight,” John volunteered, hoping he wouldn’t need to say more.
“Did he always wear such fancy duds?” Bert pressed, looking at John.
“Not sure. I guess he did. I thought he was a cowpuncher,” John said shrugging his shoulders.
Recognizing the fancy hat and vest Willie was wearing as once belonging to José Rodriquez, John’s mind raced to understand what might have happened between the two men. That Willie also had José’s distinctive eyepatch around his neck seemed to confirm he had probably killed the man. When and why, John had no idea.
“A one-armed, left-handed, gunslingin’ cowpuncher who liked to wear fancy duds and wrap himself in gold coins. Well, it takes all kinds, I guess,” Bert said, letting everyone in earshot know he wasn’t happy with the answers he was getting or with how things had worked out.
With Willie’s death, Bert’s only lead on the Mexican cattle-rustling raid had also died. He knew of no one else who could tie the raid to Tom Burton. It was certain none of Burton’s men would talk for fear of reprisal. How Burton and Dunhill happened to be in the same town on the same boardwalk at the same time seemed too coincidental, but then there was the question of the link between Willie Dunhill and John Barton, a link Barton himself had acknowledged.
The ugly twist in the tale that soured Bert’s stomach was that he would now have to pay John Barton, the man who had conveniently severed his mysterious link with Willie Dunhill with a bullet to man’s brain, the two-hundred-dollar reward for bringing Willie in. Whatever their link had been, it was clear the two men hadn’t exactly been friends.
Bert had to shake his head and grudgingly accept there would remain many questions unanswered when it came to the mysterious Willie Dunhill. That he had been a one-armed man had come as a shock, considering he had somehow been a cowpuncher according to Barton. Looking back at Willie’s dead body sprawled out in the street, Bert took note of the ornate eyepatch that hung around the man’s neck, which triggered yet another question for which he had no answer, and for which he expected he never would. He had to concede that only a higher power would be able to answer the question of how Willie Dunhill had known he would be needing an eyepatch in hell.
Born and raised in the Dakota Badlands, “Wild Bill” Bishop has been driven by a pioneer spirit and an unquenchable curiosity in what lies beyond the distant horizon. His wanderlust has taken him to the far corners of the world, where he has come to appreciate the true value of his beloved Black Hills of South Dakota and his western roots.
The Old West comes alive in this epic tale of lawless desperadoes and a man seeking redemption through the love of a good woman. Things become increasing dangerous for Bill Barton as his cattle rustling buddies in Missouri including Frank and Jesse James turn to the ways of gunslinging outlaws. Living a double life as a southerner named Leroy Thompson, Bill works to guard his real identity when south of the Mason-Dixon Line. He knows the promise of his new life would come to a violent end, if his Confederate partners ever found out he had been a Union spy during the war.
While on a cattle rustling foray into Missouri, Bill’s life becomes even more complicated when he accidently runs into the love of his life, Cole Younger’s sweetheart, Lucy Breeden. Lucy feels as deeply for Bill as he does for her which puts the couple on a collision course with the bloodthirsty Cole Younger, who believes if he can’t have Lucy, no one will.
“Every good yarn has a little action, a little romance, memorable characters, and a soupçon of truth. Bill Bishop’s “Two Hearts” has all of that and more. The fate of Cole Younger, Bill Barton, and their love for Lucy is the story of the West, and the history of a family come to life.”
— Bruce Stronach, Dean, Temple University Japan Campus.
"A master storyteller in command of his craft brings the outlaws of the Old West to life in a cunning tale of revenge and romance."
— Randall Barton, Development Writer, Reed College
“Bill Bishop has returned to his Western roots to pen a frontier adventure that grabs your full attention from beginning to end. “Two Hearts” is a story too real to be fiction.”
— P. Reed Maurer, President, International Alliances Limited
The genesis of this novel is a Barton family myth that has been passed down through the generations for more than 140 years. It has been said that the Barton brothers rode with the James brothers after the Civil War. During these outlaw days, my great-great grandfather ran off with Cole Younger’s sweetheart. It has been further claimed that she may have been part Seneca or Cherokee Indian. As the tale has been told, the couple first met along a small river in northwest Missouri where she was doing laundry. They fell in love, later ran off, got married, and had children who continued the Barton family march west into the Dakota Territory and beyond.
The hero of the tale as I have tried to reconstruct events is Bill Barton who was born in Illinois in 1845 to Amorett Waite and Oromal Bingham Barton. Bill Barton moved from Illinois to Iowa shortly after the Civil War in 1865. John Barton, Bill Barton’s oldest son, was born in Iowa in 1868. John married in Iowa in 1897 and had seven children—three sons and four daughters—and later homesteaded at Rainy Creek near the little town of Creighton, Pennington County in western South Dakota in 1912. John’s oldest son, Bill Barton, named for his grandfather, later married Kathrine (Kate) Busskohl and had three children—two sons, Harold and John, and one daughter, Velda, my mother. From 1929 until 1935, Bill and Kate Barton homesteaded the last available free land near Dewey in Custer County in the Black Hills of South Dakota not far from where gold was first discovered on French Creek in 1874.
I have spun both fact and fiction into this epic tale, drawing from historical facts about the Barton family as well as facts surrounding: Jesse and Frank James; Cole, Jim, Bob, and John Younger; William Quantrill; Bloody-Bill Anderson; Clell Miller; Charlie Pitts; Bill Chadwell; Belle Starr; Judge Shirley; Allen Pinkerton; General George Armstrong Custer; Capitan Leander McNelly; Dan Rice; and many others as well as drawing from the many accounts of the Northfield, Minnesota bank robbery and the ensuing manhunt. The story roughly takes place over a ten-year period from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the presidential election in 1876.
As it happens, the year 1876 marks a watershed in American history. Many tectonic events converged during the preceding decade that have in many ways set the foundations of the America in which we live today. From the purchase of the Alaska territory, the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, the rise of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (later to evolve into today’s FBI), the opening of the last Indian lands in the Dakotas, and the celebration of America’s first centennial, to the globalization of the ice trade, the establishment of America’s modern day Christmas traditions, the discovery of the telephone, the death of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the running of the first Kentucky Derby, the demise of the James-Younger Gang in Northfield, Minnesota, and the contested presidential election of 1876 which led to the sudden decision to withdraw federal troops and end southern reconstruction, resulting in the loss of civil rights for millions of newly freed slaves for nearly one hundred years. All these events and many more have been woven into the story, each playing a role in helping to set the stage and propel the plot forward. In writing this fictional account, I found it necessary to include a few historical facts, believing we are all products of the times in which we live. Bill Barton and Lucy Breeden were no different.
This is a work of fiction, none of the characters or events depicted in this story are intended to represent any true persons either living or deceased or their true actions or intentions or any actual historical events. This fictional novel is at best a flight of fancy based on a long-held Barton family myth. The author’s intent is to entertain, not to inform readers of the accurate recounting of historical persons, facts, or events. The author reserves the right to leave the writing of history to historians. As to those things that may be plausible, the author believes the realm of the possible is limited only by an understanding of the facts and your own imagination.
Hot Springs, South Dakota
July 22, 2018
A horse’s nicker pierced the moonless inky-black silence like the point of a razor-sharp lance. The unmistakable sound bristled the hairs on Bill’s sweat drenched neck, sending his heart pounding in his chest like a caged beast. Bill laid on his horse, cupping its head with both hands, firmly clamping off any unguarded reply. He judged the nicker had come from the thicket off to his left no more than a hundred yards behind him. He had no way to know if his relentless pursuer knew Bill was close or was simply trying to see what he might be able to flush out of the shadows.
The rider and his nickering horse continued to pick their way through the brush first one way, then the other, coming ever closer with every step. The rider made no attempt to silence his winded pony. Bill had ridden hard for hours to stay ahead of his pursuers until his horse could go no further. Laying him down in the brush, Bill had hoped to rest and, God willing, to let his pursuers ride on by. That plan seemed like a good one at the time, but now he wondered how his pursuers seemed to always know his every move in advance. When he had doubled back, his pursuers were ready. When he had ridden up a small stream to cover his tracks, his pursuers had followed without missing a beat. He even tried using livestock to shield his movements; once again, his pursuers hadn’t been fooled. Hiding in the shadows, he feared all his running would soon come to a violent end.
Bill knew if he let his horse up and tried to face down his pursuers or if he now tried to make a run for it in the open, he would be cut down without mercy. It was well-known the Youngers all carried Winchesters that they could rapid-fire with deadly accuracy at a full gallop. The wound in his shoulder reminded him that the stories of their shooting abilities were no exaggeration. His only hope was for the rider to pass by close enough that he might take him down from behind with the wicked razor-sharp blade of the knife he had acquired back in Louisville, Kentucky from the late Jacob O’Leary. Killing a Younger was his worst possible option. If he did, the Youngers would redouble their efforts to pursue him to the gates of hell and beyond to even the score. If pushed, however, he would do it without hesitation. As with so many condemned men, Bill found religion and prayed to all that was holy for his pursuer to pass by quietly, so he could ride out when the coast was clear. The course history would now take depended solely on the whims of a nickering pony and its relentless rider.
A barking growl seemed to come out of nowhere, “Cole, Cole, over here! Bobby thinks he found his trail and traces of fresh blood.” The rider reined up less than twenty feet from where Bill and his jet-black steed lay motionless in the brush. One downward glance and the rider would find his prey. Bill froze as time slowed to a standstill.
“On my way!” yelled the rider as he swung his horse around, spurring its flanks to quicken its pace. Bill instantly recognized the voice of the rider as belonging to the natural-born killer, Cole Younger himself. The jingle of tack and thumping of hoofbeats faded into the distance.
Voices drifted on the wind as Bill heard Cole Younger and other men discussing their next moves. One of the men had a high-pitched voice that carried well in the cool night air. Bill could clearly hear him outline the gang’s future plans.
Just a short 600-word excerpt to get you up in your saddle taken from TWO HEARTS:
September 3, 1876
Calhoun County, Iowa
Too Close for Comfort
Now that you're already up on your horse, why not come join the posse. Prepare yourself for a wild ride through a thicket of blazing guns, hardened desperadoes, tender moments, and all the frontier bravado of the Old West come to life.
Giddyap, partner. It's time to ride.
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Rapid City, South Dakota U.S.A. & Hanno City, Saitama, Japan