Reading the West 6-8-09 | TheFencePost.com

Reading the West 6-8-09

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

Mattie O’Keefe seeks to put trouble behind her as she sets out for Deadwood to find her brother Dillon on his gold claim in the early years of that gold boom town. She hooks up with a tough freighter, Swede, who Mattie trusts more than the other freighters.

When the girl reaches Deadwood she finds that the stories her brother wrote her had not been exaggerated. “Deadwood is like stepping onto Hell’s front porch,” he had written, “It’s frenzied and filthy.”

Not only that, but Dillon is not there to greet her, leaving Mattie to find her own way in the gold rush community. Before long she had made a friend in Swede, the slow boy Freddy, a new storekeeper, Tom English, and Aunt Lou, a Black woman who has made a reputation as a fine cook. And in this Christian Western, there is also a minister, Aron Gallagher, who maybe wasn’t a preacher all his life; he has the hands of a gambler, or a gunman. Mattie recognizes those traits because she has her own background as a dealer in Abilene.

Without Dillon to work the claim, Mattie decides she will do the mining herself proving that she is strong, and determined, and more than able to stand on her own two feet, even if the boots she is wearing are too big.

Author Stephanie Grace Whitson has created a batch of memorable characters, set their story against the very real events of Deadwood in 1876, and added plenty of realistic details to develop the historical setting. In keeping with the Christian theme of the book, there is a strong message of redemption and hope, no profanity, and overall a positive storyline. But no story of Deadwood would be complete without a villain, and Whitson has created a fine one in Jonas Flynn, who is surprisingly violent.

No book about Deadwood in 1876 would be complete without having Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok in the storyline, and Whitson has obliged by bringing them into the world of Mattie O’Keefe.

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“She would have recognized him anywhere. Even if he’d cut the brown hair that hung in ringlets around his broad shoulders. Even if he’d stopped wearing the long, heavily embroidered buckskin coat or abandoned his gleaming ivory-gripped pistols – always worn butt out. In fact, Mattie would recognize Wild Bill Hickok if all she could see was his hands, because she’d spent more hours than she could count dealing cards to those hands down in Kansas, both before and after Bill’s short stint as the sheriff of Abilene.”

But if Mattie figured Bill Hickok would be around to get her out of a scrape, she had it wrong, this time she would have to rely on herself, and find a “dump of faith” to make things turn out right for the people who were now her friends.

While I found historical errors in this book, I reminded myself that this is “fiction” and just enjoyed the story.

The book is published by Bethany House, which is known for its Christian novels.