November 2008

A sharp-shootin’ cowpoke heads west

By Helen Hemphill
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Inspired by the real-life stories of Nat "Deadwood Dick" Love, a famous black cowboy and former slave who penned his own adventures in 1907, Helen Hemphill's latest novel features a young teen with a zeal for the Wild West. Prometheus Jones, like his mythical namesake, possesses a wily intelligence that often tests the powers above. Known for his sharp-shooting, horse-riding skills and his streak of good luck, he wins Good Eye, a half-blind black stallion, in a raffle. When the Dill brothers accuse him of stealing their raffle ticket, however, Prometheus and his 11-year-old cousin, Omer (short for Homer), hightail it west.

Ever since Prometheus learned that his father was sold to a man in Texas, he's been determined to go there. The boys find a way, albeit a roundabout one, to Texas, as they take part in a cattle drive that will deliver 3,000 steers to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. While the trek allows for moments of humorous and heartwarming camaraderie among his Hispanic, Irish and fellow African-American companions, Prometheus also experiences buffalo stampedes, the deaths of friends and other cowboy hardships. And while Pawnee and Sioux Indian raids are a constant threat, the boy empathizes with their outsider status in their own land. Once a victim of prejudice, Prometheus finds that hard work rather than color sets him apart during the cattle drive. With a little luck left, the boy makes a name for himself (literally and figuratively) during a shooting competition. Even the Dill brothers' return —or the truth about his father—can't deter him from his goal.

Hemphill lassos readers with her gift for dialogue and nail – biting scenes of danger, and holds them with fascinating descriptions of cowboy life and clever historical references, such as a near – escape from braves fatigued from their victory over Custer at Little Big Horn. For a high-spirited tale of courage, talent and passion, gather 'round the campfire!

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