Immediately following the Civil War, Billy, a 15-year-old runaway, sets out for the gold fields of Virginia City in treacherous Montana Territory. Good fortune for Billy is not so much about finding gold, though, as it is about finding his father. Finding the truth.
Before crossing the Missouri River to embark on his journey, two cunning travelers commandeer Billy’s life savings of twenty-nine dollars and two bits and convince him to join them as ox drivers on a team headed with supply wagons for Montana. At first, being paid to make the trip doesn’t sound half bad to Billy—but he quickly discovers that truth never comes cheaply.
The arduous journey tests him for all he’s worth. Across miles of arid plains, wild rivers, and steep mountain, Billy struggles to tame his unruly oxen and his own dangerous passions. He must find his place among unlikely traveling companions on a trek through hostile country that conceals Chief Red Cloud’s warriors as well as armed highwaymen. Billy’s rite of passage challenges everything he knows about survival and loss, reconciliation and discovery.
In this vivid historical novel inspired by the real diaries of photographer William Henry Jackson, award winning author Laurie Lawlor takes readers on a sweeping quest through the perilous Old West.
Reviews and Comments
“Danger, adventure, and survival combine to make this a richly detailed story. … Billy is certainly courageous. Boys, especially, will enjoy this book.” (School Library Journal)
“Lawlor paints a striking picture of the rough-and-tumble world of the post-Civil War western migration. Her vivid descriptions of hitching up the oxen each morning or the difficulties of fording rivers make Billy’s Old West come alive.” (Booklist)
“…the pure western flavor of the book will attract readers who appreciate the genre or are looking to get a sense of life in the Old West.” (VOYA)
“A story rich in historical detail, with compelling characters and fast-paced adventure, it will appeal to even reluctant readers. Billy is an exciting new character that teens will love. This exciting book was hard to put down … I’ll be watching for more from this talented writer, and the ending did leave an opening for a possible sequel.” (five star rating, www.teensreadtoo.com)
“Billy is a character many students can identify with. He has a messed up home life, little interest in school, dreams of better places, and wishes to be more grown up. Laurie Lawlor’s research into period diaries for authentic details is evident. … (This will) make a great read-aloud.” (Library Media Connection)
“From snake-oil salesmen to a stormy Platte River crossing, Lawlor’s coming-of-age tale creates an authentic sense of place in the aftermath of the Civil War. … it is Billy himself, his timeless aspirations and his mentorship by the enigmatic loner Frenchy that warms the heart and affirms the power of perseverance and hope. A worthwhile rite of passage.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Fifteen-year-old Billy sneaks off to find his birth father, never reckoning on the adventures that will come his way as part of a cattle drive in the wild West.” (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“Based loosely on diaries of western artist William Henry Jackson, readers will cheer for Billy as he struggles toward Virginia City and steps into adulthood.” (Kansas National Education Association Reading Circle Catalog)
“Eager to find his father at the end of the Civil War,15 year-old Billy heads west to the Montana Territory, but after being convinced to become an ox-driver, Billy finds himself dealing with personal challenges and hostile terrain that he never expected to face.” (www.just-for-kids.com)
“Billy at age 15 finds out that his real father is still alive and runs away from home to find his father in Virginia City, Nevada. … This old west adventure will appeal to students in middle schools.” (Lincoln County School District, Oregon)
written by Laurie Lawlor
Simon & Schuster, 2005
This book was inspired by the diaries of
photographer William Henry Jackson.
You’ll also enjoy
Window on the West:
The Frontier Photography of
William Henry Jackson
Please look for this book at
your favorite public library
or used bookseller.