Story Farm 2022
Paperback, 467 pages
The Beauty of the Days Gone By, by Jason Stone, focuses on that unique time period after the American Civil War and Reconstruction when the conflict between white settlers and Plains Indians had reached a boiling point. Stone presents a riveting adventure, one based on the life and reminiscences of the legendary plainsman and innovative cattle rancher Charles Goodnight, that will grip readers until its shocking conclusion.
Texas during the 1870s was still largely unsettled, with the western region and Panhandle, known as the Comancheria, home to millions of buffalo, longhorns, and other wildlife. The rough, untamed country was the stronghold of the Comanche and Kiowa. Accomplished hunters and skillfully fierce warriors, their way of life and continued existence depended on wide-open access to the buffalo and other game. By this time, they also relied on horrifically vicious raids on the encroaching white population to steal cattle, horses and, to a lesser extent, women and children to bolster their dwindling numbers.
This 20-year period also saw the railroad expand across the High Plains, linking the eastern United States with California, making the incursion of whites into their last hunting grounds more feasible. The tribes fought back, the raids became more frequent, and the white population demanded protection from the federal government.
The story opens with a brutal raid on the fledgling ranches of the San Saba Valley. R. L. Terry was away from his ranch when a Kiowa war party devastated the area, taking livestock, burning homes, slaughtering families, and capturing a handful of women and children. Among the captives were Terry’s two young sons, Samuel and Charlie. A group of cornered ranchers succeeded in repelling the raiders and forming a rescue party to retrieve the captives. But the immediate pursuit failed, and Terry continued to search for his boys, enlisting the grapevine of Indian traders and agents and eventually garnering the aid of the military.
The book follows Terry and the boys and explores how Charles Goodnight figures into the tragedy. The story is gut-wrenching, with the loss of his beloved wife and his unceasing search for his sons: the years without a word, a trace, or just knowing. It is compelling reading and opens a window into compassion and understanding for both cultures' sides of the story.
Stone is an adept storyteller. The plot is fascinating, and the voice is authentic. And while the raids are terrifyingly realistic, the images he paints will put the reader in the story alongside the characters. The author excels at the day-to-day details of life on the trail and conveys the region's magnitude and vast emptiness. Readers may almost feel the heat and dust of the High Plains' days and the chill, darkest of darks, and stomach-dropping fear of being alone and utterly insignificant during its nights.
The story unfolds as it happens, relayed through the recollection of a then 90-plus-year-old Charlie Goodnight as told to historian J. Evetts Haley and his late-life caretaker and new young bride, Corinne. Still a vibrant man, he is succumbing to the natural decline of his age, and he tells his story, warts and all, after having had years to reflect on his part in things. Stone deftly humanizes this legend of a man, and readers will feel as if they are sitting beside him in the rough country as he relates his memories.
The Beauty of the Days Gone By was published in paperback format by Story Farm on October 1, 2022 and unfolds in 467 compelling pages. Author Jason Stone is familiar with the region and its history, having grown up in West Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in the Texas Hill Country.
With its well-researched foundation, familiar and historical figures and locations, gripping plot, and immersive storytelling, THE BEAUTY OF THE DAYS GONE BY is recommended to readers interested in Texas history and those who enjoyed Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove or Andy Adams's The Log of a Cowboy.
Jason Stone grew up in West Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in the Texas Hill Country.