Rich with tension, action, fear, and frontier resilience.


Little Hatchet 

Phil Oakley 

Stoney Creek Publishing Group  

February 23, 2024 

ISBN 979-8-9879002-5-3; 374 pages 


Set in New Mexico and Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Little Hatchet is a well-written and enticing origin story. It establishes and expands the starting point for a family saga that will unfold across additional books. And it brings to life several key characters.  


Little Hatchet initially was planned as a biographical tribute to Austin native, now Arlington writer Phil Oakley's great-grandfather and grandparents, who experienced many hardships and heartbreaks on the American frontier. But Oakley felt there were too many gaps in the historical documents for a solid biography. So, he restructured Little Hatchet as his ninth novel, a work of historical fiction. It’s loosely based on family members and events that some of the Oakleys experienced between the Civil War and the mid-years of America's deadly Prohibition era in the late 1920s.  


The book is rich with tension, action, fear, and frontier resilience. We see settlements expand, tragedies happen, historical boundaries overrun, human weaknesses exposed, and love and family ties prove not strong enough to steer some youth away from deep trouble. 


As Little Hatchet begins, James Oakley, a former Confederate Army officer, has moved his family from Arkansas to a farm near the banks of New Mexico's Little Hatchet Creek and South Llano River. He just wants a peaceful life now that the long conflict has ended. Yet his nearest neighbors include restless Mescalero Apaches, Comanches, and Tejanos. When an Apache raiding party suddenly kidnaps James Oakley's infant son, his other son, twelve-year-old Walter, impulsively rushes after them on horseback hoping to somehow rescue his baby brother. The boys' father now must save them both. 


"James topped a ridge and saw his son’s horse grazing, but there was no sign of Walter," the author writes. "James fought back tears and panic. He was almost certain that somewhere ahead, he would find two of his sons dead. James Oakley was a man who had seen too much death. The memories of the scores of dead bodies he had encountered could never be erased from his mind. James had been haunted by images of blood, gore, maiming and death, long after his service in the army of the Confederate States of America ended."  


James carefully negotiates with the Apache chief, and later, a grownup Walter becomes the book's central character. As a fast learner and now a father of eight children, he has closely followed what he learned from his parents on the family farm: "If the sun is up, you should be working." He finds many railroad construction jobs and opportunities for advancement in Texas, yet his frequent absences from his family begin taking unwanted tolls on some of his children and his wife. 


Meanwhile, along the Texas-Mexico border, the 1920 enactment of Prohibition keeps powering a boom in bootlegging, liquor smuggling, police corruption, and violent crimes. And Walter soon must face a heart-wrenching truth about two of his own offspring. 


The remaining books in The Oakley Series will be titled Runners and Longhorn, the author has stated. Watch for news about their future availability in this series well worth exploring.  

Phil Oakley is a novelist and veteran journalist with experience in the motion picture industry. He is a retired regional executive with The Walt Disney Company (ABC News), a former director of the Louisiana Film Commission and a retired editor with the Dallas Morning News. He covered presidents and presidential campaigns beginning with Lyndon Johnson and ending with George W. Bush. He was a television and radio anchor and reporter with national awards from Columbia University, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and the National Headliner Award program in Atlantic City. He began work on his first novel in 1964 while a student at the University of Texas at Austin. In all he has written eight novels.