This sequel to Finding Billy Battles (Amazon: B00KQAYMA8) opens in 1894 with William Battles aboard the SS China headed for the Orient. As in book 1 of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy , book 2 is a work of “faction.” That is, the story is based in part on fact but is augmented by narrative fiction. Many of the protagonists in the story were actual persons, and some of the incidents actually happened. However, other characters and events in the book are fictional.
While the story is told by Billy Battles himself, it is his great-grandson, Ted Sayles, who inherits Billy’s journals and assembles them into the three books of the trilogy. As in book 1, Sayles provides a foreword that sets up the story in book 2. I have attempted to stay true to the vernacular of the time and place—especially the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The reader will notice, therefore, a difference in the tone, mood, and colloquial language that Billy Battles uses to tell his story from the way a contemporary individual might speak and write.
If you read book 1 of this trilogy, then you are acquainted with the first several years of Billy Battles’s life. If you haven’t read book 1, then I encourage you to do so. The Finding Billy Battles trilogy is a sequential saga.
My goal has been to tell a compelling story. I hope you will enjoy reading this second book in the Finding Billy Battles trilogy.
Foreword: Ted Sayles
When book 1 ended, my great-grandfather William Fitzroy Raglan Battles was aboard the SS China headed for what in 1894 was considered the Mysterious East. His life had taken a tragic turn for the worst, and his way of dealing with it was to put distance between himself and the past—even if it meant leaving loved ones behind.
When I read the tapes, journals, letters, and other records Great-Grandfather Battles left behind for me, the reasons for his impetuous voyage to distant lands seemed to me dubious and ill-conceived. Of course, given the misfortunes that had befallen him, it is not for me (or anyone else, for that matter) to say that he made a wrong decision to escape his past.
Who knows how bereavement and torment can influence and occupy another person’s mind and soul and how it can drive one to make disputable decisions? In my great-grandfather’s case, his anguish and grief over losing his wife apparently required relief that could only come from some distant quarter. In his journals, he attempted to explain, if not justify his actions.
As I poured through those journals and other materials Great-Grandfather Battles left for me, it was obvious that I was witnessing a boy mature into early manhood and then middle age. I felt a professional kinship with my great-grandfather—we were both journalists, though he was much more of a participant in the events he wrote about than I had ever been.
As Billy grew older, he also became more complex, and so did the challenges he faced. His writing reflected this process. As I read through his journals and letters, the torment and regret Great-Grandfather felt was palpable to me in his writing.
His mood shifted from the wide-eyed, eager, and naive teenager who left Lawrence, Kansas, in 1878 to that of a man approaching middle age who had both inflicted and suffered significant pain. He had survived attempts on his life and had taken lives. He had lost the woman he loved to a fatal illness, and he essentially abandoned his five-year-old daughter in an imprudent pursuit of solace.
Just as Billy did in his journals, I have broken the one hundred years my great-grandfather spent on this earth into three parts. Book 1 dealt with approximately the first third of Billy Battles’s existence in Kansas and other areas of the American West. Book 2 finds Billy in the Far East, Latin America, and Europe and ends with Billy approaching what for many men would be a more sedentary age.
But as I discovered in reading his journals and listening to the tapes my great-grandfather left for me, retirement or any notion of retreating into sequestration was never an option for him.
Life for Billy Battles never slowed down, and I have a hunch that is why he remained vigorous and healthy for a full century. My only regret is that when I met him and talked with him almost fifty years ago, I was barely an adolescent, and he was already ninety-eight years old. Had I been older and a bit wiser in the ways of men, I am confident that I could have amplified much of what Great-Grandfather wrote and told me with added insight, sensitivity, and depth.
As it is, I have done my best to convey Great-Grandfather Battles’s temperament and character in the course of his assorted deeds and exploits with as much truth and passion as possible given the yawning gulf of time and the disparity that inevitably separates age and youth.
What follows is Billy’s improbable story in his own words.
Ted Sayles, Kansas City, Missouri.
William F. R. Battles
Kansas City, Missouri, 1949
I spent most of my life as a newspaper scribbler, what they call a journalist today. So I appreciate how important it is to seize your readers early on so they will keep reading. However, there are some things that I need to explain before I get to this next very turbulent time in my life.
As I am writing this, it is early 1949; and even though I consider myself blessed to have so far avoided my second childhood, the filaments of my ripe old brain sometimes get about as limp as worn out fiddle strings when I exercise them too much. Nevertheless, I have recorded to the best of my memory and ability the incidents that transpired as I made my way to French Indochina aboard the SS China in 1894.
Readers may conclude that my reasons for leaving the United States for the Orient were self-centered and vague. If you read the initial installment of my tale, then you know the first thirty-three years of my life were fraught with tragedy of one kind or another—some of it of my own making but much of it the result of what others did. As I said in that first book, I need to acknowledge the corn about some pretty terrible things I did during my life.
I have killed people. And people have tried to kill me. I never wanted such a life, but it was thrust on me, and I had to make the best of it. Even though most of those violent altercations occurred early in my life, their repercussions were relentless and unwelcome companions as I grew older. They still are, even now at my advanced age. I wanted to let you know all of that so you can make up your mind right now if you want to read further.
I had my share of tragedy and misfortune too. If you read the first part of my story, then you know I lost my wife to a cruel disease after only eight years of marriage. You will also recall that my response to that tragedy was to fog it out of the country. In doing so, I left everybody I loved behind. Those included my five-year-old daughter, Anna Marie; my mother, Hannelore Battles; my in-laws Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius McNab; my cousin Charlie Higgins; and a lot of other people whom I considered good friends.
Some folks may think my flight to the Orient a craven act—one that any man worth his salt would never contemplate, let alone carry out. I cannot disagree with that condemnation. I felt that way often as the SS China made its way to the Far East. Even later on, after I had settled in places like Manila and Saigon, I would reproach myself for what I had done.
Had I been indicted and put on trial for my actions, and were I the judge and jury, I certainly would have found myself guilty of appalling judgment, capriciousness, and even child abandonment. As it was, there was no trial and no conviction, but I was a guilty prisoner of my impropriety nevertheless. Never a day went by when I didn’t regret leaving my little daughter behind in Denver for others to rear. As my mother pointed out to me more than once when she attempted to dissuade me from my journey to the Orient, I was raised without a father. Now my daughter was about to suffer the same fate. It was a brutally compelling argument, but I was not to be deterred.
And so here I was aboard the SS China en route from San Francisco to our first port of call—Honolulu, the Republic of Hawaii. Back then, Hawaii was an independent republic, not the annexed territory it is today.1 As I would learn, Americans in 1894 were considered unwelcome interlopers by many native Hawaiians. They were seen as greedy exploiters who were interested only in manipulating and profiting from the sugar and pineapple industries.
The first day aboard the SS China had been eventful, to say the least. I had been questioned by a surly Pinkerton detective who was trying to locate Nate Bledsoe—the man I had killed five years earlier in a gunfight at Battles Gap, my family’s homestead in western Kansas.
Ten years before that, I had killed Nate Bledsoe’s mother, a malevolent woman who had imprisoned Horace Hawes, the owner of the Dodge City Union; Ben Minot, a printer; and me in a barn at the same place. Her death was an accident. Her sons, Nate and Matthew, began shooting at me and my two companions as we were escaping. As I returned fire with my Winchester rifle, a single bullet hit Mrs. Bledsoe in the throat just as she stepped out of the house and onto the porch where her sons were shooting at us. She died instantly.
Later in this scrap, Matthew Bledsoe was killed by Ben Minot, a friend and coworker of the Dodge City Union. The Bledsoe clan was influential in Kansas in those days and had considerable pull in Topeka, the state capital. They were not about to let the shooting deaths of two of their kin go unpunished even if this particular branch was known to live outside the law. For the next several years, they hunted me down and, on two occasions, came damned close to killing me.
Now five years after I and several members of a wildcat U.S. marshal’s posse had shot it out with Bledsoe and eight of his companions at Battles Gap, I was under investigation by the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It had been hired to determine if Nate Bledsoe was dead or alive and, if the former was the case, where his bones were buried. Of course, I knew exactly where Nate Bledsoe was—or what remained of him—and I sensed that the Pinkerton man knew that I knew. But I would be damned if I were going to admit it. Let’s just say I was “economical with the truth,” as my cousin Charley Higgins used to say.
My ongoing trouble with the Bledsoe clan could have been another reason for my voyage to the Orient had I wished to rationalize it that way. But of course, I was not running away from the Bledsoe clan or the ghosts of the two Bledsoe’s I had eradicated or even the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
I was running away from myself, though at the time I didn’t know it. Nor did I realize what I was moving toward and how my travels and trials would transform me in ways I could not have imagined.
Of course, those thoughts were furthest from my mind that first evening aboard the SS China. I had, after all, been invited to have dinner at the captain’s table in the first-class dining saloon with a few other passengers, among them, the mysterious and stunning widow Schreiber.
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