Hewey Calloway, one of the best-loved cowboys in all of Western fiction, returns in this novel of his younger years as he and his beloved brother Walter leave the family farm in 1889 to find work in the West Texas cow country.
The brothers are polar opposites. Walter pines for a sedate life as a farmer, with wife and children; Hewey is a fiddle-footed cowboy content to work at six bits--75 cents--a day on the Pecos River ranch owned by the penny-pinching C.C. Tarpley. Hewey, who "usually accepted the vagaries of life without getting his underwear in a twist", is fun-loving and whiskey-drinking. He spends every penny he earns and regularly gets into trouble with his boss--and occasionally with the law--often dragging innocent Walter along.
When Walter falls in love with a boarding house girl and begins dreaming of a farmer's life, Hewey jumps at the chance to rescue him from this fate worse than death. He convinces Walter to join him on a mission for Tarpley, driving 600 head of cattle from beyond San Antonio to the Double-C ranch on the Pecos.
The journey is both memorable and dangerous: a murderous outlaw is searching for Hewey; and another ruthless character is determined to sabotage the cattle drive. When the drovers reach the Pecos they find Boss Tarpley in the midst of a vicious range feud with Eli Jessup, a neighboring cowman. Hewey and his brother Walter have to get the herd safely across Jessup's land-but how?
The events of Six Bits a Day precede those of Kelton's bestselling The Good Old Boys (1978, transformed into the memorable 1995 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek), and The Smiling Country (Forge, 1998).
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Hewey Calloway is a fun-loving cowboy who can't shoot straight; his younger brother, Walter, is a serious cowboy who, much to Hewey's horror, wants to marry a pretty girl and become a farmer. Both are looking for a job and a meal in 1889 West Texas. After being mistaken for rustlers and rescued from hanging by a friendly Texas Ranger (a terrific character from another Kelton series), the boys hire on with Mr. C.C. Tarpley's cattle ranch, working for six bits 75 cents a day. Hewey volunteers them both to drive cattle from San Antonio back to Tarpley's ranch on the Pecos, hoping Walter will forget his fanciful notions. The trip has its share of excitement, but when their Texas Ranger friend asks for help in capturing a hard-boiled case, Hewey gets real nervous. Add some clever cattle stealing back on the Pecos, a range feud between two stubborn cattle barons, rival gangs of cowboys who would rather get drunk together and let their bosses fist-fight, and some of Hewey's pranks, and Kelton, who has more than 40 westerns to his credit, is riding high again. Not much six-gun action, but Hewey's smart mouth more than makes up for the lack of gunsmoke.