Doug Bowman Pilgrim

ISBN 13: 9780312878641


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9780312878641: Pilgrim
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Doug Bowman, a staple of the western for decades, takes the genre to new heights in this story of a young man seeking fame and fortune in the wide open plains of Texas.

Eli Pilgrim gave up his simple life as a pig farmer in Ohio to chase his dream on the ranges of Texas. Eli believed what he had heard about the legendary state, a land so vast, with so much opportunity, that a man has no choice but to get rich.

So, when the first frost ended, Eli sold off everything he owned, traded in his pigs for a horse, packed up his things, and went, never realizing that a man has to roll with the punches to get ahead, and that the world, especially the rough untamed fields of Texas, aren't exactly waiting for him.

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It was nigh onto midnight when the three Pilgrim brothers stepped through the doorway of their southwestern Ohio cabin and hung up their heavy coats. "I'll bet you I'm gonna quit chasing them hogs just as soon as this cold weather's over," the youngest of the boys was saying. "Ain't no way in the world to keep 'em in a fence a quarter mile long, nohow. I'm gonna sell my part of 'em at the first sign of spring, then get me a good saddle horse and head for Texas. I've heard that a man can make a living chasing cows out there, and that he can sit on his butt while he's doing it"
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear, Eli," the oldest of the boys said, as all three pulled up chairs and seated themselves in front of the fireplace beside their mother. "It's been my experience that there's always a catch to anything that sounds all that good."
"So, what if there is a little more to it than I heard?" Eli asked emphatically. "It's still gotta be better'n chasing hogs in the snow three or four nights a week, with the cold wind cutting you in two and blowing your lantern out every time you turn around. I tell you, Lawton, I've made up my mind. I'm heading for Texas as soon as the grass turns green."
Ophelia Pilgrim had been sitting beside the fire listening to the conversation between her sons. She hung the sweater she had been knitting across the back of a nearby chair. "I suppose you're old enough to do whatever you set your mind to, Eli," she said. "Twenty-five percent of them hogs belongs to you, and I believe that'll come to about fifty head. I'll speak to your Uncle Neely tomorrow. If he don't want to buy you out, maybe me and your brothers can scrape up the money."
Lawton spoke quickly. "You don't need to talk to nobody, Ma. We can get the money ourselves." He motioned to his youngest brother. "If Eli wants to walk out on what's gonna be the most prosperous hog farm in Ohio, just let him go. He always did think different from the rest of us, anyhow."
Justin, the brother yet to be heard from, spoke now. "You ought not to be running off nowhere, Eli," he said. "We should have our own bacon- and sausage-making business going in about two years, then we can quit selling live hogs to the other companies and start getting rich ourselves."
Eli shook his head. "I've made my decision, Justin. I'm gonna sell out and go to Texas."
"So be it," the mother said with finality. "I don't want to hear you older boys trying to talk him into changing his mind, either. He's old enough to do his own thinking now, and for all we know, his idea might be better'n ours." She shoveled ashes over the coals in the fireplace, then turned the coal-oil lamp down low. Just before she disappeared down the narrow hall-way, she added over her shoulder. "I'm gonna call it a night, and I reckon you boys oughta turn in, too. Them hogs might be out again by daylight."
Three minutes later, the cabin was dark and quiet.
Eli Pilgrim lay awake for a long time making his plans. He appreciated his mother saying he was old enough to do his own thinking. Of course he was. He would turn twenty one years old on the third day of April, about the some time the grass turned green. Then, leading a pack mule loaded with enough provisions to last a month, he would ride off this hill a full-grown man. And he should have no problem finding his way to Texas. He already had a map, and his father's pocket compass was still lying o the mantelpiece above the fireplace. He would put the instrument in his pocket so he could refer to it anytime he was uncertain about directions.
And he would not spend one minute worrying about his mother. Though she was fifty-five years old now, her health seemed to be good, and he had never known her to be sick with anything worse than a bad cold. Anyway, his brothers would remain close by even if they should eventually marry, and good old Uncle Neely, the older brother of Eli's dead father, Jake, could always be depended upon in an emergency.
A veteran of the Civil War, Jake Pilgrim had died in a hunting accident in the fall of 1866. "My brother fought that war for nearly four years without gittin' a scratch," Eli had often heard his uncle say, "then accident'ly shot hisself to death tryin' to git a damn Thanksgivin' turkey."
Being only five years old when his father went to war, Eli had not become well acquainted with him until after the conflict was over. Jake Pilgrim had not been home from the war for more than a week when he bought his youngest son a rifle and set about teaching him to stalk game. Father and son hunted together for well over a year, during which time the son became an excellent marksman.
New Year's Eve of 1865 was a day that Eli would remember as long as he lived. That was the morning his father had spotted a big buck lying in its bed but passed up the shot so that his young son might have it. With the cold wind blowing out of the north, they had just walked around to the south side of a frost-covered hill when Pilgrim suddenly put a hand on his son's shoulder and brought him to a halt He put a forefinger to his lips, then pointed across the hill.
Following his father's point with his eyes, Eli eventually saw the flick of an ear, then was able to make out the head and antlers of a buck deer lying in the tall grass. The animal was looking straight at them. Eli lowered the barrel of his rifle very slowly, then took aim and fired. The big buck dropped its head and kicked a few times, then lay still.
"You hit him right between the eyes, son," his father said when they had closed the distance. "Right smack in the face!"
"That's the only part of him I could see, Pa," Eli said, then stood by while his father hugged his neck.
Jake Pilgrim slit the animal's throat, then turned the carcass over. "He's a monster, all right," he said. "I've been hunting deer for more'n thirty years, but I never shot one this big. We've got to hang these antlers on the wall."
"Do you know how to mount 'em, Pa?"
"Sort of, but I know your Uncle Neely can do it better. I'll talk to him about it."
Uncle Neely had mounted the antlers on a cedar board, and to this day they hung above the fireplace in the front room of the cabin. Eli himself had eventually begun to ignore them, for thinking about them always gave him a choky feeling. He cherished the days he had spent in the woods with his father, and looking at the antlers brought back too many memories.
Though Jake Pilgrim had treated his wife and all of his sons exceedingly well, he had always seemed to have a special affection for his youngest And the feeling had been mutual. In fact, even after ten years, a day never passed that Eli did not think of his father. Now, as he lay in bed thinking, he could not help wondering what Jake Pilgrim would think of his youngest son's decision to leave the farm and head west.
Eli's last thought before going to sleep was the same as it had been on countless nights before: if he himself had been on that last turkey hunt, would the situation have turned out differently? Would his father have had the gun pointed in some other direction when it accidentally discharged? Knowing that he would never know the answer, the young man finally fluffed up his pillow and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
On the first day of April, older brother Lawton handed Eli a stack of double eagles across the kitchen table. "We had to borrow a little of that from Uncle Neely," he said, "but we were bound and determined to treat you right. Your share of the hogs turned out to be forty-eight head, and Ma figures they're worth about three-fifty apiece. Uncle Neely says they wouldn't bring more'n three dollars a head on the open market, but we decided to give you a little above market value." He pointed to the coins. "Two hundred dollars there, and I'd say you're gonna be needing it all in that godforsaken place you're heading off to."
Lawton got to his feet and dropped his empty coffee cup in the dishpan, then walked to the door. He twisted the knob, then turned to face his younger brother again. "By the way," he said, "Uncle Neely says he'll sell you that buckskin of his for twenty dollars, and that seems like an awful good buy to me. If you remember, we kept that little horse down here for about a week one time, and all three of us rode him. Best I can recall, we all bragged on him, too."
Eli nodded. "I remember," he said. "I'll walk over and talk with Uncle Neely this morning, and I'll probably ride back home on the buckskin."
An hour later, the young man knocked at his uncle's door, which was about half a mile from his own. "Lawton says you want to sell that buckskin," he said when Neely Pilgrim answered his knock. "I'm gonna be needing a saddle horse pretty soon, so I guess I'll take him off your hands."
The aging, white-haired man stepped through the doorway. Moving slowly, he walked to the end of the porch and leaned against the railing. "It ain't that I want to sell the horse, son, and I don't reckin I need nobody to take 'im off my hands. Lawton was jist talking' about you needin' sump'm to ride, so I thought I'd help you out by givin' you a special deal on the buckskin. Lawton says you've already rode the horse, so you know what he is. I reckin I don't have to tell you that twenty dollars is a Santy Claus price, neither. A good animal like him'd cost you sixty or seb'mdy dollars anywhere else."
Eli nodded, and handed over a double eagle. "I sure appreciate the break on the price, Uncle Neely."
The old man pocketed the coin and ignored the remark. He pointed toward the barn. "The horse is in the second stable on the right, and the bridle's hangin' on a peg just outside the door. The saddle and the saddle blanket are both lyin' across a sawhorse in that little room up front. I don't really like the idea of gittin' shed of that saddle, but you need it and the buckskin's used to it. In fact, I believe it might be the only damn one he's ever had on his back."
Eli stood looking at the barn for a few moments, then asked, " mean you're giving the saddle to me for free, Uncle Neely?"
"Ain't givin' it to you a-tall," the old man answered, beginning to move toward the door. "I'm givin' the saddle to the buckskin." He stood in the doorway for a moment then added, "There's a saddle scabbard for your rifle hangin' just above the sawhorse, so you may as well take it, too. Now, go git your horse and git your butt on out to Texas. The Lord'll watch over you." He stepped inside the house and closed the door.
Eli saddled the buckskin in short order, then rode through the woods to his own home. Once there, he dismounted and turned the horse into the corral with the four mules. The animals were already acquainted with one another from the buckskin's earner visit. Now they began to scamper around the lot while making a variety of sounds that were obviously a means of communication. When one of the animals began to rub its muzzle against the saddler's neck affectionately, Eli was pleased to see that it was his own mule, the same one that would be following the buckskin all the way to Texas.
He walked to the cabin and seated himself on the top doorstep. He was still sitting there with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands when his mother joined him a few minutes later. "I see you made a deal with Neely for mat buckskin," she said, pointing to the corral.
Eli shook his head. "Uncle Neely made the deal himself," he said. "He just about gave me the horse, and he did give me the saddle and the rifle scabbard."
"Neely's always been like that, son," the lady said, running her hands along the back of her legs to smooth out her skirt as she sat down. "He's got a right smart of stuff over there, and he's always been mighty good about sharing it Not just with kinfolks, either. I'll bet you he's helped half the people in this county out at one time or another."
Eli nodded. "He's a good man." He sat staring off into the woods thoughtfully for a long time, then suddenly spoke again: "Pa's been dead for more'n ten years, Ma, and it's been about half that long since Aunt Clarissa died. How come you and Uncle Neely don't get married?"
The lady seemed to be no more than mildly surprised by die question. She smiled and patted Eli's arm. "Neither one of us has ever mentioned it," she said. "We don't talk about stuff like that, don't reckon either one of us has ever even thought about it."
"Well, you oughtta both be thinking about it. It just don't seem natural for him to sit over there on that hill year after year with no woman, while you sit over here with no man."
She chuckled softly. "Are you saying you think I should ask Neely to marry me?"
"No," he answered quickly. "I'm saying I think he oughtta ask you. I've got half a mind to ride over there and ask him why he ain't doing it."
She shook her head and patted his arm again. "I think you should just look after your own business, Eli," she said. "When do you plan to leave for Texas?"
"I'm thinking about heading out tomorrow morning," he said. "It's been shirtsleeve weather for the past week, and Lawton says there ain't no rain in sight."
"Lawton's awful good at predicting the weather," she said. "Every time he says we're gonna have a dry spell, that's exactly what we get." She pointed across the hillside. "The graze is coming along all right, but a little rain wouldn't hurt it none. I've always heard that we get two inches of grass for every inch of rainfall during the spring season. I reckon that might be right, 'cause the ground sure turns green in a hurry after it gets a good drenching."
"I've been watching the grass mighty close, Ma. It's pretty good right here, and it oughtta get better as I travel farther south. I'll be taking my time, and even if I do hit a few places where the graze ain't too good, it won't be no big problem. I'm gonna put the packsaddle on old Zebra. Him and the buckskin are both a little bit on the fat side, so it won't hurt either one of 'em to lose a few pounds."
"Sure won't," Ophelia said, getting to her feet "Especially after hot weather sets in." She stood quietly for a few moments, then added, "I've got work to do in the house. I'll lay out a few changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes for you, then gather up some cooking and eating utensils that won't weigh old Zebra down too much. He's got a long trip ahead of him, and he don't need to be hauling things around that you can do without. You need to carry enough stuff with you to cook and eat a meal with as little fuss as possible, but that's all. In fact, if you'll go down to the crib and get some of them canvas bags, I'll put everything together for you myself. Just lay the bags on the kitchen table, then go on about your business."
He delivered the bags, then returned to the corral and stood watching the animals for a while. Old Zebra, so-called because of the black stripes around his front legs, would soon be leaving with Eli. At that time his brothers would have no choice but to buy another mule, for the plows and other farm implements were all set up for two-horse teams. The brothers might even have to hire another man before the summer was over. The wheels must keep turning, for bringing in a corn crop large enough to feed two hundred head of swine required enormous amounts of both axle and elbow grea...

From Booklist:

Hoping to become a cattle rancher, Eli Pilgrim finds himself in Texas, where he befriends Oliver Benson, owner of the biggest ranch in the territory, who figures he can use a strong young man. Then violence gets in the way. A local hard case named Johnny Hook tires to rob Eli and winds up dead; Eli is acquitted of murder, but that doesn't satisfy Hook's brothers, who come after Eli but kill Benson instead, sending Eli on his own crusade. Bowman, a Grande Ole Opry performer and veteran western novelist, has taken a moth-eaten premise (revenge in the Old West) and infused it with new energy. The thoroughly likable Pilgrim's violently detoured quest for a better life draws successfully on all the classic western archetypes. Wes Lukowsky
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