”Bess and Bone,” by Ernie Deats, 2019, paperback, 140 pages, $20
Its author continues the farming, ranching tradition begun by his great-grandfather and shares stories from earlier times. All proceeds from the sale of his 14 books goes to scholarships for Dickinson High School students with the goal of enabling all students to attend education beyond high school.
In this historical novel, Ernie Deats explores during Reconstruction in East Texas, interracial relationships. Sharecroppers’ offspring — a fair complexioned black daughter, Bess Bell, and a white son, Terribone “Bone” Williams — fall in love. All parents are against the relationship, knowing interracial marriage in Texas is against the law.
Bone finds unbranded cattle, takes them, sells them, and hides the money guessing the cows reputedly belong to a not so compassionate rancher, Claude Jenkins.
After learning East Texas sheriffs and the Ku Klux Klan are looking for him, Bone flees and heads southwest. While camping, he meets Marcus Benson, owner of a large ranching spread. Despite the past told by Bone, Benson sees potential, hires Bone, entrusting him to watch his ranch while Benson and his crew go out inspecting his ranch. There’s bitterness between Benson and other local cattlemen who pay lower wages and want Benson to follow in line. Benson won’t compromise.
That’s just the beginning of this historical novel. Bone is asked to bring pregnant Bess to assist with Benson’s wife. This book will amaze readers that other ranchers of similar mindset as Marcus Benson, will commit to providing strong, firm, helpful advice, including the author’s great-grandfather, enabling the young people to start on the right path and live out their dream.
Deats accurately portrays the risks, danger and possible death that might come with the stand these ranchers took. The book is an excellent source for group discussions.