Deadwood

Deadwood

by Pete Dexter

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400079711
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2005
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 258,418
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award winner Paris Trout and of God's Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, The Paperboy and Train. He was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on Puget Sound, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

The boy shot Wild Bill's horse at dusk, while Bill was off in the bushes to relieve himself. It was lucky for everybody but the horse that it happened when it did, but not so lucky it had to be God's hand in it. It always took Bill a while in the bushes--it wasn't dusk when he'd gone in there--and things have to happen sometime.The boy's name was Malcolm Nash. He was the younger brother of Charley Utter's wife, and had ridden with Charley and thirty-six mules up from their home in Empire, Colorado, first to Cheyenne, where they met Bill, and then east and north toward the Black Hills.Charley always had a hard time saying no to his wife.The boy tried to be helpful, but anything he couldn't break, he lost. The more Charley studied his awkward deportment, the more he wondered at the unreliable nature of human jizzom. The boy and Charley's wife didn't look like each other, even the coloring, and the boy hardly spoke. It was something Charley wouldn't have minded studying, the contrary results of spilled seed. The boy was a strong back, though, and he was polite. He addressed Bill as Mr. Hickok and called everybody else by the same names that Bill did, and he carried a broken-handled old Smith & Wesson in a sash around his waist, butt-first, the way Bill carried his Colts.Charley had been against bringing the boy from the first suggestion. In his wife's eyes, that amounted to a confession of all the unsafe and unfaithful behavior he and Bill got into when he was away from home. It was peculiar, the way her feelings about Bill had changed. She'd spoken well of him before they were married, and once told Charley he was half famous just for being his friend. Of course, Bill had seen her compromised since.The boy had no such reservations. Bill had made four visits to Colorado in the last ten years, to hunt bear or watch Charley get married or just get drunk, and Bill was always good to him, keeping the whores and whiskey out of his gunfight stories so he'd grow up right. Bill did not recognize the boy when they all met in Cheyenne, but said it was because Malcolm had become a man.The boy would have worn carrots in his hat if Bill did.They'd left Colorado late in the spring, Charley and Malcolm and the mules, and met Bill in Cheyenne, where he was organizing a wagon train. They got to his rooming house at seven o'clock in the morning, June 22. The lady superintendent reported Bill had already combed his hair and walked up the street to the Republican Hotel for cocktails, which she implied was his morning habit. "I expect he'll be back in half an hour, walk through the door carrying a full glass of whiskey, and finish his toilet," she said.Charley wasn't surprised. It was the history of things that Bill would wear out his welcome.Charley saw the lady was not going to invite them in to wait, and so he and the boy walked down the street too, and found Bill standing at the far end of the Republican Hotel bar, squinting into the light from the doorway as they came in, trying to decide if it was trouble.Charley had been to Cheyenne in March, when Bill had married the famous circus performer Agnes Lake, and even getting married, Bill had been in a brighter mood than he was now."Did you know they held elections last week?" he said when he saw who it was.Charley said, "Where?""Right here. Cheyenne." Bill was a good American but he never liked elections. It was like the railroads, an unrefutable sign that things were going to hell. "The new city officers have published a list of fifty men they charged with vagrancy," he said. "Put it up all over town, issued warrants for the arrests."Charley waited. Bill pulled a piece of paper out of his sash and unfolded it on the bar. Charley bent over and looked. The boy stood still, watching everything they did. The list was alphabetical, and most of the names on it Charley recognized for thieves or killers of one sort or another. The twenty-seventh name was James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok."Well," Charley said, "it's the price of fame.""Look down there at the bottom," Bill said.Charley's finger went to the bottom of the list and started up. The fifth name he touched was his own, only they'd misspelled it. Charles "Colorado Charley" Udder. Charley hated it when they spelled him like that.'What kind of slander is this?" he said, "I am a respectable businessman from Empire, Colorado."Bill picked the paper up off the bar, folded it, and put it back in his sash. "Nobody from the police department has been by to arrest me," he said. "I gave them a few days to make up their mind if they were going to."That night at the hotel bar, Bill laid down the rules of his wagon train. He would take only seventy wagons to Deadwood, nobody who was sick, no firebugs, no whores. Seventy wagons was enough to be safe from any party of Indians, but more than that and you couldn't be safe from yourself. Bill didn't want any bad apples. The trip would take two weeks, and each man, woman, and child had to carry a firearm, and pay him fifty dollars.None of this discouraged the assembly at the Republican bar, which applauded him. The Black Hills was the wildest and the richest place on earth, and no man into his cups would admit things were wild enough for him right there in the hotel. Wagons on the way to the Hills had already come through from California, where the gold had begun to peter out, and pilgrims were headed there from the other direction too. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa--for three years the grasshoppers in the States had come in over the crops like black clouds, and when they left, they'd taken it all with them. Bill had seen that with his own eyes in Iowa after he'd taken Agnes Lake home to St. Louis to wait for him until he got back on his feet.It wasn't the way Bill would have put it to Agnes Lake, but some time had passed since he'd had a pot to piss in. Charley couldn't see him telling her about that at all. There was a respect between Bill and Agnes that did not invite inspection of the parties.Bill and Charley and Malcolm and the mules waited four days, until Bill was satisfied nobody was coming to arrest them, and then he set a time to leave. Daybreak, June 27.By nine o'clock Bill saw none of the boys from the Republican were going to show up. What had shown up was a Jew that wanted to set up a hardware store, and two peddlers. Four wagons, if you counted Bill and Charley's. Bill collected fifty dollars from each of them, and they started east, Charley driving the wagon, Bill sitting on his horse, a handsome old gelding he'd named Peerless, drinking cocktails.The boy rode one of the mules.Anyone but Bill would have rethought it right there. He had it in his head there was something waiting for him in the Hills, though. Charley couldn't get him to say exactly what; he thought Bill might not know either.They met another wagon train at Fort Laramie, five days out of Cheyenne. Twenty-eight wagons, most of them full of whores. Some Chinese, some American. The filthiest whores Charley had seen up to then, here is what the Americans had for names: Dirty Emma, Tit Bit, Smooth Bones, and Sizzling Kate. The Chinese had little feet. They couldn't walk more than a few steps and stayed close to their whore man.Bill joined wagons. He didn't like it, but the Indians were a fact. Once the whores heard who it was, they came after Bill's person night and day. Bill never gave them a look, and in the end he went to one of their wagons and talked to a whore man named Al Swearingen, who was importing a fresh load of girls for his place in Deadwood, and they didn't come by again.The boy went to the wagon with him, carrying that old Smith & Wesson in his sash, and came back with a new purpose in life. Charley didn't see what it hurt, and didn't stop the boy when he went back to the wagon later, after sunset. He went that night and the night after, and the night after that. That's where he was before he shot Bill's horse.They'd stopped early in the afternoon, in sight of the Hills. On that day, in that light, the Hills were as black as the Devil's dreams. It looked to Charley like once you got inside you might lose the sun's light forever. Charley put it out of his head.The boy tethered and fed the mules, washed his face, and headed over into the whores' wagons. Al Swearingen, the man that Bill had spoken to about his whores, came over a little later carrying a bottle and three glasses, and offered up a drink of whiskey to celebrate finding the Hills. He was pale-eyed and bearded, the kind that was planning ten days ahead every day of his life. Bill took the drink, Charley didn't. The whore man's fingers had been all over the insides of the glasses.Bill drank half of what the whore man poured him and waited to see what it would do. The man said, "This is a historic day, pards," and threw his down. Bill looked at him. The man said, "I mean, finding the Hills."Bill studied his glass. He put his finger in the whiskey and came out with a speck of a gnat and rolled it off his fingers. Charley said, "Did you think we were going to miss the Black Hills?" North to south, they ran a hundred miles."No," he said, "I certainly didn't mean nothin' like that." And Bill laid his eyes on him again, calm and cold, until he went away. That was the way Bill handled annoyances when he could. He never threatened a soul unless he meant it.The whore man went back to his own wagon. It was bigger than the others and brand new. The boy had been inside it, and said it looked like the finest hotel. The boy had never been in a hotel room in his life. Charley saw them then, the boy and the whore man, climbing into the back with two of the girls."Malcolm's back with the whores," he said. Bill smiled and shook his head. He couldn't see that far himself."It's a sign of health, knowing what you want," Bill said."He's young," Charley said."That's another sign," Bill said. He was thirty-nine years old. One of the whores shrieked and came halfway out of the back of the wagon, and then something grabbed her from behind and pulled her back in. "What are we, a day out of the Hills?" Bill said."More," Charley said. The Hills had been in view since early that morning. It wasn't like coming into the Rockies, that seemed to grow out of the earth in front of your eyes. Until you were close, the Hills just seemed to get darker."What do they look like?" Bill said."Shit, Bill, you seen the Black Hills." Bill shook his head, stubborn. Charley said, "They look black."Another whore went into the wagon, and then a couple others followed her. The wagon shook and rocked and somebody in there started to sing. A weak, whining voice that strangled itself on the up notes."Could you tell them I once killed a woman for singing like that?" Bill said.Charley thought it over. "I can't tell something like that," he said."I won't make you a woman-killer." As he said that, the voice stopped cold, right in the middle of "Beautiful Dreamer." "Maybe the boy killed her for you," he said."He's been with us what, ten days, and we already made him an opera critic," Bill said.Charley said, "Of course, maybe he stuck his peeder in her mouth."Bill shrugged. "Then we made his peeder an opera critic." Bill stood up, still holding the whore man's glass. "You see that dog?" he said. The dog belonged to the whore man too. It was resentful and short-haired and never looked you in the eye, and it had a head the size of a cow's. It was walking through the wagon horses now, worrying them, about thirty steps away."I see it," Charley said, surprised that Bill did. Thirty steps was farther out than Bill's eyes usually went."A gentleman's wager?" Bill said.They bet five dollars, and Bill turned his back to the animal, dropping the arm holding the glass, and then he spun, his arm half a second behind the rest of him, and when he let go of the glass it carried the distance like a line of piss, sparkling in the light, and hit that monster square in the head. The dog screamed. "Sounds like he saw a snake," Bill said.Charley had never seen anybody throw like Bill. It was magic, the way things connected for him. Bill climbed into the wagon and came our with a bottle. He pulled the cork with his teeth and spit it onto the ground, signaling his intentions. It was a bottle without a future. He took a drink and handed it to Charley. Charley wiped off the lip and joined him. The whores were shrieking again.They passed the bottle back and forth two or three times and then Bill stood up to go into the bushes. He walked around the wagon horses and up a little hill. There were some weeds there and trees, thick enough to afford privacy.Whatever kind of blood disease Bill had, it had gotten worse since March. The morning Charley found him in the hotel bar, he'd asked how it was, and Bill told him he thought his piss had to cut a new bed through there every time he went. Charley didn't ask him about it again, there was such a thing as leaving some distance. He knew, though, that Bill was afraid he'd given a case of it to Agnes, and thinking he'd done that made him love her the more.He'd been in the bushes half an hour when the whore man came scrambling out of the front end of the wagon. The boy came out the back end, half dressed and trailing whores, carrying that old Smith & Wesson in his right hand. One of the whores had a bottle, there wasn't a trace of color to what was inside. She was holding on to that with one hand and trying to hold on to him with the other. "It don't mean nothin'," she said to him. "Come back in the wagon, 'fore you get injured."

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Deadwood 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unlike the HBO series, which uses Deadwood as a backdrop for the torrid cast of characters, in this book the town itself is the main character. Pete Dexter's sophomore effort starts with the arrival of its most famous inhabitant, Wild Bill Hickok who would eventually be murdered and laid to rest there, through the destruction of most of the town due to a fire a few years later. Many of the same characters featured in the TV show are also main characters in this historical novel, although some are portrayed quite differently 'Al Swearengen in particular'. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Charley Utter, who appears to be a favorite of Dexter's. The story is quite dry at times and never really captivates the way a good novel should, but the historical aspects are interesting.
liberry on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Loved. This. Book. I already loved the Deadwood series on HBO and wondered if I would like or hate this book, since it's on the same subject, also fictional, and not necessarily what the series on HBO was based on. And while it was different from the television show, it was really raw and gritty also. Who knew I'd ever come to love a Western?
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Dexter's ability to marry character and language is delightful. He is one of those rare writers who can portray deep emotion without slipping into the sentimental. Yes, the book might be subtitled, "Camp Crusty" due to profanity and sexual content, but it's also extremely funny and full of compassion. Highly recommended.
CBJames on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Deadwood by Pete Dexter was first published the same year as Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove which won the Pulitzer Prize for 1986. The award could have just as easily gone to Deadwood as both books are very well written and both books turn the western genre on its head in just about the same way.The American western has not been the clean-cut altruistic battle between good and evil that many people view it as for some time. Even John Wayne's movies moved into gray areas. The Searchers, for example, seems like a simplistic story about how bad Indians are, but if you look closely enough, if you can get past the obvious racism in the movie, you'll find that Wayne's character, the character who hates the Indians the most, is the one character that is no longer welcome in society. It's not the girl raised by Indians but Wayne who cannot return to white "civilization" in the end. Even a character as noble as Shane has to leave town in the end of the movie because there is no place for an ex-gunfighter anymore. Taking the turn towards the amoral man-with-no-name stories of the Clint Eastwood type just wasn't all that big of a leap. Westerns were already on the way there.What was new with books like Lonesome Dove and Deadwood was the way they took historical figures and events and presented them in a raw, unvarnished, style that bordered on revisionist history. I'm not well-versed enough in the genre to say with certainty, but I imagine both novels were heavily influenced by the new takes on the American West that historians were writing in the 1970's and 80's which presented versions of history that focused on Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves and women rather than on the on-going, unquestioned story of Manifest Destiny.Pete Dexter's Deadwood differs from Lonesome Dove in that all of the characters in it are based on historical people, even the very minor ones. Deadwood could almost pass as the sort of new-journalism Truman Capote was aiming for with In Cold Blood, it's just about a non-fiction novel as far as I can tell. It's also a novel with an ensemble cast, something not typically found in a western. The setting is Deadwood, South Dakota during the early years of the town's existence. Deadwood began as an illegal settlement of miners who violated treaties with Native American tribes in order to prospect for gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota territory. The men who went there at first were all law-breakers just by being there so the overall lawlessness of the place should come as no surprise. The women of Deadwood, at least at first, were largely made up of prostitutes, portrayed in Deadwood as essentially slaves owned body-and-soul by the men who ran the brothels. This is not the Dakota territory of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The characters in Deadwood include Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane Cannary, Sheriff Seth Bullock, and Charley Utter who functions as the linchpin that keeps all of the other characters together. Utter, a truly decent man, has followed Hickock to Deadwood which has just passed its initial glory days as a mining boom town. Hickock is dying, probably from Syphilis, but his presence will haunt the story and the town long after he has been gunned down. The other characters and their stories circle around Utter who is the one character to continue throughout the entire novel in part because he is one of the historical figures to remain in the area until the end of his life and he seems to have known just about everyone at least in passing.If books like Deadwood and Lonesome Dove can be said to have moved the western genre forward then the HBO television series Deadwood can be seen has having moved westerns back a bit. (The two appear to be unconnected; there is no credit to Mr. Dexter on the official HBO Deadwood website which I find a bit hard to believe.) The novel is focused on the character of Charley Utter who serves as a moral compass for everyone else, albeit perhaps a damaged one
dougwood57 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Pete Dexter's Deadwood hews closely to historical reality. The characters are there from the well-known Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane Cannary to the lesser known but vital Charlie Utter, Hickok's widow, Agnes Lake, the China Doll, and a host of others. The events are there from the murder of Hickok to the great Deadwood fire. Are the characters drawn accurately? It seems so - certainly more accurately than the HBO series of the same name (You won't find HBO's Al Swearengen in Dexter's pages). Much of the book is taken up with tortured internal dialogues, especially of Hitchcock's buddy Charlie Utter. Many of the characters are at least half insane and in poor Jane's case, well over half. Cruelty is the rule not the exception. Dexter's `Deadwood' is an unhappy place. By the way, according to a story from the Rapid City Journal newspaper posted on the web page `Deadwood Discovered, the HBO series is not based on Dexter's book and Dexter says he does not watch the show - his loss in my opinion. Highly recommended.
TheBooknerd on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Perhaps if I actually liked westerns and had chosen to read this, I would be able to comment on the clever writing and vivid imagery. But I don't, and I didn't. It was assigned in an American Lit class, and I grudgingly forced my way through this extended portrait of human ugliness. Reading this book felt like watching 'Gangs of New York' . . . disturbing, gross, desensitizing, boring.
KaneH More than 1 year ago
Every so often you come across a book unlike any other, with a powerful story and a style of writing that pulls you in. This is the book, and it weaves a spell. The language of the characters at first sounds off-key, but you realize that's how they talk, and it's perfect. Just love the way it's written. By being different, it makes you think- a very good thing. It's rough because that's the subject matter. A good read for a strange flavor you haven't tried.
seahaggy More than 1 year ago
This was a entertaining book. It kept me reading from the first page. the world building was exceptional. I felt like I was there. The characters are nicely fleshed out and retained their own voices. 
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