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Six Bits a Day: A Hewey Calloway Novel

Six Bits a Day: A Hewey Calloway Novel

3.2 4
by Elmer Kelton

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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


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).

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of the last cowboys still riding through American fiction moseys through Texas, and gets into trouble. Having detailed the latter-day escapades of Texas cowpuncher Hewey Calloway in previous novels (The Smiling Country, 1998, etc.), Kelton now heads back to 1889 for a look at Hewey and his brother Walter in their younger days. The two are wandering the vast West Texas landscape when they fall in with a couple of cowboys who turn out to be rustlers. Never that smart, Hewey informs on the rustlers, earning their enmity. But there's little time to worry about that, as the Calloway brothers find themselves working hard for skinflint rancher C.C. Tarpley, earning just six bits a day (that's 75 cents to city folk). This arrangement is just fine by Hewey, who wants nothing more than a good horse, some grub and nobody bossing him around. But Walter has fallen in love with a girl from the nearby town. The entanglement is more than a little irksome to Hewey, who barely hesitates before signing his brother and himself up for a long ride down to San Antonio to bring back a herd of cattle that C.C. just bought-anything to get out in the open country and keep Walter away from the girl. It's a nice lengthy ride, with more than a few mishaps along the way, but nothing that Hewey and dumb luck can't handle. Easygoing days in the saddle, related in a drawl that's sweet as pure honey. One has to appreciate a Western whose hero is so bad with a revolver that he couldn't hit water if he was standing knee deep in a lake.

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Hewey Calloway Series , #3
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Read an Excerpt

Six Bits a Day

By Elmer Kelton

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2005 Elmer Kelton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1278-5


Hewey Calloway's stomach growled like an angry bear. He had not been so hungry in all his twenty-two years. Yesterday he and his year-younger brother, Walter, had eaten their last chunk of hog belly. It was so fat that he had had to force it down. Now he would trade almost anything he owned for another piece of it, not that he owned much. Everything he had was either on his back or tied to his saddle.

Walter had been riding in moody silence. He pulled up beside Hewey after passing around the far side of a mesquite whose thorns threatened to reach out and grab him. He said, "Even the trees here try to tear off a strip of hide. How far do you reckon we've traveled?"

Hewey grunted. "A good ways." He wanted to keep a cheerful face, even if doubts were weighing on him.

Walter said, "We ain't seen a human bein' in two days, and no game bigger than a jackrabbit. My belly is flatter than a stove lid."

"Mine ain't no better."

There had been a few jackrabbits, and Hewey had shot at them with an old wooden-handled six-shooter he carried in his saddlebags. But he was no marksman. Each bullet kicked up dirt several feet from the target and set the rabbit into startled flight.

Walter said, "Some cowboys we are. I ain't got a pistol, and you'd just as well've left yours behind. I never saw such a poor shot."

Hewey tried not to appear testy. "Had you rather be choppin' cotton and sloppin' hogs? That's all we'd have if we went back to East Texas."

"Maybe we'd have a job and somethin' to eat."

Hewey saw one saving grace. "At least we're a long ways west of the cotton fields, and it's been a week since we've seen a hog."

The 1880s were nearing an end, and most Texas land still open for new settlement was in the semiarid western region beyond the Conchos. Short, sparse grass shared ground with desert plants such as greasewood and mesquite and a dozen kinds of thorny cactuses that lay in ambush for the careless or the unlucky.

Hewey and Walter's mother had died when they were boys. Over the next few years their restless father had led them in a fruitless circle from the East Texas blacklands to Oklahoma and Kansas, searching for an ideal home he would see only in his dreams. After his death the brothers had wandered about, laboring at whatever they could find to ward off the wolves that had been at the Calloway door as far back as Hewey could remember.

They struggled through a numbing variety of pick-and-shovel jobs before joining a trail outfit driving cattle to the Kansas railroad. Horseback work had fitted Hewey like kid gloves. Now, however, the trails north were mostly closed. Farms and barbed wire had blocked them off. Long cattle drives were being rendered unnecessary by the extension of railroads across Texas.

He had heard that large ranches were building up west of the farming country and needed men willing to work. He had no objection to work if he could do it in the saddle. Unlike Walter, he had never been able to fit his hands properly around a plow handle.

"Our luck is bound to change," he said. He usually accepted the vagaries of life without getting his underwear in a twist. "We'll find work out here somewhere."

Walter preferred a sparrow in the hand to a hawk on the wing. "If we don't starve to death first. I can imagine somebody findin' us five or ten years from now, two little dried-up husks layin' out on the prairie. Kind of like a pair of old corncobs with the shucks still on."

"The coyotes would chew us up long before that." Hewey toyed with the mental image. "I wish a coyote would show hisself. I'd eat him before he could eat me."

"Not if you had to shoot him."

The brothers had set out on this trip three weeks ago with hope and youthful high spirits. Like Pa, Hewey fantasized about the far hills and what might lie beyond. He envisioned a horseback life of freedom and adventure, excitement and glory. The trouble was that he was more than ten years too late to share the fighting against Comanches and Kiowas, and the buffalo were gone. Most of the famous outlaws were dead, too, like Billy the Kid and Sam Bass and Jesse James. So far as he could see, the cowboy life was about all that remained to him. He meant to carve out a piece of it somewhere in western Texas.

Walter did not share Hewey's longing for adventure. He was comfortable with what he could see and hear and touch. He would be content with a solid job where pay and meals came regularly, where tomorrow was no more of a mystery than yesterday. Hewey enjoyed reading blood-stirring novels about cowboys and pirates and knights of old. Walter found satisfaction in guiding a plow and keeping a straight row. He would have been happy to spend his life as a farmer somewhere back in the blacklands.

In Hewey's view, East Texas had been cottoned out. It offered no future that interested him, while West Texas promised a fresh beginning. But his shining hopes had gradually diminished along with the supplies he and Walter had brought on the trip. At the moment, he would trade a month of tomorrows for a plate of beans.

Walter said, "Neither one of us would make a meal for a coyote. Even the buzzards don't pay us any mind."

They had come across an occasional scattering of cattle, which usually hoisted their tails and clattered off into the nearest thicket. Hewey grasped at the tattered shreds of his optimism. "Where there's cows there's bound to be a ranch. And where there's a ranch, they're bound to need cowboys."

The animals were of all colors and ran more to horn than to flesh. Hewey said, "Takes a tough breed to make it in this western country."

"You sure we're tough enough?"

Hewey set his jaw. "Our name's Calloway, ain't it? Pa carried a Yankee bullet in him for twenty years, right up to the day he died. We've just got to take another hitch in our belts."

He would have to punch a new hole to make his any tighter.

Sundown came with no sign of a dwelling or watering place. But at dusk Hewey saw the flicker of a campfire. Walter said, "Maybe they'll give us somethin' to eat."

Hewey said, "We ain't goin' to ride in there and beg. Us Calloways have never begged for nothin'."

Walter said, "Maybe they'll hear our stomachs growl."

Hewey assumed the lead as he usually did, being a year or so older. He put his horse into an easy lope and did not slow until he was within rock-throwing distance of the fire. He saw nobody.

A stern voice spoke from behind a bush. "You-all lift them hands to where I can see them."

Hewey did not spot the man at first, or the gun, but his gut told him they were there in the dusk. "Friend," he said shakily, "we ain't out for no trouble."

A tall, lanky man walked into the open, holding a pistol. He said, "You must be pilgrims, or you'd know not to charge into a camp like that. You always holler first to find out if you're welcome."

A shiny badge reflected firelight. Law officers made Hewey uneasy. Back where they came from he had had a couple of run-ins with old Sheriff Noonan, a man with a stern commitment to the letter of the law. There was, for instance, the time Hewey had slipped over to Old Man Babcock's farm one night and whacked off all the pigs' tails. A penful of bobtailed pigs looked funny to Hewey, but Babcock and the sheriff had not seen the humor in it. The jail cot was the hardest bed Hewey had ever tried to sleep on.

He said, "Don't shoot, mister. We'll ride on and not bother you no more."

Moving closer, the man gave each brother a moment's study, then slipped the pistol back into a holster on his hip. The frown slowly left his thin face. "I had to be certain of your intentions. Name's Len Tanner."

"Ours is Calloway. I'm Hewey, and he's Walter. Pleased to make your acquaintance." Hewey kept looking at the badge. It was circular with a star in the center. "You a sheriff?"

"Texas Ranger." Tanner touched his forefinger to the badge. "Pretty, ain't it? Had it made out of a Mexican peso."

Hewey judged that Tanner was well into middle age. Firelight exaggerated the facial creases and the roughness of a skin weathered by sun and wind. It crossed Hewey's mind that a ranger must lead an exciting life, maybe better even than a cowboy's. But he did not dwell on the notion long, for he knew he was too poor a marksman to be accepted into such a demanding organization. He could not hit a barn from the inside.

The campfire drew his attention. A small coffeepot sat on the coals. A half-cooked slice of beef lay in a skillet on the ground. Tanner had probably set it off to one side when he heard the horses coming. Hewey said, "I'd trade you a good pocketknife for some of that."

Tanner shook his head. "Already got a knife." Seeing Hewey's disappointment, he added, "But you're welcome to share my supper. Didn't cost me nothin' anyway. It's contraband."

"Contraband?" Hewey thought that was some kind of illegal whiskey.

"I was trailin' a pair of thieves that butchered another man's beef. They ran off and left the meat behind."

"You didn't catch them?"

"I know where they'll light. Most criminals ain't weighted down with brains." He fetched a tin cup out of a canvas bag and tapped it on his knee to dislodge a scorpion or anything else that might be in it. He handed it to Hewey. "Help yourselves to the coffee. I'll heat the skillet again."

Hewey filled the cup. The rim burned his lips. He handed the cup to Walter. "Hot. Needs to be blowed a little."

Hewey had no compunctions about sharing a cup. He was used to drinking from cisterns and wells that had a community cup for use by anyone who came along. He said, "I remember a story about some yahoo that dragged into town starvin' to death for water. They asked him why he didn't drink at one of the wells he passed along the way, and he said, 'I couldn't. I had no cup.'"

Tanner chuckled at the story and told a couple of his own while he waited for the steaks to get done. He watched bemused as Hewey and Walter wolfed down the meat, which was sizzling hot from the skillet. "Sorry I got no gravy." He fried a second helping, then sat back while the brothers finished that, too.

He asked, "How long since you boys left the cotton patch?"

Hewey said, "Does it show?"

"You've both got lint in your ears. What brings you out so far from water? There ain't a decent farm in a hundred miles."

Hewey said, "That's the way we want it. We're lookin' for cowboy work."

Tanner grunted. "Cowboy life ain't exactly like the storybooks tell it. You're up before daylight and out till dark. You sweat for thirty days to earn a piddlin' wage that you can blow in thirty minutes."

Walter asked, "Does rangerin' pay better?"

"Not always, but a ranger don't have to put up with a bunch of bawlin' cows. Ain't nothin' dumber than a cow unless it's a sheep."

Hewey said, "We know. We've done some cow work ourselves."

Tanner responded, "A horse is a little smarter, but not much. I've been throwed off and stomped on more times than I've ever been shot at, even bein' a ranger."

Hewey nodded. "I notice you've got to look quick if you want to see these cattle around here. They're up and gone before you can say scat."

"They ain't housebroke. Some'll run you ragged, then try to put a horn through your gizzard. But if you're bound and determined to chase cows, good luck to you. I do better chasin' outlaws."

Hewey's imagination ran free as he pictured the adventures this lawman might have experienced. "How long you been a ranger?"

"I started in the Indian times before the big war. Wasn't much more than a skinny button then."

He was still skinny, Hewey thought, but long past being a button.

The talkative Tanner related stories about chasing and being chased by Comanches, and about long searches for criminals of every stripe. He said, "For a while of late I was down on the Ryo Grandy, chasin' after border jumpers from both sides of the river. Big state, Texas is, and I've crossed every river in it just about. Got the scars to prove it."

He rolled up his sleeve to show a raised mark about five inches long. "That's one of the littlest. A knife blade done that."

Hewey chilled at the thought of cold steel.

Tanner asked, "Ever hear of Rusty Shannon and Andy Pickard?"

Hewey had not.

Tanner said, "Good men, both of them. Me and them rode many a mile together. They're out of the rangers now. Old Rusty's married and got two young'uns. Andy took him a pretty young wife, too."

Hewey asked, "You ever been married?"

"Naw, horses and dogs like me, but I don't shine in the womenfolks' eyes. The Lord didn't choose to make me handsome. He just made me lucky instead."

After breakfast Tanner gave the brothers most of the meat that remained. He ignored their polite objections. He said, "It don't take much for a skinny old hull like me. You two need it to keep your strength up in this big dry country."

Hewey regretted parting company with the ranger, but Tanner was headed southward. Watching him ride away, Walter said, "He's a great talker. You reckon half of what he told us really happened?"

"If it didn't, it ought to have." Hewey touched spurs to his horse and started west. "We ain't findin' work settin' here."

At the middle of the afternoon he saw dust ahead, stirred by a herd of cattle. "Maybe somebody can point us to a job of work." He moved his horse into a lope. He was halfway there before Walter caught up with him.

Two horsemen appeared from within a clump of mesquite brush, brandishing pistols. A scowling rider with two weeks' growth of mottled whiskers demanded, "Who are you, and what's your business here?"

Staring into two formidable-looking muzzles, Hewey felt a chill. He had never been drawn to guns. He stammered, "Nothin'. We don't even rightly know where we're at."

The man's belligerence slowly subsided. "You-all ain't nothin' but a pair of punkin' rollers. We thought you might be cattle rustlers. In this country we got to be careful." He holstered the pistol and gave a silent signal to his younger partner to do the same. The second man had not used a razor in a while either, but his stubble was more like fuzz than whiskers. "Just lookin' over the country, are you?"

Hewey's voice steadied. "What we're really lookin' for is a job."

"Cowboys, are you?"

"We've been up the trail once."

The man considered for a minute. "Me and Chum here could use a little help. How about six bits a day and found?"


"Grub and all the ground you need to roll out your beddin'."

Six bits wasn't much, Hewey thought, but it beat what they had been doing. The thought of regular grub made up for a lot. "Just tell us what you want done."

"Fall in behind them cows and help us keep them movin'. Me and Chum ain't been makin' good time by ourselves."

Hewey said, "We can do that." He started to ride up but paused. "What do we call you, mister?"

"Call me Mr. Smith. You don't have to mister my partner. Just call him Chum."

Hewey rough-counted about a hundred cows in this bunch, and most had calves. He could not see that driving them offered much challenge. They appeared to have been driven far and hard already. Heads down, they drooled and dragged their feet. Many calves had fallen to the dusty rear, unable to keep up with their mothers. Cows kept stopping and turning back, bawling for their offspring. The smell of their saliva and fresh, warm manure was strong in Hewey's nostrils.

Smith and Chum left Hewey and Walter in the dust and took positions farther ahead. After a while Smith turned back, agitated. "You're lettin' the drags fall behind. Punch them up."

Hewey said, "These calves ain't got much left in them to punch. How much farther do they have to go?"

The answer was curt. "I'll let you know when we get there. Keep pushin'."

Walter rode over beside Hewey. "He's goin' to walk the hooves plumb off of them."

Hewey shrugged. "They're his, so it's none of our worry as long as we get paid." Nevertheless, he disliked seeing animals punished, especially small calves. "I don't see where it'd make much difference if it took a little longer. Cows don't know what time it is."

He noticed that most of the cows were branded CC and earmarked with a swallow fork. Several bore a J Bar brand and a different mark.

Walter started to speak. "You don't suppose ..." He broke off in mid-sentence. "No, they wouldn't be."

"Be what?" Hewey asked.

"Nothin'. I don't know why I said anything."

Hewey puzzled over what Walter might have been thinking, but he did not dwell on it long. "We've got what we came for, a payin' job that'll feed us."


Excerpted from Six Bits a Day by Elmer Kelton. Copyright © 2005 Elmer Kelton. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Elmer Kelton is a native Texan, author of forty novels. He has earned countless honors including a record seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, Inc., an organization that has voted Kelton the greatest Western Writer of all time. He lives in San Angelo, Texas.

Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years. He served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.

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Six Bits a Day (Hewey Calloway Series Prequel) 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have rated this book a four because I think it is an interesting book and it kept my attention. Elmer did a good job at describing the scenery in his book and describing the characters. He went in great detail in all of the action that happened in the book. My favorite character was Walter I liked him because he was always aware of what he was doing and about his surroundings. I think that he was a good man and Elmer did a great job with laying out his role in the book. Also he does not just want to waste his life away alone and blow all his money on nothing. He wants to get married and had a wife and a few kids because he thinks that he will be happier if he has a family. Walter thinks that he will not be as happy if he did not have a family and went with Hewey to go and explore the world and find a new job in a different part of the country. The setting of this book was interesting to me because the towns were old and they were not the normal towns that they have today. It is more interesting if the towns and the saloons are in the older sense. The older towns are more interesting and they have more history behind them rather than the towns now that do not have any history in them left.
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