I spent most of my life as a newspaper scribbler, what they call a
journalist today. So I appreciate how important it is to seize your
readers early on so they will keep reading. However, there are some
things that I need to explain before I get to this next, very turbulent
time in my life.
As I am writing this it is early 1949 and even though I consider myself
blessed to have so far avoided my second childhood, the filaments of my
ripe old brain sometimes get about as limp as worn out fiddle strings
when I exercise them too much. Nevertheless, I have recorded to the best
of my memory and ability the incidents that transpired as I made my way
to French Indochina aboard the S. S. China in 1894.
Readers may conclude that my reasons for leaving the United States for
the Orient were self-centered and vague. If you read the initial
installment of my tale then you know the first thirty-three years of my
life were fraught with tragedy of one kind or another--some of it of my
own making, but much of it the result of what others did. As I said in
that first book, I need to acknowledge the corn about some pretty
terrible things I did during my life.
I have killed people. And people have tried to kill me. I never wanted
such a life, but it was thrust on me and I had to make the best of it.
Even though most of those violent altercations occurred early in my
life, their repercussions were relentless and unwelcome companions as I
grew older. They still are, even now at my advanced age. I wanted to let
you know all of that so you can make up your mind right now if you want
to read further.
I had my share of tragedy and misfortune too. If you read the first part
of my story then you know I lost my wife to a cruel disease after only
eight years of marriage. You will also recall that my response to that
tragedy was to fog it out of the country. In doing so, I left everybody
I loved behind. Those included my five-year-old daughter Anna Marie, my
mother Hannelore Battles, my in-laws Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius McNab, my
cousin Charlie Higgins and a lot of other people who I considered good
Some folks may think my flight to the Orient a craven act--one that any
man worth his salt would never contemplate, let alone carry out. I
cannot disagree with that condemnation. I felt that way often as the
S.S. China made its way to the Far East. Even later on, after I had
settled in places like Manila and Saigon, I would reproach myself for
what I had done.
Had I been indicted and put on trial for my actions and were I the judge
and jury, I certainly would have found myself guilty of appalling
judgment, capriciousness, and even child abandonment. As it was, there
was no trial and no conviction, but I was a guilty prisoner of my
impropriety nevertheless. Never a day went by when I didn't regret
leaving my little daughter behind in Denver for others to rear. As my
mother pointed out to me more than once when she attempted to dissuade
me from my journey to the Orient, I was raised without a father. Now my
daughter was about to suffer the same fate. It was a brutally compelling
argument, but I was not to be deterred.
And so, here I was aboard the S. S. China en route from San Francisco to
our first port of call, Honolulu, the Republic of Hawaii. Back then,
Hawaii was an independent republic, not the annexed territory it is
today. As I would learn Americans in 1894 were considered unwelcome
interlopers by many native Hawaiians. They were seen as greedy
exploiters who were interested only in manipulating and profiting from
the sugar and pineapple industries.
The first day aboard the S.S. China had been eventful, to say the least.
I had been questioned by a surly Pinkerton detective who was trying to
locate Nate Bledsoe--the man I had killed five years earlier in a gun
fight at Battles Gap, my family's homestead in western Kansas.
Ten years before that I had killed Nate Bledsoe's mother, a malevolent
woman who had imprisoned Horace Hawes, the owner of the Dodge City
Union, Ben Minot, a printer and me in a barn at the same place. Her
death was an accident. Her sons, Nate and Matthew, began shooting at me
and my two companions as we were escaping. As I returned fire with my
Winchester rifle, a single bullet hit Mrs. Bledsoe in the throat just as
she stepped out of the house and onto the porch where her sons were
shooting at us. She died instantly.
Later in this scrap, Matthew Bledsoe was killed by Ben Minot, a friend
and co-worker of the Dodge City Union. The Bledsoe clan was influential
in Kansas in those days and had considerable pull in Topeka, the state
capital. They were not about to let the shooting deaths of two of their
kin go unpunished even if this particular branch was known to live
outside the law. For the next several years, they hunted me down and on
two occasions, came damned close to killing me.
Now, five years after I and several members of a wildcat U.S. Marshal's
posse had shot it out with Bledsoe and eight of his companions at
Battles Gap, I was under investigation by the Pinkerton Detective
Agency. It had been hired to determine if Nate Bledsoe was dead or alive
and if the former was the case, where his bones were buried. Of course,
I knew exactly where Nate Bledsoe was--or what remained of him and I
sensed that the Pinkerton man knew that I knew. But I would be damned if
I were going to admit it. Let's just say I was "economical with the
truth," as my cousin Charley Higgins used to say.
My ongoing trouble with the Bledsoe clan could have been another reason
for my voyage to the Orient had I wished to rationalize it that way.
But, of course, I was not running away from the Bledsoe clan or the
ghosts of the two Bledsoe's I had eradicated or even the Pinkerton
I was running away from myself though at the time I didn't know it. Nor
did I realize what I was moving toward and how my travels and trials
would transform me in ways I could not have imagined.
Of course, those thoughts were furthest from my mind that first evening
aboard the S.S. China. I had, after all, been invited to have dinner at
the Captain's table in the First Class Dining Saloon with a few other
passengers, among them, the mysterious and stunning widow Schreiber.
Excerpted from "The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles: Book 2, Finding Billy Battles Trilogy" by Ronald E. Yates. Copyright © 2016 by Ronald E. Yates. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.