Ronald E. Yates is Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois. Yates was appointed Dean in August 2003 after heading the College of Media's Department of Journalism. He joined the University of Illinois as Journalism Department Head in 1997 following a 27-year career with the Chicago Tribune as an award-winning foreign correspondent, senior writer and editor. He stepped down as Dean in September 2010 to concentrate on writing and film projects.
Finding Billy Battles is a work of “faction.” That is, the story it tells is based partly on fact, but it has been augmented with narrative fiction. Many of the protagonists in the story were actual persons, and some of the incidents actually happened. However, other characters and events in the book are fictional.
In telling the saga of Billy Battles, I have mined my family's history and the stories I heard various family members tell while I was growing up in my native state of Kansas, a place rife with a rich Native American and immigrant history. It is, and was, a place filled with fascinating characters—especially those men and women of the past who worked so hard to transform what people once called the Great American Desert into one of the most productive regions on the planet.
I have also attempted to stay true to the vernacular of the time and place, especially late nineteenth-century Kansas. The reader will notice, therefore, a difference in the tone, mood, and colloquial language that Billy Battles uses to tell his story from the way a contemporary individual might speak. Fortunately, I can recall with reasonable accuracy the way relatives, most now deceased, spoke and behaved as I was reaching adulthood in Kansas.
Finding Billy Battles is not a western in the classic sense of that word. While the story begins in the nineteenth century in my native state of Kansas, and while it tells of Billy’s early life in a state known for its violence and lawlessness, it does not remain there. In fact, the narrative traverses a large portion of Asia and Latin America at a time when those areas were still little known to most Americans.
My goal was to tell a compelling story. I hope I have done that and that you will enjoy reading this first book of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy as much as I enjoyed writing it.