The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones

Helen Hemphill

Prometheus Jones heads into the Wild, Wild West!

In April 1876 it was no easier for a black boy to be taken seriously than it was before the Civil War. When 15-year-old orphan Prometheus Jones wins a horse raffle, he is forced to leave his Tennessee home with his 11-year-old cousin, Omer,’ in tow. The Dill brothers claim they won the horse, and Prometheus knows that, as a black boy, his word means nothing to the sons of a prominent white family. Prometheus’ departure serves as the catalyst to pursue his dream: to find his long-lost father, who was sold to a Texas slave trader in 1861. In order to earn money and provide safety for themselves as they travel to Texas, the boys join a cattle drive. As rains, river crossings, Indians, murder, alcohol, and the typical events that accompany a cattle drive all prove to be challenges to getting the “beeves” to Dakota Territory, Prometheus learns more about his job, and about human nature. He also realizes that his values are important to him, no matter what others might say or think.


  • Ages: 11 -14
  • Grades: 6 - 9
  • Pages: 228

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Recent Reviews

In the tradition of Nat Love comes a fictional black cowpoke, Prometheus Jones, and his best buddy, Omer Shine, escaping from a lynch mob in Tennessee to a Kansas cattle drive on its way to the Dakota Territory during the chaotic years following the end of the Civil War. ... Prometheus's transformation into Deadwood is convincing, even when insurmountable odds seem stacked against him.

—Kirkus Reviews

Helen Hemphill combines conventions of Southern and Western literature, reflecting a firm foundation of historical research. Born the day Lincoln penned the Emancipation Proclamation, her first-person narrator Prometheus Jones (based loosely on the real Nat Love) is wonderfully assured. An ace at breaking over-spirited horses, he heads west from Tennessee in 1876, finding lucrative employment on a cattle drive. Astride a horse he feels unbeatable: The rope cuts into my gloved hand, and my shoulder aches with every jerk, but I hold on like me and this old mustang is blood and bone growed together. The optimistic Prometheus progresses on fulfilling a promise made to his dying mother to find the father he never met. Self-confidence reigns until a fateful river crossing which brings to mind Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. The towns along the trail test Prometheus as much as the elements or the hostile Lakota. For example, ''…Dodge City. The town is alive with cardplayers, friendly women, drunks, and restless cowpunchers, all ready to tell you stories and take everything you got.

—ForeWord Magazine

Compelling reading.

—Booklist

[An] emotion-filled, memorable novel.

—Horn Book

The fast-paced plot, punctuated by Prometheus’s astonishing wins and losses, will lasso readers’ interest.

—School Library Journal

Author Helen Hemphill was inspired by the story of Nat Love, nicknamed 'Deadwood Dick,' who lived the wild life for 20 years and then wrote his autobiography, published in 1907. Using Nat's antics and experiences as the basis for Prometheus' story makes the novel realistic and engaging. The cowboy lingo is authentic: Readers will learn words like remuda--a group of horses from which ranch hands choose mounts for the day. It's hard for us today to imagine that a teenager had the strength, courage, and skills to be a good cattle driver, but Prometheus and Nat both did.

—Bloomsbury Review

This gritty tale of cowboys and cattle drives was inspired by the author's research about Deadwood Dick. The story follows two free, AfricanAmerican boys as they become cowboys. Prometheus, 14, and his cousin, 11, win a horse, leave home and join a cattle drive. Hemphill doesn't hold back on the realism of the times. Death, violence, and survival are themes in this book as well as the friendship and determination required to succeed. Following Prometheus as he comes of age on this cattle drive to Deadwood offers adventure that young readers crave; however, some of the dialect might require more attention from readers. The descriptions of working the horses are excellent, and Hemphill's writing provides a vibrant picture of all the action. Loosely based on historical events of the 1870s, this book depicts the African-American experience in the American West along with interwoven tales of other racial experiences. There is no foul language, but the action scenes can be graphic.

—Library Media Connection

Honors for The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones

  • KSRA Young Adult Book Award Nominee
  • Kansas State Reading Circle
  • Virginia M. Law Award for the most distinguished book for young adults on Texas History
  • Best Children's Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education