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Death in the Black Patch
Death in the Black Patch

Death in the Black Patch


342 Pages, 5.51 x 8.5

Formats: Trade Paper, EPUB

Trade Paper, $16.95 (US $16.95) (CA $22.95)

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN 9781932926569

Rights: WOR

Artemesia Publishing, LLC (Sep 2016)


eBook Editions Available

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Price: $16.95


In the spring of 1906 in Kentucky, Wes Wilson stands in his freshly plowed field gazing at furrows that will soon be filled with young dark-leaf tobacco plants. This crop is his life's blood, the product that allows him to feed and clothe his family. Wes is determined that nothing-not the powerful monopoly trying to drive prices down, or the growers' association demanding that farmers hold back their crops-will stand in his way. But the secrets and lies which plague the community smother Wes as he struggles to decide whether he should join the Association or sell out to the tobacco company. In the days that follow, Wes realizes that he's a threat to his family's peace. So, like the Night Riders who wear masks to hide their identity, he puts on a mask of control to hide his troubled mind. Wes is blind to the dangers he faces-the devious tobacco buyer; the ever-present Night Riders; and the cousin who is hiding a deadly secret- grow more intense the longer he takes to decide what to do with his crop. The conflict erupts and soon rages out of control with a result both surprising and tragic. 


"Bruce Wilson's story has a long reach … his story is your story and my story. It is fundamentally our story. How he came to tell it, innocently enough, was a result of his desire to see the place where his grandparents were born and lived at the turn of the century in southern, tobacco-growing country in the United States. First, a chance meeting, then another, next an archived microfilm front- page story from the Lynnville Daily Messenger, May 21, 1906. Then, a story of people's lives that reminds us of a shared history, who we all are, across time and geography.

Note: Wilson is a teacher of history - able to take in a depth of detail in the construct of a big picture, requiring a deep interest in sequence, relationships of when and how things come to be. And, Wilson is an actor - bringing that history-seeking mind and attention- to-detail to life, finding the key to character and uncovering and revealing people. And, thank you very much! Here before us, there we all are.

The Black Patch Tobacco Wars of 1904-1909 are a quintessential example of North American industrialization - money and power bringing high stakes for everyone as monopolies rose and life and death hung on the line every day in a country of free men and an economy up for grabs.

The circumstances of this era and how it played out is truly gripping. The American Tobacco Company, one of the largest monopolies in U.S. history, versus a grassroots Tobacco Planter's Protective Association is an iconic U.S. tale. But the over-reaching tale of these players is also a backdrop, in this story of us, for Wilson to bring his family members to life with all their joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, personalities and relationships.

With no adequate answer to be had and bad results either way, the question to sell your tobacco or not, hold out with the Association for a strength in numbers affect, or sell for less than the cost of your crop is a life and death one. Big business, unions, scabs, underlying racism - it is a frightful story. How quickly we can become "other" when product and money are the carrot. This societal war brought Night Riders and Hillbillies into conflict, farm burnings, shootings and hangings, real havoc between farmers and ultimately between family members.

Art hated himself for avoiding Wes's question and not giving him the names. It was the first time he'd ever lied to Wes or held anything back from him, and it gave him a knot in his guts. But he had to protect himself and his own family and thought that this was the only way. 

Wes Wilson, Bruce Wilson's great grandfather, played a role on the big stage of Black Patch history along with his wife Zora and their children, Wes' brother Mark and cousin Art. Wilson brings his family back to life to become key players in detailed tableaus of their society, family units, hardships of farming, and coping in a dangerous world. These scenes have the depth of screen play, the dialog of personal relationships and belief systems.

Anthie and Sudie, Wilson's Grandparents, rise from similar family circumstances in the midst of the Black Patch turmoil. They court, marry, raise children and thrive into the 1960s. For Bruce Wilson, his family's mysterious and historical story germinated in his mind for eight years until influences in 2014 brought him to the decision to tell that story. If only his ancestors could know that grandson Bruce found his way to evidence of their personal story and their place in history, writing it for them, and reminding us that we all live in one patch or the other, with a complicated stake in a big human picture." — Silver City Independent

"Death in the Black Patch blends chronicle with creativity to present a piece of the past.

Bruce Wilson’s emotionally rich Death in the Black Patch paints a portrait of early twentieth-century life in the American South. Inspired by historical events, it explores the realities of farm life, as well as the complicated nature of family relationships and how they can be eroded by suspicion and doubt.

Wes and Art Wilson are tobacco farmers, while Mark owns a general store. They all yearn for simple lives where they can make a living and take care of their families, but trouble has come to their Kentucky county.

On one side, a tobacco company looking to monopolize profits has sent slick-talking businessmen to the fields to offer farmers a pretty penny for their harvested crops. On the other, a grower’s association is willing to go to violent lengths to enlist farmers to stand against the company, including dispatching Night Riders to destroy crops and even kill those who oppose them.

Wes and Art must decide what to do with their crops, and Mark worries for the safety and sanity of his brother and cousin. While Wes mulls things over with indecision and whiskey, his family can feel him cracking under the weight of his burdens. Resentment, bitterness, and distrust send the men into a downward spiral where secrets become more dangerous than men with contracts or guns.

Death in the Black Patch is abundant in emotional content. The descriptions of Wes and his family are both beautiful and brutal, portraying the complexity of love and farm life in the 1900s.

Wes’s farm, house, and family members are well conveyed in vivid paragraphs filled with imagery and emotive depth. You can feel the dirt on Wes’s hands, even taste the sour whiskey in his mouth as he laments the choices he must make.

Dialogue is natural and historically authentic, adding to the genuine traits of the characters. Their inner monologues are also believable. Wes’s teenage son, Anthie, flips between angst toward his father and daydreams of the girl he likes, while Wes’s wife struggles with her loyalties to her husband and her responsibilities to her family; they are relatable and emotionally compelling characters.

Sentimental passages are crucial in driving the novel forward, as the plot takes an excruciating amount of time to play out. The main conflict, a potentially deadly raid on the Wilson farm by the Night Riders, is explored from every angle, leading to repetitive conversations between characters and duplicated scenes.

The journey of two hired farm hands turned Night Riders is also examined, elevating the novel with humor and themes of survival that consistently straddle moral lines. These glimpses into the characters’ passions and processes retain interest when the plot becomes stagnant. Everything leads up to a surprise conclusion that seems abrupt in the face of an otherwise lengthy narrative.

The novel was inspired by Wilson family stories, and the author succeeds in bringing life to his ancestors. The harsh realities of farm life and the intricacy of communication, devotion, and emotional labor are well developed. Death in the Black Patch blends chronicle with creativity to present a piece of the past." — Foreword Reviews

Author Biography

Bruce Wilson is a writer, historian and educator living in Silver City, New Mexico. He is a graduate of California State University-Fullerton and Western New Mexico University where he currently teaches American History. He is a contributing author to the anthology Bug Tales by Paul Klebahn and Gabriella Jacobs and his story "Raven's Nest" received an Honorable Mention in the Desert Exposure 2015 Annual Writing Contest. Recalling the stories his father used to tell, one tale in particular kept popping up in his thoughts, so Wilson traveled to Kentucky to do some research on his family heritage and discovered the actual events of the story. Last year, he returned to the home of his ancestors in Kentucky and walked the country roads and trudged through the rows of the tobacco fields. Unable to get the story out of his mind, he turned the event into a novel- Death in the Black Patch.