It was a small American town, the kind of town where people smile easily at one another, the kind of town where people feel safe, where they go to raise their kids, and where the news from the city is as alien as the city itself…a small, dusty western town, with little to distinguish it from dozens of others. It could be debated whether the livestock sale or the county court employed the most people. But nobody did debate it.Everyone knew it was ranching and farming gave the town life. All the buying and selling, recording and disputing conducted day to day in the town were connected, branch to limb and limb to trunk directly and inevitably to the great root system of the farms. They lined the river and carpeted the valley floor. Over the low foothills that framed the valley like a mother’s arms cradle her baby, sprawled the ranches, their stock in precise ratios roaming fenced desert grassland to horizons unseeable by the human eye. In this orderly and economical universe all things fit. If they did not fit, they did not last. People who didn’t fit eventually left. It was an economy of “just enough.” The people who occupied each essential slot in the eco-system were for the most part satisfied just to belong. So if a few greedy and powerful men controlled the buying and selling of livestock, or the trade in dry goods or real estate, it added a sense of security, stability, and strength to an economy of individuals, most of whom had little to spare. The impermanence of human endeavor was daily visible in abandoned homesteads and rutted roads, in miles and miles of imperfect fence and in the ever-changing winding way the river cut its banks through last year’s fields.
Greenfield, Oregon, population 1,700 was Billy’s hometown, but he did not feel safe.