This Week’s Book Review - Little Hatchet

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

A Family Saga in the American Southwest

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
March 24, 2024

“Little Hatchet,” by Phil Oakley, Stoney Creek Publishing Group, March, 2024, 308 pages, $24.95 (Paperback), $699 (E-book)

The Oakley family lives in a farm along Little Hatchet Creek, New Mexico Territory in the postwar years of the American Civil War. They raise hogs, achieving modest prosperity selling bacon and ham in El Paso.

“Little Hatchet,” by Phil Oakley, opens in the 1880s along the Little Hatchet Creek and runs through the 1920s. It follows the fortunes of the Oakley clan in New Mexico and Texas.

Father, James, is a Civil War veteran. A former Confederate officer, he and his wife Rebecca left Arkansas to settle along Little Hatchet Creek, raising a family along with the hogs. As the book starts the family includes five sons and two daughters.

It opens with the farm raided by a Mescalero war party. The Indians steal horses and the Oakley’s youngest child, Matthew, a baby. James and oldest son Walter ride to recover the child, peacefully by riding boldly into the Mescalero camp, establishing an odd friendship between the Oakleys and the tribe.

The book primarily follows the exploits of oldest son, Walter. Father James serves as his advisor, but James never pushes Walter to live out James’s dreams, becoming an engineer. Walter becomes a surveyor for the Southern Pacific Railroad, then a carpenter for them, and finally an independent building contractor before returning to farming, raising hogs as his father did. Along the way he marries Ada and starts his own family.

The story takes place on a vast backdrop, The deserts of New Mexico, the Little Hatchet Mountains, the Texas Plains between El Paso and San Antonio, the Texas Hill Country and the Big Bend country between the Rio Grande and the Southern Pacific line serve as stages for the action. Walter fights Indians, scraps with Anglo ruffians and matches wits with Mexican bandits.

Walter becomes a respected member of his community, eventually being elected justice of the peace. His two oldest sons Ralph and Glenn take darker turns. Ralph transforms from a football hero to a greedy and narcissistic bully, while Glenn becomes a drug-addicted bootlegger and smuggler. Walter blames his failings as a father for their shortcomings.

“Little Hatchet,” is a panoramic novel, following America as it grows from the 1890s Old West years to early Twentieth Century America. The book is the first of a series of novels about the Oakley clan. If the next is as good as this one, it will be worthwhile reading.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is