After writing Hill Man, Janice Holt Giles said, "I was struck by its strength. It is the most realistic ridge book we have written, completely honest and presenting the truest picture of most of the ridge men."
Giles originally published the book in paperback in 1954 under the pseudonym John Garth. Her usual publisher declined to issue the novel, arguing that it was too sexual and violent for a writer whose other books were popular family book club selections. Now one of the most sought-after novels in the Giles canon, Hill Man is desired as much for its rarity as for its compelling and unromanticized portrayal of poor, rural Kentuckians. This special edition marks the first time the book has ever been available in hardback.
The novel's hero is Rady Cromwell, a man with dangerous ways that make men admire him and women love him. Born the son of a preacher in the hills of Kentucky, Rady grows into a shrewd but likeable prankster and hell-raiser with a gift for separating people from their money. Beginning his adult life with nothing more than a gun, a dog, and a guitar, Rady becomes a backwoods entrepreneur, working diligently to climb the social and economic ladder.
Hill Man follows Rady from his poor beginnings through his conquests of various women and pieces of property. Bold, inventive, hard working, and good natured, Rady follows every opportunity that comes along and takes great pride in raising a herd of cattle or a successful crop of corn or tobacco. Yet he also delights in singing folk ballads around a fire, in the thrill of a foxhunt by moonlight, and in the refreshing waters of a stream after a long day in the fields.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. i-iv)
ForewordForeword (pp. v-xii)Wade Hall
In October of 1945, when Janice Holt married Henry Giles in Louisville just after he returned from service in World War II, she acquired not only a husband but considerable literary property. It was his home community of Giles Ridge in Adair County in south central Kentucky, an area whose rich history and culture she would mine for her books the rest of her life. After four years in Louisville, she moved with Henry to a forty-acre farm on Giles Ridge, an area where she and Henry would live until her death in 1979 and his death in 1986.
Chapter OneChapter One (pp. 1-9)
There were three things Rady Cromwell loved when he was a kid. They were his old muzzle-loading rifle, his old black and tan hound dog, and his beat-up, battered old gittar. They were solid things, that he could lay his hand to, and they belonged to him. They were almost all that did belong to him, too.
The way he came by the rifle was like this. The Bruton boys over on Bruton Ridge had a turkey shoot one day in the fall. The trees were stripped already, the broom sedge was drying and crackling in the fields, the ginseng...
Chapter TwoChapter Two (pp. 10-26)
Rady’s folks lived down on Old Ridge . . . the one that was first settled. The main part ofthe settlement drifted over this way in time and centered here on New Ridge. Not many folks live on Old Ridge any more, and didn’t even when Rady was a boy. It’s a sharp, narrow spur that angles off south from New Ridge and it was always a scant and meager place, heavy-timbered right up to the rim of the ridge and gullied by a dozen hollers. Reckon the reason it was settled first was on account of when you came...
Chapter ThreeChapter Three (pp. 27-37)
He was seventeen the year he tended Annie Abbott’s tobacco for her. Seventeen, and quite a buckaroo. He was like a hickory sapling, tough and apt to bend in the wind without breaking. Sweet, the way anything young and tender is sweet, and stout and whole and sound.
Annie was Harm Abbott’s woman, but he’d been dead going on a year then. I reckon she must of been around thirty-five, although I don’t know as anybody would think of how old she was one way or the other. Far back as I could remember she’d been Harm Abbott’s woman, and...
Chapter FourChapter Four (pp. 38-50)
He made Annie a good crop tobacco and it brought a mighty fancy price when he took it off to market. A fancy price for those days. We’d never heard of parity then and seventeen-cent burley was damn good. That’s what Rady got for his. And he split it with Annie. She was well pleased. “You done good as Harm,” she told him, “ever’ bit as good!”
“You’re pleased?” he asked.
“I’m well pleased! Couldn’t be no better pleased. I don’t believe Lige’d of done anywheres near that good! Fer all yer jist a boy.”
“Fer all I’m jist what?”...
Chapter FiveChapter Five (pp. 51-68)
So Rady and old Drum and his gittar moved over to Annie’s. And he lost no time going over his new farm. It must of felt good to him to have his own place. There’s nothing like reaching down and picking up a handful of the earth, crumbling it between your fingers, smelling it and even tasting it and knowing it’s your own. This little patch of dirt, weedy, scrubby, even rocky, is what’s yours of the whole wide world. You can stand strong on it because it belongs to you. You can plant yourself and take root, and grow...
Chapter SixChapter Six (pp. 69-77)
Rady was as good as his word and the next morning he saddled his mule and rode down to the Pringle place. Old Man Pringle was a beefy, red-faced man, stout as an ox and about as stupid, but he could work twelve and fourteen hours a day without turning a hair. And like Annie’d said, he had a bunch of young’uns to help him. His woman was a toothless old hag, but she was still stout to get around. One eye was crossed, and it used to give me the creeps to be around her, for when she looked...
Chapter SevenChapter Seven (pp. 78-84)
Annie didn’t like any part of the deal Rady had made with Mister Rowe. Of course she never knew about it for a time, it being men’s business and Rady seeing no need to tell her. But she threw a right smart fit when she learned about it.
She all but screeched at him. “Are you losin’ yer mind, Rady Cromwell, or have you done an’ lost it? That place of his’n is big enough to wear out six men! An’ when, pray tell, will you have time to do ary thing to it? What’s goin’ to happen to yer...
Chapter EightChapter Eight (pp. 85-97)
When you look back on the way things happen to a man, and the way his life goes, it sometimes seems as if he’d set himself a kind of goal and had headed for it all his life, everything happening with that goal in mind, and all his purposes and aims fixed by it. Like he never lost sight of it for a minute. Like he never thought on any other thing. Like he was besieged and obsessed by it. And with Rady Cromwell it seems more that way than with most.
But when you take it all to pieces...
Chapter NineChapter Nine (pp. 98-105)
We had a hot summer that year. Hot and muggy, with a lot of rain. It rains considerable in our parts any season, but it kind of outdid itself that summer, coming a hard downpour might nigh every week. When it rains that often, a man’s hard-put to keep his work up, for the ground’ll be too soft to hoe or plow for a couple of days afterwards, and by the time he can give it a going-over, it comes another rain and he’s not got anywhere. The heat and the wet makes crab grass and careless weed grow rank...
Chapter TenChapter Ten (pp. 106-114)
The way Rady passed, coming and going to the Rowes’ place was through the patch of woods laid between his place and theirs. It was as pretty a woodsy place as there is on the ridge. Laid on a gentle slope, with hardly no undergrowth, and the trees were tall, old beech, chestnut, oak and ash which hadn’t been cut over in a hundred years. That had given them time to grow thick and heavy, so that the woods were a shady, gladey place, always cool on the hottest day. Down at the foot of the slope ran a narrow...
Chapter ElevenChapter Eleven (pp. 115-121)
It was in September, I reckon . . . yes, I know it was, for me and Junie were cutting tobacco, and I’ve yet to cut a crop before September.
I remember it was a hot, steamy day and the tobacco was higher than our heads and it was like being in a jungle to be hid down in between them close-growing stalks. Junie was cutting and I was sticking. Junie’s a good hand at cutting, though she keeps a man working sharpening her blade. She won’t cut a stalk with a dull edge.
We’d stopped for me to give...
Chapter TwelveChapter Twelve (pp. 122-128)
Miz Rowe had a pride that served her well and she called it up to serve her now. She quit making up piddling little excuses to seek Rady out after that. She quit trying to shun him. What ever it cost her to do it, she went back to her old way of seeing him around when it came easy or natural. She quit hiding behind Mister Rowe of an evening when she wanted to ride, or waiting for Rady to go home. When Mister Rowe wasn’t in a notion to ride with her, she went out, like always, whether...
Chapter ThirteenChapter Thirteen (pp. 129-139)
Rady never made the mistake of acting like Miz Rowe was beholding to him. He took no advantage of that evening in the woods. Never presumed on it at all. Most guys would of. Would of been clumsy enough to have taken for granted that once would guarantee more. But Rady didn’t. He never acted like there’d be other times, or even another time. He knew Miz Rowe pretty good by now. Before, where he had made her know what she could have, by touching her and reminding her of her own wants, he now left her free to remind...
Chapter FourteenChapter Fourteen (pp. 140-146)
I reckon the first time Miz Rowe had ever laid eyes on Annie was the day she came over to see her a corpse. There wasn’t any flowers to be had, it being wintertime, but she’d picked some green vines, ivy I reckon it was, and made a kind of wreath of it, and she brought it along. Junie was there, and several other women of the settlement. Junie said Miz Rowe never said much. Just went in to look at Annie in the casket and laid her vines on it. It was Junie took her in to see her,...
Chapter FifteenChapter Fifteen (pp. 147-157)
There were those that allowed Miz Rowe would sell out, now that Mister Rowe was gone, and go back where she’d come from. “What would she stay fer?” they said. “They’s nothin’ to keep her here on New Ridge now.”
And when she lit out a couple of weeks after the funeral they nodded their heads together and said the next thing would be a sale of the property, and there was a heap of figuring what it would bring and who would get it. Most figured Rady would bid it in.
But I never allowed that was the way...
Chapter SixteenChapter Sixteen (pp. 158-162)
In banking they’ve got a term I never knew much about, but I saw what it meant that spring. Rady was over-extended. He owed for timber he’d made contracts for, and he owed for stock he’d bought. And he had to count on the stock paying for both. He might have made it, and I don’t say he wouldn’t, if a thing hadn’t happened and turned the wheel in the wrong direction, and it came from a quarter he least suspected of ever giving him a minute’s trouble.
Miz Rowe was getting on towards six months, going around in kind...
Chapter SeventeenChapter Seventeen (pp. 163-173)
That was the begining of the end. Miz Rowe left and in time got her divorce. But even before she got the divorce she had the law on Rady and had him put off the place. It was her way of striking back. And it was a good way. He lost his hay and his corn and a good part of his stock. It forced his hand and he had to commence selling.
He sold the lumber first, but what he got for it didn’t even payout the contracts. For the contracts had been made high, and he had to...