Josiah Hawke was always a quick study. Born to a modest farming family in Illinois, and largely self-educated, he became a professor of philosophy at a small college. But when the Civil War erupted, he learned a new trade – fighting and killing – and became brilliant at it. Hawke was part of an elite detachment that conducted raids behind enemy lines, political sabotage, and what today we would term psychological warfare. His return to the quiet life of a college professor ended abruptly when a traveling carnival prizefighter goaded Hawke into the ring. The prizefighter, unexpectedly discovering he was outclassed, tried to gouge out Hawke’s eye – which prompted Hawke to methodically beat him to death. Leaving town one step ahead of the county sheriff, Hawke embarked on a career of bareknuckle fighting, gunslinging, and occasional stints as a lawman. Still a philosopher by inclination, Hawke lives by his moral code – while admitting that he still can’t figure out the precise boundaries between right and wrong.
Tom Carmody was orphaned at an early age and grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, living off the land and learning how to read tracks and terrain like other people read a newspaper. A hard man who stands six-five, Carmody met Hawke after Hawke took over a marshal’s position and found the mountain man languishing in a cell after beating up more than a dozen toughs who tried to fleece him in a card game in a Texas saloon. Hawke, a good judge of talent and character, offered him a choice: stay in jail or become his deputy. Although Tom Carmody never saw the inside of a school, he has a lighting wit and an unvarnished impatience with philosophical types who like the sound of their own voice – a point he makes abundantly clear to Hawke. Carmody was a decorated Union soldier, although, as he puts it, “no fancy officer type” like Hawke.