Hewey Calloway, the best-loved cowboy in all of Western fiction, returns in this novel of his younger years as he and his beloved brother Walter leave the family farm in 1889 to find work in the West Texas cow country.
The brothers are polar opposites. Walter pines for a sedate life as a farmer, with wife and children; Hewey is a fiddle-footed cowboy content to work at six bits--75 cents--a day on the Pecos River ranch owned by the penny-pinching C.C. Tarpley. Hewey, who "usually accepted the vagaries of life without getting his underwear in a twist", is fun-loving and whiskey-drinking. He spends every penny he earns and regularly gets into trouble with his boss--and occasionally with the law--often dragging innocent Walter along.
When Walter falls in love with a boarding house girl and begins dreaming of a farmer's life, Hewey jumps at the chance to rescue him from this fate worse than death. He convinces Walter to join him on a mission for Tarpley, driving 600 head of cattle from beyond San Antonio to the Double-C ranch on the Pecos.
The journey is both memorable and dangerous: a murderous outlaw is searching for Hewey; and another ruthless character is determined to sabotage the cattle drive. When the drovers reach the Pecos they find Boss Tarpley in the midst of a vicious range feud with Eli Jessup, a neighboring cowman. Hewey and his brother Walter have to get the herd safely across Jessup's land—but how?
The events of Six Bits a Day precede those of Kelton's best-selling The Good Old Boys (1978, transformed into the memorable 1995 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek), and The Smiling Country (Forge, 1998).