Willie was living out a legacy that had come down to him from a history of violence rooted in one of the most savage counties in the south: Edgefield County, South Carolina.
In 1760, the Cherokee tribe massacred scores of settlers, and homeless men soon formed into outlaw gangs that abducted women and tortured wealthy planters the get their valuables. The first organized vigilante group, known as the Regulators, started here, introducing yet their own strain of abuse and sadism. The American Revolution in 1775 inspired backwoods violence by cavalry under the command of "Bloody Bill" Cunningham, who raided farms and massacred settlers. The constant fighting left people in "Bloody Edgefield"-which had double the state's average murder ratewith a callous attitude toward violence. A gentleman's warrior code arose that involved fighting for one's honor. Dueling became a cherished part of the culture, despite being outlawed. Edgefield county came to be known as a place that had more daredevils and adventurers than any county in the state, perhaps in the country. The Edgefield character was reputed to be intense and fiery. Violence was part of this region's heritage.
Willie's ancestors were slaves in this county, at Mount Willing. The first Bosket appears on voting records in 1868, after the slaves were freed. The family name came from an Edgefield planter, John Bauskett. In 1850, he owned two hundred and twenty-one African slaves. He acquired Ruben, who took his master's last name, which eventually became Bosket. Ruben was sold to Francis Pickens, who owned over five hundred slaves. He married and his son, Aaron, was Willie's great-great-grandfather. Aaron was sold away from his family when he was only ten to a hot-headed master who was among those responsible for the deepening anger among the slaves toward their white masters.
Aaron was freed in 1865 at the age of 17 and he signed a labor contract with a white planter in the area, to work in exchange for some of the crop. He married, but life proved to be a constant struggle. He felt that the white men were swindling him, but he understood the necessity to accommodate them. Around him, the Ku Klux Klan were beginning to harass freed slaves and he wanted to take no chances. He had a son, Clifton, who was called Pud.
This boy grew up with a streak of pride and resistance. He wanted respect. Reputation was everything, and he considered himself the white man's equal. Pud was gregarious and persuasive, and since his mother's father had been white, he inherited a light complexion. When he was twenty-one and working as a share-cropper in the cotton fields, the landlord decided to whip him for being a "bad nigger." Pud would have none of that, so he grabbed the whip, snatching it away, and pulled the man form his wagon. Then he walked away. Nevertheless, he had gained a reputation that day as someone to fear.
When he was short of money one day, Pud broke into two stores, taking twelve dollars. He was arrested, but escaped. Three weeks later, the sheriff recaptured him and he was sentenced to a year of hard labor on the county chain gang. When he completed his time, he returned to his community as a hero-a "bad man." He was getting the respect he wanted, and he was one of a new breed of African-American folk heroes, the black bad man. They could stand up to a harsh, punitive world and not only survive but dish it out as well. They were an "explosion of fury and futility."
Pud became increasingly more violent, cutting people with a knife when they insulted him, but he also married and had three sons, William, Freddie Lee, and James. While they were young, Pud died in a car accident. Nevertheless, they heard their father's exploits recounted in stories, learning the Bosket reputation and recognizing that it now lay on them to defend it. he got respect, and so should they.
James noticed that when he mentioned he was a Bosket, people backed away. Their fear made him feel powerful. He wanted to emulate his father, claiming that he was going to grow up to be "bad." Soon he carried a knife and took to drinking. He developed seizures as well, and the alcohol made him violent. He once shot at his young wife, Marie, who ran from the house. She complained that he was cruel and abusive and she went to court to request support for herself and her baby, Willie James, known as Butch. Rather than pay her, James left the state. He was not going to let the white man's court interfere with his life. He began to indulge in a series of petty robberies, getting arrested in New Jersey and winding up in jail.
Marie decided to head north as well. At the age of seventeen, she left her baby with Frances, her mother-in-law and went to Chicago.
Young Butch, left mostly on his own, learned early to be a hustler. His grandmother didn't feed him so he did anything he could for food. Frances beat him all the time, seeing the devil in him, but it did not stop him from stealing. It only hardened him and he soon went to live out in the streets. He understood the need to fight to survive, and there in the south, fighting was socially approved. Honor was still important and Butch had no human attachments to soften his character. He became the toughest boy on his street.
Then James returned home and he often beat Butch badly with his belt. Marie, too, came back, but was not allowed in, so she headed to New York. When eight year-old Butch was arrested for robbing a woman at knifepoint, a probation officer saved him from reformatory by taking him to New York to be with his mother. Marie was not happy to see him and made him feel that he was a burden. He learned to ride the subway all day to avoid both school and home. Marie finally kicked him out and he was taken to juvenile court, and then sent to an institution. They could not handle him and sent him back to the court. He was then sent to Wiltwyck School for Boys.
The place was actually good for him. It was the first place where he formed attachments. He also learned to read.
However, when Butch was fourteen, he was sent to live with his father, who had moved to New York after serving jail time for armed robbery. James began to beat him and punch him again, undoing all the benefits from the reform school, and Butch was ready now to fight back.
By this time, he had developed hallucinations and was eventually diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, which was later changed to Conduct Disorder. They considered him on his way to becoming a psychopath, a person with no empathy and diminished control over his impulses. However, he scored in the 130 IQ range, considerably above average, and he had the advantage of being handsome.
Soon Butch was arrested for armed robbery and got five years in prison, the same as his father had before him. He was constantly in fights and was diagnosed as having an antisocial personality disorder, with a poor prognosis.
When he got out, he married Laura Roane, and they were soon expecting a baby, whom they wanted to name Willie. They went to Milwaukee to start a new life, but it ended in tragedy. Butch went to pawn some pornographic photos, and when the pawn shop owner tried to cheat him, he exploded. He stabbed the man six times, killing him, and then with great frenzy repeatedly stabbed another man who was merely a customer in the shop. When he realized what he'd done, he fled the premises and left Milwaukee. Eventually he was caught and returned to Wisconsin, leaving his pregnant and destitute wife to fend for herself. Butch was sentenced to life in prison. He had made the most horrible mistake he could imagine, and he had no idea how it would affect his son, soon to be born.