Billy Penland began his life as a soldier at the age of twelve when he went with his father and other East Texas ranchers to eliminate a band of rustlers in 1880. His father died shortly thereafter, and his mother remarried to a drunkard who beat his wife. When Billy nearly shot his step-father for beating his mother, Billys mother sent her Penland children, Billy, Mandy, and Elisha, to West Texas to live with their Penland relatives. Post Civil War Texas was a lawless place because soldiers, who went home to destroyed farms and families, meandered through Texas seeking to survive any way that they could. Billy worked with his family to keep the peace and protect their homes and way of life. He met Rhoda Cupps and wanted to marry, but felt that his position as father to his little brother and sister, and his work keeping rustlers subdued, prevented him from asking for her hand in marriage. Feeling inadequate, Billy sometimes drank alcohol excessively.