Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Mark Hebert

Malta grad pens 9th book telling tale on the prairie


November 28, 2018

Mark Hebert

Author and former Malta resident BilliJo Doll with a copy of her newest novel, 'My eMpTy Life' at the PCN office recently.

BilliJo Doll has finished her latest book, My eMpTy Life, her ninth, and says that the book is in honor of the women of Eastern Montana.

"There is not much of me in this book," Doll said of the fictional effort, "but there is a little bit of my grandmother, she had to quit school when she was 14 and went to work herding sheep. (The story) takes place in Daniels County, and there are some family stories in there, but mostly it's just an eclectic conglomeration of history that I have read."

Doll is the daughter of Malta's Willie and Cheri Doll and grew up on Diamond Willow Ranch and is a member of the Malta High School Class of 1978. She was active in cattle ranching until 2006 and now lives in both Havre, Mont., and Barra De Navidad, Mexico, moving south of the border in 2010.

"I miss the people, without a doubt," Doll said. "That's what I miss about Montana as a whole. The people here are fantastic."

Doll said that longtime family friend Pat Murdock recently sent her a card and in it was a picture of Doll taken around her 13th birthday while riding with the Milk River Wagon Train.

"Here was this photo, with my name on the back, some 45-ish years old and she sent it to me," she said. "That's the type of warm, loving people that live here."

In another example of the warmth of the Phillips County people was a recent trip to Malta's Shyla Jones home, former mayor of this city, who is Doll's cousin. Jones invited Doll over for dinner one night and Doll arrived at the Malta home to find that Jones wasn't home yet. Across the street, one of Jones' neighbors (it turned out to be Shannon Davis Oxarart) sized-up Doll, making sure she wasn't up to shenanigans in the neighborhood, and then made a call on her cell phone.

"I thought, 'Great, now the cops are going to come and see me'," Doll recalled. "But nope, she had called Shyla and Shyla told her she was going to be late. So, the gal comes over and says, 'would you like to come over for some tea?' That doesn't happen anywhere else in the world ... she asked me if I was Shyla's cousin and then invited me over. That is how people have raised her and that's how they are. She didn't know me, but that is how people are raised here."

My eMpTy Life is of the Historical Fiction genre and being historically accurate was of the utmost importance to Doll (down to such small facts as the correct make and model of the farm truck the main character pilots as a youth...taken directly from Doll's childhood.)

"I couldn't find the information on Google, so I called a farmer from Daniels County who I know restores old cars and tractors and asked him about it ... so I like to make sure I am extremely accurate on those types of things," Doll said.

The story of My eMpTy Life starts in 1920 and ends up in years later in an Eastern Montana nursing home.

"At the nursing home, a CNA says (to the main character) 'Your life is as empty as the prairies ...ugly and empty, you never went anywhere and never did anything, you cooked for an old farmer and never did anything'," Doll said. "The old lady says 'Oh, Honey, my life is not empty, and the prairie is not empty, and let me tell you about it'. She then tells her story."

"This book is a real depiction of early eastern Montana," Max Russell, a former Glasgow, Mont., resident said in a recent review of My eMpTy Life. "My grandparents homesteaded near Thoeny, Montana, on the Canadian border forty miles west of Opheim. There's nothing left at Thoeny now; it's less than a ghost town. This whole story rang true to me. I liked the book; I couldn't put it down; I read it from start to finish one evening. It has a very good story-line as well as accurate historical facts."

The books cover is a picture taken by Vivian Bruckner from her Prairie Life Photography - look close, and find the wildlife - and Doll said she thinks the people of Phillips County will enjoy the story.

"In a way, it is a reaffirmation that people who live here have done the right thing by putting their family and where they are from as a top priority," she said. "Leo Barthelmess told me once, about 45 years ago, that taking care of their land and their family was what was most important to him. This story is just a reaffirmation of the love that people have for this part of the world. It is a love story, but more of a love story about the character and the prairie and her life."

Doll is the founder of BilliJo Ministries and charity Blessed to Bless NOW which can be found at and My eMpTy Life can be purchased to read on by searching the title. (The book is only in Kindle Edition for now, but if it sells well, Doll hopes it is picked up by a publisher and distributed in hard copy.)


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