Deets is the lone black man in the Hat Creek Cattle Company. He's one of the most experienced hands, but, being black, the white men wouldn't ever take orders from him, so he can never assume a leadership role. Still, Deets is glad to be a free man. He's very happy-go-lucky, despite his role in the Cattle Company, and in society as a whole.
Despite not being an official leader, Call often assigns Deets to leader-y roles, roles in which Deets "[t]ook the point as if it was his natural place" (11.68). In another time, it would be his natural place.
Deets might not be book smart, but who is at this time? No one has the opportunity for a formal education, so you can't fault Deets for not believing the world is round or for dreaming of a time when the moon will come so close he can put a ladder to it and climb on. He even fears Indians will take control of the moon and be able to control the tides.
But Deets has more cowboy knowledge than most of the other men combined, and that's what really matters in this world. He's a scout for a reason, deftly navigating unexplored territory. He warns Lorena of a storm. And he serves as a mentor of sorts to young Newt.
Unfortunately, Deets gets the short end of the stick. Or maybe we should say sharp end of the stick? Yeah, he is shockingly killed by a young Indian boy with a spear. Deets dies and goes to be with the moon.
We should remember that this is a time period shortly after the abolition of slavery, when many white people still couldn't care less what happened to a black man. But aside from Gus, Deets is the most mourned member of the whole crew. Newt is distraught because "[t]he Deets who had walked around and smiled and been kind to him day after day, through the years—that Deets was dead" (90.106). Newt cries and cries and cries.
But most moving is the tribute Call carves on Deets's makeshift grave marker: "Served with me 30 years. Fought in 21 engagements with the Commanche [sic] and the Kiowa. Cherful [sic] in all weathers, never sherked [sic] at task. Splendid behavior" (90.131). Captain Call is a man of few words, so each of these words means a lot in memory of Joshua Deets.