Gather My Horses is my nineteenth traditional western novel and the last one I did with my great editor Don D’Auria before he left Dorchester Publishing. The book was supposed to come out as a mass-market paperback in October of 2010, but because of changes at the publishing house, the book came out simultaneously in trade paperback and e-book in June of 2011.
I planned and wrote this novel a year before it came out, and it was an all-around good experience. I wanted to write a story about a packer, as I had done a little bit of packing with horses myself and was interested in learning more. I also wanted to place the story around Chugwater and Bordeaux, places north of Cheyenne near the foot of the Laramie Range.
I went on two field trips to do my research into locale. On my first trip, I hooked up my little camper to my old black pickup (my newer pickup had to go in for radiator work) and headed south and west of where I live. I renewed my familiarity with some of the country down around Bear Mountain and then went up and over the rim, across the flats, and down to Chugwater. From there I went up to Slater and Bordeaux, and I found a piece of public land where I spent a peaceful evening in the landscape where my novel would take place. (This is always a good method for me, to spend at least one night in the setting for the story.) The next day, I went up into the Laramie Range, taking notes and snapping pictures as I did the day before. I was familiarizing the area where my main character would go with his pack string. I went west, north, and back east, seeing quite a variety of country with plenty of nice sites for scenes in the story. That evening I camped on the plains again, near Gray Rocks Reservoir, and the next day I took back roads toward home.
I felt that I missed something, though, so a couple of weeks later I went out on a day trip. My son, Dimitri, went with me and took the pictures. This time I found what I was looking for, and that was a vision of the place that would be the center of my story. I found it where the road goes down from the flats toward Bordeaux. That spot gave me the opening scene for the story and a focus for me to hold things together.
For the packing part of the research, I was sorry not to have the time and the help to go on a pack trip, so I made do with a few experiments at my own place with my own horses. I also did background reading on packing, wrangling, and that way of life. As is my preference, I read works based on the writers’ personal experiences.
On the smaller topic of wheat‑threshing, I did the more obvious kind of research, reading up enough to know how wheat was harvested and how the sacks were managed. I don’t actually have a scene on this in the novel, but my heroine is a sack‑sewer and talks about her work, so I tried to avoid any big mistakes there.
As another part of my research, I practiced by hand some of the things that my main character does. I got out my Dutch ovens and tin pie pans, got a bed of coals going in my campfire pit, and followed the procedure that I narrate for making biscuits (somewhat tinny and smoky tasting). I also tinkered around with some of my canvas‑mending materials (nice big needles, plus a thimble mounted on a leather strap that goes around one’s hand), and I experimented once again with splicing rope. All of these things, I hope, have their proper places in the narrative.
The story line itself is, I hope, an enjoyable one about a man with a conscience who runs afoul of land barons who want to push around the small operators. I also tried to maintain romantic interest by having my protagonist meet and become interested in a young woman who has a bit of spunk to her.
As always when a work of mine goes out into the world, I hope readers enjoy it. The last time I visited with Don D’Auria before he and Dorchester parted ways, he told me he thought this book had a little extra something to it. I said I thought so, too. I hope we were right.
Gather My Horses is available at Amazon.