Growing up in Denver, one of my fondest memories is of our family’s annual trek to the National Western Stock Show in January. I can still recall the distinctive aroma – a mixture of hay, manure and saddle leather along with hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. The Stock Show brings together cowboys, ranchers, farmers and city folk in a unique yearly celebration of our Western heritage. Even if you don’t go, here are some books to get you in a western mood.
A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and The Way West (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950) are acknowledged western classics. Included on my “classics” list are Edward Abbey’s, Desert Solitaire, and Wallace Stegner’s nonfiction including Wolf Willow, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs and The Sound of Mountain Water.
Growing Up True: Lessons from a Western Boyhood by Craig S. Barnes is a delightful memoir of the author’s formative years on a ranch in Arapahoe County. Another not-to-be-missed memoir is Hal Borland’s High, Wide and Lonesome, the story of his family homestead in eastern Colorado. Sandra Dallas’ The Diary of Mattie Spenser is a riveting fictional account of homesteading on Colorado’s eastern plains.
Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West is an inspiring collection of essays and poems written by women ranchers and farmers. One of the editors of this collection, Linda Hasselstrom, has written several good books about life on her South Dakota ranch including Windbreak and Going Over East. Another South Dakota rancher, Dan O’Brien, combines falconry and ranching in his book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart.
Finally, be sure to check out Ivan Doig’s Montana trilogy (Dancing at the Rascal Fair, English Creek and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana) as well as his hauntingly beautiful memoirs (This House of Sky and Heart Earth).