Wednesday, February 11, 2009

EDUCATIONAL BOOK: "Prairie Dog Cowboy"

Prairie Dog Cowboy

Although his mother says he’ll never be able to do anything but work with his back, Buddy Roberts wants to be a cowboy. From the time he’s four-years old, he herds his father’s cows and calves on foot even in winter. In the fields, the youngster practices roping prairie dogs because the neighboring rancher, Caleb Hyman, promises to hire him as a ranch hand when he can lasso the quick animals.
Caleb and his wife Mary befriended Jacob and Bertha Roberts, even though Bertha’s attitude toward her younger son, Buddy, is harsh and unloving. Bertha blames Buddy for her being so ill she lost her place as her wealthy father-in-law’s housekeeper and favorite. The Hymans feel they can make a difference if they stay part of Buddy’s life.
The Hyman twins, Cody and Craig, and Buddy become close friends, as Caleb helps the boy without his knowledge.
One day as Buddy tries again to rope a prairie dog, two older boys, Hulmet and Ross, ride by the field on their horses. Watching as the younger boy catches one of the rodents, the two ridicule him, calling him a prairie dog cowboy. Humiliated, Buddy quits practicing, until Caleb and his sons visit and start working with lassos.
Jake, Buddy’s older brother, wants to try roping. Refusing to take any guidance or advice, Jake can’t manage the lasso. When he stomps off in a huff, Hulmet and Ross ride up, leading a horse for their friend. The newcomers spy Buddy.
Ross stares at Buddy. “Hulmet, isn’t this the prairie dog cowboy hisself?”
Buddy runs to the barn to hide, embarrassed in front of his friends and mentor.
Caleb and his sons follow the boy and comfort him. Caleb shares his experiences from attending school and being the butt of teasing. “You know, people can be mean, and words can hurt just as much as being hit does.” Caleb blows a soundless whistle. “My classmates made fun of me because my mother and grandmother were teachers before they got married. They made sure I talked ‘correctly,’ as they said. I learned from them as well as from the teacher.”
“Grandma did you like Ma and she do us, right, Pa?” Craig asks.
“That’s right, but when I went to college, the people there ridiculed me for being unsophisticated, uh, for being from the country, and especially for being a cowboy.”
Buddy raises his head. “But you and your Pa own one of the biggest ranches around.”
Caleb half-grins. “At Yale University, that didn’t matter. The other students’ fathers were rich merchants, financiers, or rich for generations. The fact that my father probably owned more land than they could imagine didn’t mean anything.
“Do you realize that if you let them know they hurt you that they win?” Caleb adds. “If you don’t let them know what they say bothers or upsets you, they lose.”
“Is that what you did, Pa?” Cody asks.
“Yes, that’s what I did. I may have wanted to run and hide inside, but I never let anyone know their words did that. I knew what I needed to do, what was best for me, and so I did it. I acted as if I never heard a word said.” Caleb ruffles Buddy’s blond hair. “Think you can do that?”
“I can try.”
Prairie Dog Cowboy by V. Gilbert Zabel

Time passes so quickly and history is getting rewritten all the time. So much of our heritage is lost with those changes. It is refreshing to see a slice of reality portraying the daily life of 1899 Oklahoma in V. Gilbert Zabel's latest literary work, "Prairie Dog Cowboy".

Buddy Roberts is but a small boy at the start of the story. It isn’t clear right away why his mother is set against the child. Although he has an older brother, he's tending to the cattle at the age of five, all alone with only his dog to keep him company. Buddy is a mindful child, doing what needs to be done, even at such a young age, hoping some day to grow up to be a cowboy. Instead of him and Patch doing the work on foot, he dreams of herding cattle on horseback someday.

Neighbor rancher Caleb Hyman is impressed with Buddy. He wonders, too, why the child works hard while his older brother, Jake, is doted on and spoiled. But, Caleb can see the man that Buddy will become, encourages him, and teaches him to rope. Once Buddy can rope a prairie dog, Caleb promises he'll give the boy a job on his ranch. Not an easy thing to do, but Buddy works hard to reach his appointed goal.

Through the years, Buddy becomes a part of Caleb's family, a friend of Caleb's twin sons, and the unknowing object of affection for their younger sister, Katie. Life begins to take a turn for the better as he approaches manhood.

"Prairie Dog Cowboy" is a testament of a time when life was hard, but people weren't afraid of hard work. The day-to-day occurrences represented are an accurate telling of the time, history that should not be lost. Teens and young adults can learn much from this story and I, for one, am thankful that Ms. Zabel has documented this slice of American history.

Reviewed by Jena' Galifany
Author, Editor, Reviewer


elysabeth said...

Nice review. Shari, this is great to feature different books during the week. I like your themed idea. I have read "Prairie Dog Cowboy" and learned a good bit about the life and times of the cowboys from the days before states became states. It is an interesting take on a "slice of American History" as Jena says. Thanks for writing this, Vivian. E :)

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks for highlighting Prairie Dog Cowboy.

An author always like to see her book promoted so prominently.