Apr 8, 2009


by Will James

I was surprised at being disappointed in this book. It wasn't nearly as good as Smoky. As Smoky tells the education of a wild horse into a cow pony, Sand tells about a spoiled rich city kid who learns to be a cowboy. Gilbert Tilden is on his way across the country to visit his father, when he accidentally gets off the train in the middle of the Great Plains, and being drunk, fails to get back on. He wanders about the wide expanse of prarie, gets scared by some cattle, and stumbles into a cowboy camp. At first the cowboys are just watching out for him until they have the chance to dump him back at the train depot, but pretty soon Tilden is interested in the doings of the camp, and wants to make something of himself. He fixes on the idea of learning how to be a "useful hand", to prove something to his father. Then he falls in love with a local rancher's daughter, and sets himself the nearly impossible goal of catching a wild stallion in order to win her favor. Many other men have tried to catch the stallion before, so he not only has to learn the ways of wild horses, and make careful plans, but also avoid the competition.

This had all the makings of a great story, but there were some things that seriously hindered my enjoyment of it. First of all, the main thread of the narrative is relating Tilden's thoughts, musings, and plans- over and over. It would have been more interesting to read more details of his training and the work he had to do to catch the wild horse, which were often skipped over. Sometimes it was hard to puzzle out what was being talked about, as I'm not really familiar with cowboy lingo (some of the words here). And the whole book is written in slang. Rather like Huckleberry Finn, which I was able to get used to. Here, I couldn't. It was particularly annoying that the words Tilden or the girl spoke were in near-perfect English, and the rest of the text in cowboy slang, misspellings and all. It would have been far easier to read if the narrative was proper, and slang only used when the cowboys talked. I thought this book would be a lot like Captains Courageous, which has a similiar theme- spoiled rich kid forced to work and build character- but here, I did not get much sense of Tilden's character growth, even though it was discussed all the time. By the end of the book it was all feeling rather dull. Even the end of the story where Tilden finally gets close to the wild horse wasn't nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.

I read this book for the 9 for '09 Challenge.

Rating: 2/5                       364 pages, 1929

Anyone written a blog post about this book? Let me know and I'll add your link.


  1. Some books would really be better off if they had a good editor. It's a shame when they let so much repetition creep in.

  2. Sorry this one was disappointing.

  3. Black Sheep- It really could have used an editor! I was anxious to read more Will James after Smoky, but now I'm not so sure.

    Bermudaonion- O well, it happens sometimes.

  4. Thanks for being in 9 for '09. Sorry the book wasn't to your liking.


Comments are screened due to spam.