Reading the West 8-16-10 | TheFencePost.com

Reading the West 8-16-10

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

Fifty years ago Max Evans wrote a little book. It not only changed his bank account, it also changed the direction of his life. Max Evans started out cowboying when he was just a kid. He had gone in service of his country and landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He had come home to the Hi-Lo Country of New Mexico.

He had cowboyed, gotten involved in a mining adventure, had a wife and twin daughters, and lost $86,000 in his mining adventure. He wrote the book because he had bills to pay and a family to feed. He desperately needed to make some money and so he wrote what he knew: ranch cowboying.

The little book he wrote was not like the traditional Western books of the day – it had no shootouts, no story of Buck the cowboy, saving Betsy and her farm (or ranch). But it had cattle – wild, rank beasts. And it had fistfights (in a bar). It was a story of two unlikely heroes, men just content to do a good job, and make a yearly visit to town. And although there were no outlaw men in the book – there was a heck of a good outlaw horse, Old Fooler!

You may be like me, and know (or think you know) the story of “The Rounders” because you have seen the film starring Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. But you may also be like me and have never read the novel that inspired the film – and changed Max’s life.

The University of New Mexico Press, under the able direction of the recently retired Luther Wilson, has had the very good sense to put out a new 50th Anniversary Edition of “The Rounders.” And I strongly recommend you get a copy and enjoy this great story.

As Max put it in his foreword to this edition: “How in the world of insanity and wonder did it all happen? Fifty very long years ago, I would not have believed it possible – but here it is in my battered old hands, the 50th anniversary edition of ‘The Rounders.’ This little book would change the direction of my life – from the first book signing until now. Throughout those 50 years, I met scores of people in all walks of life. Some I talked to for five minutes, others would become lifelong friends. It led me to deep involvement in the world of films and television, where I met and became close friends with many of the talented and famous actors, prodoucers, and directors.”

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The story, of course, is of two contemporary (1960) bronc busters who find themselves banished to a remote area of the Hi-Lo ranching country with a string of barely broke horses and a task to roundup wild cattle all for the promise of a big bonus by the Fourth of July – including the opportunity to go to town.

And of course, there is Old Fooler – the horse that is the third main character; An animal solid and savvy, rank and unpredictable. As Ol Max told me once several years ago when I had the chance to first interview him for an article about a different novel of his that was being made into a movie (The Hi-Lo Country) – It was the horse that started it all.

The horse began this story and carried it through 50 years of sales and now this anniversary edition. It saved Max from poverty by becoming a movie that is now a classic. It launched him to a career that showed readers and other writers it is not necessary to follow the pack, but that breaking out with something new and different, but something you know and can tell in a way nobody else can, is really the best advice and the best action for any writer.

I have come to know Ol Max in recent years, and even had the opportunity to do a book with him – “Hot Biscuits” – which is an anthology of short stories written by ranchwomen and men.  For that book, Max wrote a foreword and the final story in the collection. He called it “The Last Cowboy.” I always referred to it as “The Rounders Revisited.”

Please go pick up a copy of “The Rounders,” now out from the University of New Mexico Press … and after you have read that wonderful story, please pick up a copy of “Hot Biscuits,” also published by UNM Press, and read Max’s story there, too. It will give you great appreciation for the hardworking cowboys of the West. I will guarantee that you will laugh, and I suspect you may also get a lump in your chest as you recall the good cowboys you may have known in your own lives.