My mother's family has a ranch in western Kansas. Reading "Prairie Dog Cowboy" reminded me of stories my mother told about growing up on a ranch. After finishing the book, I was delighted to find that the location for the book is real and an important part of Vivian and her husband's family history.
The location for Prairie Dog Cowboy really exists:
Not as the Hyman Ranch or the Roberts homestead,
but I took an area south of Hooker and north of
Hardesty, Oklahoma as the setting for the book.
The Mayer Ranch, used fictitiously as the home
of the Hyman family, has continuously been in the
same family for nearly 120 years and was declared an
Oklahoma Centennial Ranch in 1990. According to the
documentation provided, the first crops and/or livestock
on the ranch included wild mustangs, cattle, and prairie
From the history of the Mayer Ranch headquarters
as compiled by Dallas, about 1883 Jim Beasley, at
the age of seventeen years, looked down from the back
of his horse at the confluence (the flowing together) of
the Beaver and Coldwater Rivers. He saw wild mustangs
grazing on the hay meadows where the Beaver River
ran narrow and deep. The grass grew to the water’s
edge. Jim and his friend Walter Danilson became “mustangers.”
They caught and broke the wild horses before
sending them to Missouri, where Jim’s father sold the horses
to homesteaders. As the numbers of mustangs
shrunk, Jim became a cattleman.
The “Roberts” homestead, in the story, is set
on some of the land homesteaded by the ancestors of
Robert Zabel, although the Gotlib Robert and August
Zabel families, along with August’s brother Jonathan,
didn’t homestead until well after the time
Prairie Dog Cowboy began. In fact, Gotlieb Robert filed his claim
of a quarter of land November 18, 1909. Mr. Robert’s
daughter Willhemina and her husband August Zabel
filed the same year, as did Jonathan Zabel.
born and raised many years after Buddy worked his father’s
farm.I also used the name Roberts, not Robert as was
the name of my husband’s great-grandfather and greatgrandmother,
Caroline Job Robert. Caroline became
upset when others called their last name Roberts. She
would say, “Our name is Robert, not Roberts.”
Buddy wants to be a cowboy. From the time he's five years old, Buddy dreams of being a real cowboy. His viciously hostile mother makes him the outcast in the family telling him he's too stupid to be anything but a laborer. Unrealistically, she blames him because she believes her pregnancy caused her to lose the job as a housekeeper to her husband's father and as a result have an easier life. Her husband, Jacob, tries to intercede but with no success. Buddy's older brother, Jake, pampered by his mother, takes his cue from her taunting Buddy with how stupid he is. Buddy is alone with his dog Patch. He's forced to do the work of a grown man until he's befriended by a neighboring rancher, Caleb, who realizes the boy's potential and makes him part of his family. In spite of the abuse from his biological family, Buddy tries to help them keep the ranch functioning and as a teenager does most of the work himself.
Prairie Dog Cowboy is the story of triumph over a toxic environment. Anyone who has lived with the problems of a dysfunctional family will find resonance with Buddy's story. Zabel has not only given us a heart-warming picture of a young man growing to maturity following his dreams, but also of the Oklahoma territory on the verge of state hood. The book is an accurate historical picture of an important era in our country's past when territories were becoming states.
The book is based on records from the Zabel family and has the ring of authenticity. Prairie Dog Cowboy is a must read for historical buffs or for any child or adult who has wanted to be a real cowboy.