Thursday, March 13, 2008

"A Few Good Horses"

The moment I read that Pierce Burns’ daddy sold a cow back during the Depression to pay for his honeymoon, I knew he had written a book that would hold my attention. And while selling a cow to fund a wedding trip to San Antonio may sound like something out of a novel, it’s from a non-fiction work that is both a well-done memoir and a family history.

Burns’ self-published story of a Brown County ranching family (and some of their horses) had hardly been shipped from the printer when mainstream book publishing got rocked by yet another round of phony memoir exposures. It’s easy enough to understand why a writer would fake a memoir in the hope of making money, but it’s less easy to grasp why editors aren’t a bit more cautious when they read a manuscript.

Fortunately, “A Few Good Horses” (Gap Creek Press, $24.95; copies may be ordered from the author’s Web site at is clearly the real thing, even though the 174-page hardback is full of characters and incidents that would do a novelist proud.

A good for instance is story of the night the author’s father woke up next to a dead man. In the spring of 1915, George Pierce Burns and a wealthy rancher named John Bryson traveled from Comanche County to Concho County to do some branding and stock-separating on Bryson’s ranch.

Bryson’s son lived on the place, and Burns, Bryson, and two other men bunked for the night at the son’s ranch house. Apparently, the four of them had only two beds. Burns shared with Bryson.

About 10:30 p.m., a loud noise jarred Burns awake.

“John,” he said, “were those shots?”

Bryson didn’t reply. Burns reached over to shake him awake and felt something wet and warm. When the lights came on, they saw the rancher was dead, his face covered in blood. Turns out Bryson had been shot three times, apparently by someone firing through an open window.

Burns and the other men saddled up and followed a set of horse tracks for several miles before a rain shower made it impossible to trail the killer further. Later, the sheriff arrested a man for the murder. Before he could be tried, he committed suicide in jail.

Equally compelling is the story of a family member who married the love of his life only to see her die in childbirth. On her death bed, she asked him to promise that he would never remarry and he made the pledge.

But a couple of years later, he met another pretty lady. One thing led to another and soon their wedding date was at hand. But the groom did not show up at the altar.

Ruminating on his pledge, he decided he just couldn’t break his vow to his first wife. Instead, he saddled his horse, stuffed a whiskey bottle into his saddlebag and rode off.

That, according to family story, started him on the way to his eventual alcoholism. He later changed his mind and married the woman he had stood up, but turned out his first instinct had been correct. The marriage definitely did not proceed to happily thereafter.

Based both on memory, interviews and research “A Few Good Horses” is a good read, a story-filled telling of a Texas family’s history.


Texas Parlor said...

Glad to see you're back in the blog saddle.

Will Howard

Yvette said...

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