Will James was a regular day working cowboy who just happened to have a knack for telling attention grabbing cowboy stories and coupling them with an incredible ability to illustrate with pencil drawings. This book book is a collection of 13 stories of horses and broncs, cowboys and rustlers, rodeos and roundups. Written in 1931, Sun Up is written just as Rodeo was hitting its hey day. James captures the attitude, the organization, the subterfuge, and the glory that rodeo held in the days prior to a governing body. In his short stories “His Spurs” and “First Money”, James takes a look at hometown judges, crooked draws, and a question of prize money as cowboys attempt to earn a few extra dollars at some distant rodeos. In “Bucking Horses and Bucking Horse Riders” James with a mixture of romance, satire and wit, explains the intricate relationship between the two perceived enemies. Though he explains the inter-dependence they have in one another. Without one, the other would not exist. He finishes the story of with a classic quip “I’ve still got to see the rider what couldn’t be throwed and the horse what couldn’t be rode.” The same attention is given in “the Making of a Cowhorse” as James gives an account to the reader of what it takes to make a once and a lifetime ranch horse. In the same way that he did in Smokey, the author invites you to live life between the eyes of a future ranch mount in a way that you are envious in the life that it gets to live. My personal favorite short story from this book is: “the Young Cowboy.”
Will James includes in this book a story about a little boy who is growing up on the ranch. His dad, the ranch owner, is often busy with chores leaving the boy at home hanging out at the homestead. While around the house and the barn, the boy starts riding some of the calves in the corral, until he kisses one on the poll. Dazed and confused, the horse trainer covers for him with his mom. The boy wants badly to train a horse. The horse trainer, who has better things to do, talks to his dad about getting him a horse to train. His dad finds him a little black pony, that has just enough buck to test the kids want-to. The whole ranch gathers to watch the boy’s work with the pony. After an hour, the horse is saddled. The boy inches onto its back, when the pony breaks in two. James tells the story better. The boy is bucked-off. His dad chastizes him for grabbing the saddle horn during the ride. The trainer offers his stern two cents. His dad and the Trainer refuse to give him more advice, deciding to let him learn on his own. The second ride lasted longer, and on the third he rode the horse to a standstill. The kid, Billy had fanned his first bronc. To which his dad said to the trainer: “It sure done my heart good the way he went after that pony that third time…” After years in the ministry, this type of parenting isn’t common very much anymore; this type of praise isn’t either. I was moved by this story as I read it because I saw the boy grow up as I turned every page.
This book had so many good stories that led me to be jealous of the time period that James lived and wrote. I desired the simpler life of the west, the days on horseback, and the hard lessons that stuck with people. If you need a great book of short stories this is the book you need to find.