Half Broke Horses

Written by Jeannette Walls
Review by Susan Zabolotny

Coming on the heels of her wildly popular The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls has written a “true-life novel” about her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Lily was born in a dugout in West Texas at the start of the 20th century and lived what can only be described as a hardscrabble life. Her mother tried to bring a sense of refinement to their lives, but with little success. Her father was kicked by a horse at age three and suffered from a limp and severe speech impediment for the rest of his life. He taught his oldest daughter to be tough. Breaking horses by the age of six, having her broken arm re-set by her own father, saving her siblings from a flash flood, and traveling alone 500 miles on horseback to teach school all occurred by age fifteen.

When Lily was finally able to go away to a Catholic school, her father spent her tuition money on a poorly hatched scheme to breed and sell dogs, forcing her to return home. Except for a brief time in Chicago when she lost her best friend to a horrific factory accident, married a polygamist, and struggled to find an employer to put up with her strong personality, she spent her adult life in Arizona. She eventually married a second time to Jim Smith, a Mormon by birth who did not practice his faith, and they had three children. She ran liquor during Prohibition, fought with every school board that ever hired her, worked a 100,000-acre ranch, and took flying lessons.

Although I can honestly say I could not get close to any characters in this book and felt that Lily Casey Smith was as harsh as her environment, I’d still recommend it to anyone interested in reading about ranching life in West Texas during this time period.