Hard Winter: A Western Story

Written by Johnny D. Boggs
Review by John Kachuba


This novel from Spur Award winner Boggs is not the stereotypical Western. Rather, this is a coming-of-age story told by Jim Hawkins, a fifty-year-old cowboy. It is 1920; Hawkins keeps his grandson Henry out of school for a few days so that the boy can accompany him on a horseback trek to the scenes of Hawkins’ youth. Along the way, the taciturn Hawkins begins pouring out his life experiences to young Henry, recalling the brutal winter of 1886-1887. Thousands of head of cattle were lost; many drifted in blizzards, only to become fatally stalled at barbed wire fences.

Hawkins believes that hard winter drove his friend John Henry Kenton to murder, took the eye of Hawkins’ young pard’ Tommy, and cost two estranged friends their lives.

Well researched and historically accurate, the details of barbed wire, harness and tack are exactly right. The novel plods along at first, perhaps bogged down by the memoir style, but it does pick up, resulting in an interesting story. One may still question the memoir approach, though. Since Henry does not seem to be changed in any way by his grandfather’s stories, one wonders why he tells them.