Some rugged individuals carved out a life for themselves on horseback, living like nomads as they followed herds of cattle across the prairie.
In his debut novel, Panhandle, Brett Cogburn depicts the life of one cowboy and the hardships, triumphs and loss that followed him on the trail.
A knack for Western storytelling might be genetic for Cogburn, a native of southeastern Oklahoma who has worked as a rancher and horse trainer.
His great-grandfather was Rooster Cogburn, who served as the inspiration for a character of the same name in the novel and films True Grit. In addition to Panhandle, Cogburn also wrote the nonfiction Rooster: The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn.
Panhandle opens with hoof beats pounding out quick-time as Tennessee — a young cowboy — and two of his colleagues flee from Cheyenne warriors from whom the trio have stolen horses. From there, the story delves into the world of whiskey-trading, horse-racing and outlaw-chasing where justice is dispensed in bullets or at the end of a rope.
The novel pokes fun at some of the common misconceptions and politically correct revisions of history. Cogburn’s research helps lend the novel an authentic feel that even those not familiar with the period’s history can appreciate.
While Panhandle delivers its share of action, it is primarily character-driven.
“I’ve always thought that interesting and solid characters have more to do with what makes a good book than plot does,” said Cogburn. “I’m always striving for a story that will emphasize the human condition.”
Released in November of last year, the book is told through Tennessee’s eyes, but it is the supporting characters who make the story crackle. From the roguish
Billy Champion to the lovely Barbara, who has claim on both Tennessee’s and Billy’s affections — everyone contributes their share to Cogburn’s illustration of the human condition.
Much of the inspiration for Panhandle came from the author’s childhood. He was born in Texas and spent parts of his childhood there, as well as rural Oklahoma.
In March, Panhandle received the 2013 Spur Award in the Best First Novel category. It was bestowed upon Cogburn by the Western Writers of America.
“Down deep, I always wanted to write,” he said. “The last couple of years have been a whirlwind experience for me.”