The first Will James book I ever picked up was “Lone Cowboy.” Instead of focusing on the many controversies surrounding James' account of his own life, I choose to focus on the quality and authenticity of his writing and artwork that anyone who has read his stories or gazed at his pictures can attest to.
As a little girl bent on becoming a “crazy old trapper one day” (no seriously, that was the ultimate goal) his telling of “Boppy” and the adventures of learning to cowboy simply enthralled me. The way his books could make anyone feel as though they were there in the moment, was a skill I envied, even as a little girl in search of her own writing style. After Lone Cowboy came Drifting Cowboy, The Three Mustangeers, Scorpion: A Good Bad Horse, Horses I've Known and then….then….SAND.
Now friend, there are a few things I say changed my life…
The first is Jesus, the second is coffee and the third is undoubtedly and without question, the book “Sand,” by Will James. Truly!
I’m not being cheeky when I make that statement. Although an incomplete version of the real list of things that changed my life (maybe one day I will share it in its entirety), that little blue book ordered by my mother changed my childhood, and continues to impact me deeply to this day.
It wasn’t just James’ description of a young heroine horseback, roping a maverick with ease and finesse to save the day...although I will admit, that description is still a thrill!
It was the underlying message of the book in its entirety. Now, maybe I misinterpreted the message of Mr. James’ book. I sure hope that isn’t the case, but if so, I simply cannot be sorry because the “takeaway” from personal reflections as a result of that book truly has been a comfort throughout my short existence on this earth.
“Sand” addresses the elephant in the room of life.
Plain and simple. It is an illustration of the grit and determination a soul must possess to grapple with the challenges of life. The story follows a soul who didn’t realize he was “lost,” and how a tiny bit of sand inside his heart begins to grow. Drawn from deep within him as a result of adversity and rising to meet challenges on the high plains, the hero of Sand finds his strength of character among horses and cowboys. While reading this book, what resonated with me has always been how easy it would have been for our hero to simply give up and return to an “easier” path. How easy it would have been to say “no thanks” and take the road of least resistance. I will not give too much away, as I hope you order a copy for yourself after reading my ramblings–but just know, that example of struggle gave me hope as a kid.
At a young age, some of the challenges life presented to me felt frankly, insurmountable. Although differing from the issues James’ hero had to contend with, his story gave me the relatable example of someone who refused to give up, give in or quit. And on days I couldn’t quite come up with a reason to continue fighting through the “rough stuff,” Will James books offered real-world examples of the grit and drive needed to overcome what seemed impossible.
Once upon a time when I was about 17, I sang for a group of at-risk boys at a facility in a remote corner of Nevada. Looking back, I realize that was a pretty risky place to take a little blonde girl, but I’m thankful they allowed it. Our small band of poets and musicians were searched and armed guards accompanied us every step of the way. I felt pretty tickled to have an opportunity to sing for people my age, and told them about a man named Will James. I said he had done some things that were not good, that he was an outlaw and that he broke the law. It made some of the people running that place mighty uncomfortable for a moment I tell you! The boys leaned in, they were polite–and fascinated. I told them that Will did bad things and struggled to keep his life on track because of addiction. But that even with all his challenges and mistakes in life, he was capable of producing something that helped others. I sure wish the end of his life story had been a different one, but the legacy of his creativity continues to offer something greater to people who discover his writing and pictures–and that is authentic hope.
Art can save, can comfort and can heal.
Real life inspires great works of art. Great works of art inspire great works of literature, and great works of both inspire lost souls known as musicians.
Jame’s writing and artwork inspired me to write cowboy music as a little girl, yes, but it did more than that. It gave me the promise of peace after adversity, hope after failure and comfort during struggle. The men and women in his stories were not perfect. Some of them were outlaws who did bad things or lived imperfect lives. But that humanity and authenticity was beautiful, and to this day I give Will James books to those who feel like they simply cannot continue on.
His books remind us that we are capable of more than we imagine, second chances are a gift, and to never take good horses for granted.
I am off to study for my classes now, but during a break today I think I will pick up one of my old favorite books by Mr. James and escape back to the high plains for at least a little while. I hope you do too.