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Hollywood the Hard Way, a Cowboy's Journey

From Publishers Weekly:

A young cowboy accepts a bet to ride from Oklahoma to Hollywood. He has to do it in 50 days, taking only what he can carry on his horse. He crosses raging rivers, endures blistering sandstorms, and survives gunfights with murderous horse thieves. No, it's not the latest Larry McMurtry novel. It's a true story that Patti Dickinson, an Oklahoma native, first heard from a bartender in Montana. She subsequently tracked down Jerry Van Meter, the now-aging cowboy who made the amazing journey back in 1946; a year later, after extensive research and interviews with Van Meter, she wrote this charming narrative.

The bet was between Jimmy Wakely, a Hollywood singing cowboy, and Van Meter's grandfather, a hardened old Oklahoma rancher. Disagreeing about whether cowboys were doomed to extinction, they chose young Van Meter to settle the matter. After a series of ordeals, including a harrowing trek across the Mojave Desert, Van Meter reached California only to find a landscape transformed by a surging post-World War II economy, and filled with highways, department stores, and sprawling subdivisions.

Van Meter realized that he may have won the bet but lost the point: Billy the Kid was never rousted from a nap by the California Highway patrol; Wild Bill Cody never rested his horse in the end zone of the Rose Bowl.

Dickinson's compelling, adventure story doubles as a wistful eulogy for a vanished way of life.

From the Sunday Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, by Ann DeFrange:

In a moment of incredible luck, Patti Dickinson happened onto this untold true story and, with patient research into an old man's memory and some Western geography, as well as a loving touch in her writing, turned it into a moving, amusing, and memorable tale that's probably going to be famous.

It takes place in 1946, just as America is coming off the WWII battlefield and getting ready to change forever.

It has some great, true-life characters. They are a rancher near Enid, Oklahoma named Rolla Goodnight, cousin of Western trailblazer Charlie Goodnight, and Rolla's best friend, Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton. They were cowboys and gunslingers in their day, the right stuff of legends. In 1946, they are in their 70s and 80s, and are crusty and curmudgeonly old anachronisms. Eaton, in fact has become the mustachioed model for the Pistol Pete mascot at Oklahoma State University.

They have another pal--singer and movie cowboy Jimmy Wakely, who lives in Hollywood. Visiting his friends in Oklahoma, Wakely proposes that the old life is disappearing, that no present day cowboy has the grit to perform like the old cowboys did.

A bet is made. The two Oklahomans smugly offer up Goodnight's grandson, 20 year-old Jerry Van Meter from Guthrie, to ride horseback the 1,500 miles (about the length of a cattle drive) to California in 50 days. Then they tell Jerry.

They give him Fan, an Osage Indian pony, and Pistol Pete's Colt .45. They throw in hand-tooled spurs, a box of silver dollars, and lots of advice. But Jerry and Fan are on their own once they head down Route 66 into the Texas Panhandle.

He and his horse race against a deadline in their mission for his two beloved mentors--across the Llano Estacado, through the Rocky Mountains, a perilous crossing of the Colorado River, and the worst experience, a 100-mile walk across the Mojave Desert that nearly kills man and horse.

It is a unique story because it was a unique adventure. Many elements of a good tale--suspense, danger, humor, coming-of-age, man and horse, a life-changing quest--are present and all true.

Surprisingly, readers may find themselves choked up from time to time as an Oklahoma boy in an America that will vanish in a few minutes, struggles to do the right thing.

It is an excellent story. Dickinson tells it well. review by "a reader from Visalia, California":

Wonderful true adventure story for all age groups.

It's unusual in this day and age to find a story of true life adventure that can be read and enjoyed by all members of the family. Yet the story is full of excitement and a real page turner. There's not a single cuss word in the entire book, but it's not a wimpy story. The main character, Jerry Van Meter, is a real person, a common man who faces life threatening situations over and over during his trek, not only meeting and overcoming dangers on the trail, but also overcoming his innermost fears--becoming a man in the process.

The book is an inspiration for all, proving that decent honorable people can succeed in life while overcoming both violent criminals and natural hardships, yet remain true to a code of honor with respect for all people and animals. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who would love an exciting, clean, true life adventure involving a cowboy, a horse, and one heck of an inspirational journey across the western states.

Excerpt from the Amarillo Globe-News:

" epic ride to win a bet. Jerry Van Meter's remembrances include inhospitable terrain, an encounter with stampeding mustangs, and nearly drowning in the Salt River. He also remembered the kindness of strangers, friendly folk he met along the way, including two Apaches who saved his horse for him after he and Fan were separated on a rough crossing of the Salt River.

" ...and always there is a great horse whose feeling for danger--and her ability to avoid it--was among her rider's greatest assets on a remarkable odyssey. Some of the chapters in Dickinson's book open with quotations from headlines and news stories in newspapers in towns Jerry passed through. They contribute an authentic feel for changes taking place in America in the first post-WWII year."