Prairie Dog Cowboy, by Vivian Zabel

Prairie Dog Cowboy Cover

Prairie Dog Cowboy Cover

This book is historical fiction, set in 1899. Ranching has changed over the years, and how it affects the life of the kids who work them with their families changes, too. Vivian pieced together a typical day for Buddy Roberts. Be sure to comment on this blog and the others on the tour – there will be a drawing for canvas bags. You’ll want to leave a way to contact you if you win, as well. Good luck!

What is a typical day like?

Before Buddy started to school, and before fences had been strung around the pastures, he would be up before daylight to help milk the cows. After breakfast, he and his dog, Patch, would herd the few cows and their calves (if there were any) to the pasture. In winter, Buddy would construct an “igloo” of tumble weeds which were held together by snow and ice when available. The boy would huddle inside with his dog, who would be able to tell if one of the cows wandered away. Then boy and dog would run after the cow and bring her back.

Sometimes he might have lunch of whatever was left from breakfast, food that he brought with him. Other times, a neighboring rancher would bring something hot for him to eat.

Late in the afternoon, Buddy and Patch would herd the cows home and put them in the corral. If the water in the trough had frozen, the boy would break the ice so the cattle could drink. Then he would help with the night milking, feed and water the chickens before finally having supper. After supper he headed for bed.

By the time Buddy started to school, the rancher to the south of the farm and some of Buddy’s uncles fenced the pastures. Buddy would feed and water chickens and herd the cows to the pasture after helping with the morning milking. Then he ate breakfast and rode to school with his friends. After he got home, he did chores including herding the cows home on foot with Patches help.

Once Buddy worked on the ranch, he usually stayed there except on weekends, when he returned to the farm to do the heavy farming.

How old is he?

At the beginning of the book, Buddy isn’t quite five years old. By the end of the book, he’s eighteen.

Does he enjoy ranching?

All Buddy ever wanted to do was be a cowboy, and to farm part of the homestead that he thought he would share with his older brother some day.

When did he start working out there?

Buddy never knew anything but work. The life in frontier days was hard, and children started working from an early age. However, he never complained — except when he finally was able to work on the ranch for Caleb Hyman and Caleb asked him to move large rocks out of the roadway so that the wagon wheels wouldn’t break.  Buddy didn’t think that was work for a cowboy.

Buddy started “cowboying” with his best friends Craig and Cody Hyman when he was about ten.

When did he stop schooling?

Due to Caleb’s influence, Buddy attended school through the twelfth grade. He refused, though, to allow Caleb send him to college with the twins.

Most children didn’t attend school past the eighth grade, if they attended that long. Often, too, children attended sporadically. Buddy was fortunate because the Hyman’s took him into their family with their children and expected him to attend school.

All this fascinates me, especially because I grew up on a farm. Many kids still start work at a young age, but mostly just by helping their parents with chores. My brother-in-law raises sheep – my niece started around age four accompanying him during the afternoon or on weekends. However, today’s children finish school through college, even if their intention is to go back to the farm or ranch they came from to work. Many can learn more about the animals or crops they tend during those high school and college years.

This book is available at Amazon and directly through 4RV Publishing, LLC. Be sure to check it out and see the beauty of old time ranching, along with the toughness of the people who helped tame the land.

For more about the author, check her here:

Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap

Vivian’s Multiply Site


  1. Dawn Embers said,

    15 February 2009 at 12:52

    My great grandparents had a ranch. My dad was raised on it. By the time I was born though it wasn’t really up and going anymore even though I lived there a couple of years.

    Have seen plenty of prairie dogs living in Wyoming. That’s why I love the title and some day want to read the book. It looks interesting.

  2. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 13:45

    Thanks for hosting today, Ransom. I like your slant on the topic.

    So far, Dawn, people who have read the book find it interesting. A friend sent a copy to a boy’s ranch, and the boys enjoyed it. The teachers there could use the discussion questions at the back, too.

  3. Rena said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:13

    Sounds like a great book! I’ll have to send it out on my homeschool email list, since there are so many ranches here. I’m sure some kids could relate, even though the story takes place in a different era.

  4. Ransom said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:21

    Wow, Dawn. I didn’t know that about you, though I knew you came from Wyoming.

    Rena, that’s a great idea. I’m thinking farm children around my area would enjoy it as well.

    Thanks, Vivian! I like vivid portrayals of the work it takes to tame the land, whether it be farming or ranching. I don’t think it’s understood well by most ‘city folk’ and I’m sometimes amazed by the questions they ask.

  5. acme said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:33

    Buddy’s life sounds so different from what I imagined for children of ranch families.

  6. Amygdalia said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:37

    Great blog entry! I can’t wait to read the book, Viv. I think Goldilocks will enjoy it.

  7. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:41

    I try to write all my middle readers, teen books, and young adults so that people of all ages can read and enjoy. I believe good should be interesting for everyone.

    The book does have a little girl in it, too, and she’s rescued by Buddy.

  8. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:41

    Ooops, typo in previous comment. Should be

    I believe writing should be interesting for everyone. Ish

  9. Ransom said,

    15 February 2009 at 14:48

    We all have those days, don’t we, Vivian?

    Acme, It’d be fun if you could cross the pond for a visit. We’d tour some farms and ranches so you could see them.

    Amy, I’m sure Goldilocks would love the book. Vivian’s a talented author.

  10. 15 February 2009 at 15:20

    Not an easy life for a five year old,but sometimes people don’t always want it easy.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. Lea Schizas said,

    15 February 2009 at 15:55

    Viv, I always enjoy reading about you and your writing process but nothing cracks me up more than to see you go back in with a second post to highlight an ‘oops’ typo in your first posting. GRIN

  12. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 16:10

    Ah, Lea, that’s the editor in me (and the teacher). I think an edit option should be available for comments, too.

    Morgan, sometimes a child, even in today’s world, doesn’t have much choice in what he or she endures.

  13. Elysabeth said,

    15 February 2009 at 16:36

    Very interesting slant on the interview. I like how showing the character’s day in the life was done. I’ve read the book and will be posting later in the tour some tie-ins to the 1800s Oklahoma and modern day living. Looking forward to following the tour – see you all in the postings – E 🙂

  14. ransomnoble said,

    15 February 2009 at 16:44

    Thanks, Elysabeth. Looking forward to your spot on the tour. History is full of amazing things!

    Lea, don’t forget Vivian’s great “Ish” comments. I love those.

    Morgan, many times Vivian is right- the five year old does not usually choose his own path. They endure, they adapt, and sometimes they thrive.

  15. Reb Kreyling said,

    15 February 2009 at 17:07

    This looks really awesome. I’ve always been fascinated by cowboying and Old West history. I spent a lot of my childhood devouring books like this. It looks like a fascinating read and I will have to check it out!

  16. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 17:15

    Okay, Ransom, so I have ishes rather than fishes. But I can express much with one ish.

    I tried to write a story that would stand the test of time, one that people of all ages and from all periods could relate to. But I always liked the Old West and cowboys (I married one), too.

    One of my grandsons is a reluctant reader, the others are voracious readers. Yet, all of them liked Prairie Dog Cowboy, and not just because Granny wrote it. They are tough critics, believe me.

  17. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 19:45

    Thank you, Ransom, for hosting us today, and thanks, everyone who stopped by.

  18. Nita said,

    15 February 2009 at 20:06

    Vivian, I also have a reluctant reader grandson. I thing this book might be enough encourage him to read. It sounds like it’d make a great birthday gift.

  19. Vivian said,

    15 February 2009 at 20:16

    If you do get the book for his birthday, please let me know how he likes it, Nita.

  20. Beth Bence Reinke said,

    15 February 2009 at 20:34

    Lots of great info on your book here, Vivian. I’ve always wanted to go to a ranch, a dude ranch, and experience what it’s like to herd cattle on horseback and cook on a campfire under the stars. Sounds like Buddy would make a great trail boss. LOL

    Ransom, I saw in another post that you’re expecting – congrats and best wishes! :o)

  21. Charlotte said,

    16 February 2009 at 08:48

    I’m a city girl, but enjoy reading about ranch life. I love that this book follows one child’s growth to adulthood.

  22. Chris aka ChrisChat said,

    16 February 2009 at 12:30


    As a fan of Westerns, PRAIRIE DOG COWBOY, Vivian captured the voice and feel. Throughout, Buddy kept an innocence about him. Far wiser and insightful than some adults.

    So, when’s the next book, again?

  23. Vivian said,

    16 February 2009 at 12:37

    Thanks for all the comments. I’m hoping that people will be interested in this book.

    Oh, Chris, the sequel won’t be out until next year at the earliest. I have started writing it. Prairie Winds starts with a day filled with dirt and wind and a wild fire.

  24. heidiwriter said,

    16 February 2009 at 17:44

    Love the title! sounds like a good book. I grew up very much like that, even during the 50s in eastern Montana–we were a little behind the times! LOL

  25. Suzy Koch said,

    18 February 2009 at 08:48

    I loved the book. I loved the fact that Buddy had a goal that he kept within his heart and on his mind for so long and then accomplished that goal. My kids need to be more like Buddy.

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