Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE BIG DRIFT by Patrick Dearen

For two men—one white, one black—the great cattle drift and roundup of 1884-1885 will be a search for redemption.

Will Brite, a cowboy working the Middle Concho region of Texas, becomes tangled in barbed wire and trapped under his horse during a deadly blizzard.  He discovers an unwelcome savior when Zeke Boles, a former slave with a bloody past, emerges from the blinding snow.  This fugitive stirs fearful memories in Will, who never suspects that his life will be inexorably linked with Zeke’s during the most brutal roundup of their lives.

Praise for The Big Drift

“A powerful depiction of the life of drovers, their beliefs and values, and what riding for the brand meant to them.  Dearen explores the innermost fears and passions of West Texas men and women whose lot in life was brutal and bleak, people who struggled to find the courage to go on, day by day.  The Big Drift is the very essence of what great fiction should be.” -Richard S. Wheeler, six-time Spur Award winner

“Patrick Dearen sets his story during the big drift, when days were counted in inches and feet of snow and entire herds were lost, driven to a halt against drift fences and frozen on their feet.  In creating the pivotal character of Zeke, a former slave, Dearen has consulted actual records of post-Civil War black cowboys, words spoken through time by the black men themselves who were there, who remember, who made the passage--freed men still striving to be free men in a white-controlled society.  Dearen simply reveals Will’s heart, his conscience, his will to live, and the struggle he has with all of these and with the blizzard that threatens everything.  The Big Drift shows us how Texas climate is a plot in itself, an enemy, a stage lit with various fulminations and excesses, like war itself, against which human life remains vulnerable and highlighted with gore and glory.” -Mary Hood, award-winning author

Enjoy an Excerpt from The Big Drift
Master Young! Master Young!

        Even across time and distance and over the howl of a bitterly cold norther, Zeke Boles could still hear his own cry as Samuel Young had slumped, bloodying the boardwalk outside the “whites only” tavern. He could still taste the hanging gun smoke and feel the trigger firm against his finger, still see the powder residue that had sprinkled his ebony knuckles. A drunken man’s hand also had gripped that Schofield revolver, but only Zeke’s had squeezed off the shot that had killed the person who had been the one constant in his twenty-nine years.

      And through all the troubling months that had followed Zeke down into West Texas, his only choice had been to run.

      The rattle of his spurs in a chilling gust stirred him to the here and now. It was late on a somber day in December 1884, and he hunched half-frozen in the saddle, the nose of his cow pony nodding along through a flurry of snow pellets. Barbed wire flanked his course on the left, and over the bay’s ears he could see the posts marching west through broken county marked by prickly pear and the skeletons of dormant scrub mesquites.

      It was a drift fence, and bunched against it in places were mossy-horned cattle burned with a Slash Five brand. Denied instinctive retreat from the wintry blast, the beeves could only turn wild eyes and flaring nostrils to the ice-glazed wire and bawl.

          The storm’s initial dust swirls had caught Zeke by surprise just after he had forded the Middle Concho. When he had swung around in the saddle, the north sky’s deep, ominous blue, like bruising on a dead man’s face, had told him to brace for the worst. The wind had pushed at his back throughout the two-mile ascent out of the valley, and then the fence had loomed up and turned him west.

      Through a freezing mist that had become ice pellets he had pushed on, searching for sagging wires that he could responsibly stamp down with his boot and step his horse across. Still, Zeke figured that no matter how far he rode from that cattle trail tavern on the Texas side of the distant Big Red, the guilt would go with him. His remorse manifested itself greatest in the money belt, heavy with gold pieces under his moth-eaten coat and linsey-woolsey shirt with missing buttons. With his every heartbeat the belt seemed to throb, most notably where the Schofield revolver in the waistband of his duck pants pushed against it.

        It was cursed, this gold of Master Young’s, as cursed as the drunken cowhand’s revolver that had sent Young to his grave. Only after a half-week of day-and-night flight had Zeke even remembered the money, but through all the ensuing miles he had held on to it, not a cent spent, in the vague hope he might somehow return it to the kindly woman who had been the wife of his employer and onetime master.

Meet Author, Patrick Dearen

The author of twenty-one books, Patrick Dearen was born in 1951 and grew up in the small West Texas town of Sterling City. He earned a bachelor of journalism from The University of Texas at Austin in 1974 and received nine national and state awards as a reporter for two West Texas daily newspapers.

An authority on the Pecos and Devils rivers of Texas, Dearen also has gained recognition for his knowledge of old-time cowboy life. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he preserved the firsthand accounts of 76 men who cowboyed before 1932. These interviews, along with decades of archival study, have enriched Dearen’s twelve novels and led to nine nonfiction books.

His newest novel, The Big Drift, is based on the historic big drift of 1884, when a blizzard drove thousands of free-ranging cattle down from the Great Plains into West Texas.  His other novels include To Hell or the Pecos, inspired by actual nineteenth century events on the Butterfield and Goodnight-Loving trails.  For the background of another novel, Perseverance, Dearen turned to Depression-era Texas and hobo life.

Dearen has been honored by Western Writers of America, San Antonio Conservation Society, Will Rogers Medallion Awards, West Texas Historical Association, and Permian Historical Society. A backpacking enthusiast and ragtime pianist, he makes his home in Midland, Texas with his wife Mary (managing editor of the Midland Reporter-Telegram) and their son Wesley.

The Big Drift, released August 26, 2014 by TCU Press



  1. MK, thanks so much for the attention you've paid my new novel on your fine blog.

    1. It's been a pleasure to share your work, Patrick. Congratulations on the new book!