Longhorns & Outlaws

26 August 2009

Longhorns & Outlaws
by Linda Aksomitis
Published by Coteau Books for Kids
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 8.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-378-4

After losing his Dutch immigrant parents and sister to the Galveston TX Hurricane of 1900, twelve-year-old Lucas finds solace in his friends, his school work, and his favourite books – Wild West detective stories where ‘Pinkerton Agents’ track and capture outlaws. Then Lucas’s sixteen-year-old brother Gil shows up fresh off a cattle drive and Lucas is suddenly thrust into learning the ins and outs of being a cowboy.

Having heard of an uncle living in Canada, Gil signs the boys on with the J Bar J Ranch, a cattle outfit driving two thousand ‘beeves’ north through Montana to Saskatchewan along the Lewis and Clark trail. Greenhorn Lucas and his reluctant Nez Perce roan, Ebenezer, have a lot to teach each other, and their mishaps ‘riding drag’ behind the cattle are good entertainment. Watching the cowboys work and listening to their stories about the geography and history of the West, Lucas, who had never ‘thought about learning any other way than from books and in a schoolroom,’ comes to a grudging realization that Gil, who can’t read or write, has still ‘learned plenty.’

It takes longer for Gil to see Lucas as more than a boy, half-grown ‘between hay and grass.’ Gil tells Lucas to quit dreaming about being a Pinkerton Agent when he sees him examining outlaws on wanted posters. It looks like Gil may be right when, distracted by imaginary outlaws, Lucas becomes responsible for the death of a calf. But when Lucas stumbles across a real outlaw camp and overhears plans for a train robbery, Gil still won’t listen, even though Lucas is pretty sure that one of the outlaws was the Sundance Kid, and another the notorious Dutch Henry.

Once they cross the Canadian border, outlaws break into the J Bar J camp and steal Ebenezer along with the other horses. Lucas rallies his courage to rescue the his horse and save the J Bar J outfit, but in doing so he uncovers a secret that jeopardizes his dreams for a quiet schoolboy life with his uncle. Lucas faces a difficult decision at the end of the book, which sets family loyalties against the line of the law, and it is this decision that finally earns Lucas his brother’s respect.

Lucas’s adventure is set among real historical places and events in the Canada-US Wild West and is infused with details about Dutch, French, and Michif culture. Cowboy lingo, as well as Dutch and French words, are used throughout the book with a glossary explaining their meanings. The story itself is exciting, but these authentic details really carry the reader into 1900’s cowboy culture. Young fans of Western fiction are in for a treat with Aksomitis’s Longhorns and Outlaws.


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