Spook The Mustang
Harlan Thompson, il. Millard Sheets
1956, Doubleday and Company
1968, Grosset & Dunlap Famous Horse Stories (edition pictured), il. Sam Savitt (cover, frontspiece)
After his ranch venture fails in Mexico, saddle-maker Luis Barry returns to his father’s home in central California with his 17-year-old son David and wife Victoria. Luis is frail, recovering from a nervous breakdown, and Victoria’s a traditional Spanish wife who defers to her men, so the bulk of the driving and worrying are left to David. And David’s sick of ranching. The collapse of their hopes in Mexico has left him disillusioned and hoping only to get a normal job, make some money, and get his parents stable again. But when they stop to visit Grandy and discover the old man’s vanished, circumstances conspire to keep the little family on Grandy’s neglected ranch.
One of those circumstances is a little black colt David tries mightily to resist.
“Black as a spook,” he whispered, “and a natural pacer.”
Then David recalled the last ranch and the bay colt who’d died of thirst on the banks of the parched Miraflores Creek just two days before the rains came. No more colts for him, he decided, and turned his head away as the black, with a last flick of his shiny hoofs, raced to join his mother.
The family stays, and David goes to work for their neighbor, a tough rancher named King Jordan. Grandy’s property, the Condor Ranch, has back taxes owing and David basically has two years to pay it off or lose the ranch to Jordan. Over those two years, he works Jordan’s ranch, struggles to raise the few cattle remaining on the Condor, and trains the black colt he names Spook.
Spook, the real reason for David’s decision to give ranching another try, had a terrifying experience with the great condors and it leaves him with a permanent fear of birds. David, determined to make a great roping horse out of him, is haunted by the fear he’ll never be able to overcome the promising colt’s phobia.
Suddenly three squaking crows, playing tag with a stick, flew directly across the corral. They made a din. Their wings shadowed the ground.
With a wild whinny of terror, the colt pounded over Dave and fled for the barn.
An interesting Western horse book, full of ranching stories and rodeo action, as well as the long mystery of what happened to Grandy. The setting – near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in California – is also interesting, as is the presence of the condors.
David’s mother is from the same family that stars in Thompson’s 1952 novel Star Roan.
The California Condor
You can hardly blame Spook for his fear. The California Condor has one of the largest wingspans in the world at 9.5’ In 1982 there were only 22 left in the world. In 1987, the last one was removed from the wild, a story I remember vividly from my childhood. There are 408 birds, 231 of them in the wild, today.