Read the beginning of the first chapter from Stolen Horses by Dan O'Brien:
"Since Erwin Benson was a young man he has been an early riser. Belief that the darkness would cease and that the sun was on its way made him hopeful and was as close to religion as he ever managed. From time to time he wished he could believe in more. He always knew that such a leap would have made life easier, but he could never take that leap and had to settle for the predawn. His early morning ritual has served him well enough. He was eighty-five years old and still working. Already this morning he made his way in the dark from his house on Calvert Street to his office in the Lakota County courthouse. He moved through the inky air like a blind man in his own home, navigated by the scent of waning lilac and columbine. By feel he found the office key on a ring of many. Without switching on the light, he puttered with the coffeepot and wandered the three rooms of the county prosecutor’s office waiting for it to perk. He glanced out the window and was pleased to find the darkness still exhilarating. There was still the sense of risk. There was a chance that today was the day the sun would not rise. Rising early was an act of faith.
When he finally turned on the light, the rooms illuminated dimly, as if by candlelight. Erwin stood in the yellow glow of the overhead and stared at the small statue of the town’s founder, Henry McDermot. The statue had been on his bookshelf for a very long time. Long enough that he couldn’t remember how it had come to him or who had sculpted it. The bronze had taken on a rich, green patina, but Henry McDermot was still middleaged and he still sat a rangy cowpony like the ones Erwin could remember. The horse and rider appeared to be looking out over what Erwin had always figured was the valley of the Pawnee River. The legend was that Henry McDermot and his cowboys were bringing a herd of longhorns up from Texas in the late nineteenth century and found the fertile valley full of Indian horses. There was a smile on McDermot’s face as if he was just then seeing the valley and the horses for the first time. There was a fight, a dozen dead Lakota warriors, and McDermot ended up with the valley, the horses, and the naming rights for the town that came soon after. Erwin Benson ran his long, liver spotted fingers over the cold bronze. He looked hard at the statue of Henry McDermot and considered the irony of having a bronze of the country’s first felon in the office of the county prosecutor.
He let his old hand settle to the surface of his oak desk, touched the piles of papers, and sniffed the air for coffee, but all he detected was the ancient trace of cigar smoke. He used to love a good cigar but had to quit. He wasn’t sure why he quit. What were doctor’s orders to a man old enough to remember horses? He glanced back at the statue of McDermot, and horses filled his mind. Personally, he never liked them much, but he was aware that they ran in the blood of human beings and that Lakota County had had a special relationship with horses since before the county was organized. When Erwin was a boy, even though most of the country was running on gasoline, Lakota County still ran on horsepower. Interspersed with the Model A’s, horses lined the streets of McDermot on Saturday nights: thin little cow ponies, long-legged saddle horses, bucket-footed plow horses pulling family wagons. Horses were there from the beginning. They were there with the Lakota before white settlement. They were the first sign of power and status, and at once the last gasp of mobile wealth and the first sign of stationary empire. He knew full well that everything, even the big things, changed in cycles, and that there was a good chance that horses would return. He had lived through most of the great orgy of cheap gasoline and never had to deal with horses. That suited him just fine, but he knew there were others who would be happy when the cars ran out of fuel. Erwin thought about this as the coffee began to perk. He supposed there were genes for loving horses and that most of the old-time citizens of Lakota County inherited those genes from their forebears. The genes would be intact when they were needed again."
Dan O’Brien is the author of numerous novels and memoirs, including Buffalo for the Broken Heart and The Contract Surgeon, winners of the Western Heritage Award for best nonfiction in 2001 and for best fiction in 1999, respectively. Buffalo for the Broken Heart was the One Book South Dakota selection for 2009. Equinox: Life, Love, and Birds of Prey, is available in a Bison Books edition.
To read a longer excerpt or to preorder Stolen Horses, visit http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Stolen-Horses,674634.aspx.