The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker

image from Amazon.com

In 1880 the cowboys of Slash-Diamond Ranch have an unusual mission: safely transport five hundred cattle across Russia. To their surprise, and dismay, a group of Russian Cossacks shows up to help them. This mixed group may discover some things transcend cultural boundaries if their own stubbornness, wild animals and Tartars don’t kill them first…

The Cowboy and the Cossack first snagged me with the storyline. How would cowboys and elite Russian horsemen interact? Could they learn to get along and survive? The story has incidents of understated humor which are all the more amusing for being understated. For instance, lead Cossack Rostov gives lead cowboy Shad a “Siberian kitten”, really a fierce Siberian tiger, in return for Shad’s thoughtful gesture of bringing Rostov a “Montana puppy” (aka ferocious Siberian wolf ). This understated humor is needed to counterbalance the serious incidents which happen in the book…much like humor does in real life. The storyline is slow enough for the two groups to bond but fast enough for there to be plenty of action. I also kept reading for the characters: stubborn but kind Shad, his counterpart Rostov, inexperienced Levi -who is the narrator- and wise “The Poet” Keats who often had truthful observations about human nature. This book is a great read for those wanting friendship against dangerous odds and to spend time with a fun, but also thought-provoking, group of characters.

Interested? Here are some suggestions for read-a-likes…

Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurty also features cowboys who, like Levi,  learn more about their trade and the world in general while facing dangerous challenges.

Want to learn more about cossacks? Books such as Cossack: Warrior Riders of the Steppes by Mike Groushko focus on the elite Russian horsemen.

Want to learn more about the history of cowboys? Books such as Cowboys of the American West by Dudley Witney (photographer) and B. Byron Price (text) can show you more about these participants in Western U.S. history.

Want more stories of friendship flourishing amidst, and despite, dangerous odds? The Dirk Pitt series features a duo who -like the cowboys and cossacks- rely on friendship, knowledge and sheer nerve to help them complete dangerous missions. Their ability to find humor in danger and trust in each other keep them going when the metaphorical chips are down.

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