Dan H. McLachlan ’66, ’69 MA
Aventine Press: 2016
The dream of a little boy to become a cowboy came true for Dan McLachlan. He read a 1927 text, All in the Day’s Riding, as an eighth-grader in Palo Alto, California, and became enamored with the vision of a wide blue sky viewed from horseback. After earning enough to buy two horses and tack, he eventually ended up in Montana for a three-month summer stint as a cowboy before going to Washington State University.
In 1960, McLachlan’s dad and a family friend dropped him off near the Canadian border at Browning, with his horses Tex and Lady, a .22 single-shot rifle, and a pack of gear. He was ready for a cowboy adventure.
As he rode through Montana towns and countryside, he met a bronze sculptor, Blackfoot Indians, a banjo-playing rancher, and many other characters. Some were bemused by the Californian looking for a cowboy life, others saw a kindred spirit. McLachlan traveled over 1,700 miles that summer, and consistently found hospitality and kindness as he repaired roofs, mended fences, and tended livestock—including pigs.
McLachlan even ran into the WSU Geology Survey Camp and some Cougars in the mountains.
McLachlan sought an idealized cowboy world in his travels through the Montana of 1960. Did he find it? The Old West may have been mostly gone by that point, but he did discover some of the spirit of cowboying in trail riders, rodeos, and ranches. His road led to Bud Beshear, an old-school cowboy and horseman who knew the work was extremely difficult, and not some romanticized fantasy from books and movies. He lived like a hermit in the mountains, and McLachlan had to ride far to reach him.
It was through Beshear that McLachlan learned how to rope horses, drive cattle, and do the work of a cowboy. They developed a friendship and camaraderie out on the open range. McLachlan did find a sense of the Old West and, as he writes at the end of the book, continues to revere the wide country he found in Montana the summer before he went to college.