Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Little Britches” series.
In 1906, 8-year-old Ralph Moody and his family live in New Hampshire. But father is ill; working at a woolen mill has taken a toll on his lungs. When cousin Phil, who lives out West, paints an idyllic picture of life on a ranch, the family packs up and moves to Denver, Colorado.
In this autobiographical story, Ralph tells how his family arrives in Colorado to find they’ve purchased a barely-livable farmhouse. They briefly consider returning to New Hampshire. Mother contends that the Lord will provide for their needs, so Father puts in long days to prepare their homestead for the family. Over the next few years, they build up their ranch under difficult circumstances. Money is tight. Storms destroy property and crops. Some horses die, while others are sick or injured. Fierce conflicts with neighbors over water rights lead to fist fights, shooting and legal battles.
Ralph is a well-meaning boy whose eagerness to try new things and prove his maturity often gets him in trouble. He details several incidents of riding and working the family’s horses under dangerous circumstances without permission. He illegally traps a pheasant (by accident), and his father makes him report his crime to the sheriff. He fights the school bully and steals Mother’s bar of baking chocolate. In these and other instances, Ralph finds himself wrestling with his conscience, worrying his mother and learning hard life lessons. With wise words about character, honesty and integrity, Father regularly steers Ralph back on track.
Ralph gets his first paying job herding cattle for the mean neighbor, Mrs. Corcoran, and quickly learns how to manage a horse. He holds several other jobs, helping one neighbor harvest hay, and later, serving as a ranch hand for another. On the neighbor’s ranch, a cowboy named Hi befriends him and nicknames him Little Britches. With kindness and patience, Hi teaches Ralph to break a horse and helps him learn to ride like a true horseman.
Ralph’s anecdotes not only detail the events of his boyhood but also highlight the profound influence of his parents and other colorful characters in his life. He writes about neighbors, such as the generous and passionate Fred Aultland and cantankerous Mrs. Corcoran. He tells how much he loves his cowboy mentor, Hi, and an old Native American named Two Dog, with whom he communicates using hand signals.
When the ranch repeatedly fails to thrive, Father gets a job building houses and moves the family to Littleton, Colorado. Then Father’s long illness finally claims his life. Mother falls ill shortly thereafter, and Ralph and his siblings stay with various neighbors until she is well. The story ends with the newly reunited family sitting down to their first dinner without Father. Where Mother once nodded to Father, indicating he should say grace, she now nods to Ralph. He says that this was the moment he became a man.
Mother often reads the Bible, prays and quotes Scripture. When the family arrives in Colorado and discovers a less than ideal living situation, she reminds the family that God will provide. She urges Ralph not to fight at school because the Bible says to turn the other cheek. Mother and Father take the family to church in town, where Ralph and his siblings learn some bad words from other kids. After that, Mother holds Sunday services at home. Ralph and his sister, Grace, engage Mother in a debate about what’s sinful to do on Sunday. Mother prays fervently for her own health after Father dies, since she knows the family will need her.
Mother is a proper East Coast Christian woman who fears life on the ranch is corrupting Ralph’s character. Ralph is hard working, wise and attentive. Father shares many profound thoughts and lessons on character. Ralph’s first employer, Mrs. Corcoran, regularly belittles Ralph and notes his family’s poverty. Fred goes out of his way to help Ralph’s family financially by hiring them to work, loaning them a workhorse and secretly bribing an auctioneer so they win a cow. Hi takes Ralph under his wing, watching out for him while he’s away from his family and helping him learn various horsemanship skills.
H— , d–n and the Lord’s name used in vain are frequently said by Fred and the ranch hands with whom Ralph works. His parents never swear, and he tries hard not to either. But he finds himself thinking the swear words when he’s around the cowboys who, he says, begin every sentence with “by G—.” Jacka– appears a few times in reference to donkeys, along with a few instances of heck and darn.
Alcohol and other substance use: Some of the cowboys smoke cigarettes. Some drink in a saloon. Ralph’s mother uses brandy to treat illnesses. Sometimes, Ralph pretends to be ill so he can have a little.
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