Some may already be aware of an intriguing book, published in 1999, entitled Hollywood the Hard Way: A Cowboy’s Journey. For those that are not and have an interest in real-life Western stories, it is worth knowing about.

Written by Patti Dickinson, it is the true story of how 20 year-old Jerry Van Meter undertook a 1500 mile horseback ride from Oklahoma to Hollywood in the spring of 1946. The young cowboy did so to win a bet that his grandfather, Rolla Goodnight, made with the Hollywood singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely. Wakely, following a public appearance in Oklahoma, claimed to Goodnight that there were no true cowboys left in post-World War Two America; Wakely argued that no young cowboys existed who could make the kind of rides that cowboys made with their cattle drives in the 19th century.

Rolla Goodnight, cousin to famous cattleman Charles Goodnight, while not a betting man, could not let such an affront to the cowboy way lay unchallenged. Claiming that his own grandson Jerry was of the stock necessary to complete such a ride, Goodnight bets Wakely that Jerry can make the trip from Guthrie, Oklahoma to Hollywood, California in 50 days. Rolla and his good friend, Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, have been lifelong mentors to Jerry and have shared their cowboy wisdom with him.

Young Jerry Van Meter will have to face personal challenges in addition to those of landscape and certain individuals he meets along the way, but to this reader, he exemplifies quiet courage and good-hearted resilience as he does. His companion for the journey, his horse, Fan, is someone that the reader also gets to know and in knowing, a wonder for this special horse is likely to emerge.

Van Meter’s journey takes a reader across a 1946 America and West that is re-adjusting after the conflict of a world war. It also takes you into the Old West with the thoughts of Jerry as he recognizes important Western locations along the way and in doing so honours the legacy of Goodnight and Eaton. Van Meter races against time to meet the 50-day bet but also to claim continuance of a way of life in an industrializing and urbanizing world.

Dickinson, an Oklahoman of Cherokee ancestry, first learned of Van Meter’s story in 1994 while travelling in Montana. She eventually was able to meet and interview Jerry in 1995 for the details of his extraordinary ride with Fan. Published by the University of Nebraska Press, it is surprising that Hollywood the Hard Way: A Cowboy’s Journey has NOT been yet made into well, a Hollywood film – it is a remarkable story.

 (Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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