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  • on 18.12.2012
  • at 10:03 PM
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The Cowboy and the Cossack
Sam Kirkeby, Clair Huffaker’s daughter, wrote the following blog post for her father’s novel, The Cowboy and the Cossack, which is the newest Book Lust Rediscovery title.

I was a horse crazy 8 year old when my father’s novel The Cowboy and the Cossack was first published. My father had always been slightly bigger than life to me, not unlike the characters in his books, with his ever present cowboy boots and Stetson, sky blue eyes and warm smile and even as a very young girl I knew it was a profound honor to have my name right there in the dedication of his novel. To be referred to as a “Cossack in Los Angeles” seemed like a wildly romantic notion to me and it appealed both to my love of horseback riding, and an adventurous spirit that my Dad all too correctly prophesied. I read the book for the first time before it had even been published, the week he gave me his original watermarked manuscript, and I have continued to reread it every few years since then. Each time the book speaks to me in different ways, and seems to frame the different chapters of my life with his passion, philosophy and spirit. I remember crying the first time I read about Igor tying that silver bell around his horse’s neck, and I feel pretty sure I have cried at that moment each time since, thinking about my own horses and the spiritual bond we share. And the sequence with the cattle coming off the ship when the cowboys arrive in Russia remains one of the great openings of a book ever, and the dream of every stuntman I have known in Hollywood for 20 years.

But over the years, a novel that was a grand exciting adventure as a young girl and teenager had transformed as I became a young adult and I began to see it as a profound allegory about the commonality of all men. How our shared humanity transcends both borders and cultures, language and ethnicity. Without proselytizing, my father was able to entertain people, and tell an epic tale while the underlying subtext spoke of true men judging one another not by their cultural or racial differences but by the content of their characters.

Clair died decades too soon at the age of 63 when I was 25 years old. The poem that Old Keats writes for Lt. Bruk are the words I chose to put on his epitaph. Again after his death, I found myself picking up Cowboy to reconnect with him and perhaps look for answers. Carl Sagan wrote that books “Break the shackles of time… proof that humans can work magic.” And in those months and years after Clair passed, his magic was in full force. I could hear his voice speaking to me as I read his words. In a way he wasn’t gone at all, but right there with me, sitting by the fire with his Great Dane, or under the oak tree he planted in the yard, and his passages both about death and living life to the fullest stood out as they never had before. The notion that if you leave an strong imprint on those you love and cherish, perhaps you never really die but are carried on in the memories and hearts of those you have touched along the way.

As the years went by and I stumbled into middle age, my father’s ability to touch people and live on through his words and characters was again opened up to me in a dramatic and unexpected way. The far reaching hands of a little gizmo called the internet allowed me to search articles, and read personal reviews and thoughts on Clair’s work which I might never otherwise have been aware of. When I was young, dad kept a few treasured file boxes of yellowed letters he had received from readers and admirers of his work. Now I found myself reading reviews on Amazon and other sites from readers all over the world. Families in Russia who considered their page worn copy of The Cowboy and the Cossack a family treasure. A wife who read the book out loud to her husband when he was ill and bedridden. An American soldier who brought me to tears when I read about how Cowboy was his favorite novel, and very first thing that went into his backpack each time he left for duty. For over a decade he carried with him his ragged paperback copy of The Cowboy and the Cossack that he bought in a used book store to dozens of countries and it was read and reread until the pages were frayed and worn, and passed among his fellow soldiers for strength and inspiration .

My publisher at Amazon suggested perhaps I talk in this blog about what it means to me to have my father’s book republished after all these years. That’s a tough one. When you follow in footsteps as big as his, words seem almost destined for failure. It is almost impossible for me to begin to convey not only what it means to me, but infinitely more importantly what it would mean to him, to have his words, his story and his characters reborn to a new generation of readers. It is a profound honor for me to be able to continue my father’s legacy by inviting new readers into an epic adventure tale which at its core illuminates the essential traits that my father believed a true man should steadfastly possess: honor, courage, integrity, and quiet strength. In our modern world where old fashioned values seem to somehow have been forgotten or misplaced, and strength of character and commitment to truth often feel like antiquated ideals from a bygone era, perhaps a novel which celebrates these things unabashed and without apology will find a new generation of readers.

When I was a girl, the door to my father’s house was never locked. It was a big two story colonial built in 1926 a half a block from the famous Sunset Strip. For decades that old house was a constant landmark and traveling stop for writers and directors, actors and stuntmen, and even cowboys. Everyone was welcome. If the pool table upstairs could talk it could tell wild tales of story telling and laughter, raconteurs and rapscallions, high stakes 8 ball, whiskey drinking, food and friends, music emanating from the juke box, and long nights around the poker table with cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air. Most of the men whose stories filed those rooms have passed on by now. Their memories live on in old western movies and picture books filled with black and white photos of Monument Valley landscapes, John Ford movies and the heyday of the Hollywood western. Sometimes it seems to me that God just broke that mold and it may not be found again. And yet, over the decades, my father’s spirit continues to live on in me and his readers through his writing.

His last book was a novel about his parents and the first lines read… “In the beginning, there was the earth. And then, there was music.” The echo of my father’s words in his books, remains to this day, the music of my life.

I hope they ring to you as well.

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There are 17 comments for this post

  1. Jan Dougherty says:

    Your comments capture, perfectly, the epic spirit of your father.
    The true art of heartfelt, tough, gentle, poetic, purposeful verse
    was most definitely passed on to you. I love your words ….

  2. hammerbag says:

    I hope I can find a copy on I am interested in Cossack

  3. Daryle Ann Lindley says:

    Sam do you remember me? I’ m Slim Pickens daughter. I loved reading
    your words. You brought back so many memories for me. I can still
    see your Dad at the pool table, in a bathrobe with a cowboy hat and
    boots on. What a great times we all had in that wonderful house!!

  4. Susan Olsen says:

    I have been listening to the book from Audible…very genuine and I
    wonder how he got his idea for the book, as well as the details
    about the Cossacks!??

  5. I read TCATC soon after first published and have several of the
    original, hard cover copies. Only other book that comes close is
    John Ross’ “Unintended Consequences,” and that’s saying something.
    Both books scream to be made into movies… Excelsior, mad, BP ’67
    retired 40-yr HS Eng. teacher and Peace Officer

    • Kelly says:

      YES MARK, the book would be a fabulous movie. Timeless, and a story
      that spans both cultures and generations for audience. It would be
      comparatively easy enough to assemble the cast, but The Right
      Director would make or break it. Redford, of course, could pull it
      off. Or perhaps Jim Mickle? (I don’t mean to put them in the same
      class, but Mickle’s done and is doing some veryfine work.)

  6. Sharon Cregier says:

    As does Susan Olsen, I, too, would like to know how Clair Huffaker
    came by his detailed description of Valdivostok, Siberia, its
    people, battle strategies, and then the route back to Philadelphia.
    The paperback is a fitting gift for a friend about to be deployed
    to Afghan.

  7. Susan olsen says:

    Perhaps the link is Igor Igorovitch the ‘cowboy in Leningrad’ to
    whom the book is dedicated (along with daughter Samantha and ‘a
    lady named Big Red’) ? Mysteries!

  8. Helluva tale, isn’t it? One of the most imaginative stories ever,
    in any genre, and Susan and I have read it–let’s see–probably
    three times, at least three, aloud and privately. Tonight we’ll be
    watching “Flap,” from which another wonderful novel came, “Nobody
    Loves a Drunken Indian.” Two stories which make us both happy to be
    alive to have experienced them and encourage others to do the same.

  9. Reviewed this wonderful novel on my website,,
    12/5/14. It is such a satisfying read (in my case, listen) as a
    thrilling adventure and non-preachy, aspirational morality tale.
    Thank you for the comments of Samantha Huffaker. Added a lot.

  10. […] as screenplays (including The Comancheros and Rio Conchos) and
    for the television series, Lawman. Huffaker’s daughter has written
    about the significance of having this book dedicated to her, and
    among her thoughtful […]

  11. Jim Freeman says:

    I have been in love with this story for nearly 40 years. My
    original copy fell apart from rereading and now I have it on my
    e-reader. The characters have all become old friends and the
    lessons on the oneness of mankind always ring true. Two cultures,
    30 odd rugged individualist, all working for a common goal to
    deliver 500 head of cattle across the trackless plains of Russia,
    to support a people striving to live free is a true inspiration.
    Undoubtedly one of the finest and most inspiring pieces of
    literature ever written.

  12. Tiziano Agnelli says:

    Dear Mrs. Kirkeby, this novel is one of the best western I ever
    read. I’m an Italian fan of this kind of literature and the works
    of your great Dad are between my favourites. I read all the western
    first in original language and then in Italian and I know his skill
    very well. But the Cowboy is more than a western, it’s an universal
    message of brotherhood of the men at war and a bridge between
    different cultures. Truly an unforgettable tale! I’d like very much
    to talk directly with you about your Dad. Best from Italy, Tiziano

  13. Tami Koestomo says:

    Yesterday I read “The Cowboy and The Cossack” perhaps for the 15th
    time after I first bought it, and the contents of that incredibly
    beautiful and gripping novel still never fail to leave a deep
    impression on me. I feel as though all the protagonists in the book
    are my own personal friends. Clair Huffaker is a wonderful Soul,
    God bless him and his beloved ones. Warm greetings to all who read
    this from an Indonesian who delights in reading a good tale!

  14. Grace says:

    What beautiful words. Brought me to tears. I read “One Time I Saw
    Morning Come Home” over 30 years ago. I lent it to someone who
    never returned it. Over the years I have searched for a copy I
    could afford to purchase as it remains my favourite book of all
    time! Still hopeful I can find one! Amazing book!!

  15. Mark Nassutti says:

    Found this book looking for “great Westerns” on the web, turned up
    via a link to Nancy’s list from GoodReads, I think. Loved the book.
    I found Shad a bit stupid at first about cross-cultural thinking,
    but I guess that would be reasonably plausible and if he’d been too
    sensitive initially it would have taken tension out of the story.
    Looking for other really good Westerns (currently reading Cormac
    McCarthy’s Border Trilogy), recommendations welcome.

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