Dutton/Penguin, 525 pages
Michael McGarrity’s trilogy of the Kerney family ranch is the story of most ranches in New Mexico: hard work, no money, and an unrelenting sun. The members of our state’s ranching families may have different names and different personalities than the Kerneys, but the list of tribulations is the same: alcohol, bureaucrats and bankers, cattle prices, drought — all the way to the end of the alphabet.
The Santa Fe-based author has written a new book in the trilogy every couple of years. He began with the story of John Kerney in
The family patriarch i s an early- day Anglo settler in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico, contending with cattle rustlers, murderers, feuding neighbors, and the unforgiving desert. The next book, introduces his son Patrick Kerney and his grandson Matthew. It begins with the aftermath of World War I and takes the family through the Great Depression and World War II. The final volume, has just been published. It features Patrick and Matthew and introduces Kevin, the fourth-generation Kerney.
In addition to being full of adventure, each book i s a true historical novel, an accurate picture of the American West. When my family sits around our ranch’s dining table, we tell stories of the same events that the Kerneys lived t hrough. The Indian Wars had tragic consequences for Natives who had t raveled across t he l and for generations. Then surveyors, l awyers, and fences came, dispossessing the longtime Hispanic settlers. There were good times when cattle prices soared during the SpanishAmerican War, the Boer War, and two World Wars. But the bad times were worse, during the Great Depression and in t he droughts of t he 1920s and 1950s.
With each generation, life seems to get physically easier for the Kerney men. Fences, automobiles and roads, electricity, indoor plumbing, and telephones decrease the ranch’s isolation. The younger generations are able to finish high school and attend college. Family members can find work in town to make ends meet. The connection to the land becomes less brutal, leading to fewer good cowboy stories in the latter part of the trilogy. Yet for the Kerneys, there is always another adventure off the ranch. Successive generations fought in the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and in Vietnam. And when the boys weren’t being shipped overseas to get shot at, the U. S. government was trying to take their land for the White Sands Missile Range. The Kerneys are a tough and resilient bunch, especially the women joining the family, who quietly save the family finances, are naturals in the saddle, and can shoot a marauder dead if necessary.
McGarrity’s writing i s as clear as the desert air at the Kerneys’ 7- Bar-K Ranch, and he has a talent for telling good stories. Readers have recognized this by putting some of his books on
bestseller list. Last year he won the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in literature. More than a decade ago he won a similar award at the state level.
Anyone who is a fan of the author’s popular Kevin Kerney crime stories should read this authentic Western trilogy explaining the lawman’s family background. — Robin Martin