Horse Thief: A Novel

Horse Thief: A Novel

4.2 4
by Robert Newton Peck

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After losing two fingers in his first bull ride, seventeen-year-old Tullis Yoder worries he'll never have a chance to top another bull. Then the rodeo show he works for goes broke, and he learns that its thirteen horses, his only family, will be slaughtered for dog meat. With the help of a lady doctor and an aging professional horse thief, Tullis steals his beloved


After losing two fingers in his first bull ride, seventeen-year-old Tullis Yoder worries he'll never have a chance to top another bull. Then the rodeo show he works for goes broke, and he learns that its thirteen horses, his only family, will be slaughtered for dog meat. With the help of a lady doctor and an aging professional horse thief, Tullis steals his beloved horses. He wants to set the horses free, but with crooks, three sheriffs, and a powerful judge after him, will he have a chance?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in Depression-era Florida, this novel tells the story of a 17-year-old orphaned rodeo worker whose heart yearns for a home, a girl to love and glory as a bull rider. According to PW, he "eventually finds it all and endears himself to the audience with an admirable mix of machismo and kindness." Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Big Bubb's Stampede is a sorry excuse for a rodeo, and when the only show in 1938 Chickalookee, Florida, goes belly-up, young horse wrangler Tullis Yoder finds himself homeless once again. A lifelong orphan, Tullis has only one heartfelt attachment�the rodeo's string of thirteen horses assigned to his care. When the slimy rodeo manager and the ruthless owner decide to sell the horses for dog food, Tullis vows to save them. With the help of the local doctor and her larcenous father, Tullis steals all thirteen horses and heads for Redworm, Florida, where they plan to sell the horses back into the rodeo business. Law enforcement officers, local authority figures, conmen, and rodeo stars weave in and out of a complicated chase-and-escape sequence until a chaotic finale in which Tullis accomplishes his two most heartfelt desires�freeing his thirteen horses and completing an eight-second bull ride in the rodeo arena. Peck's story is an enjoyable read that feels like a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Smoky and the Bandit. His characters are delightfully colorful, and the action is fast-paced, especially as it accelerates toward the ending. Although two characters meet with violent ends in the final pages, it does not spoil the mood, and foreshadowing gives more than fair warning. The cowboy vernacular might be a little strained, but it is never raunchy and contributes to the humorous tone. Another of Peck's Florida cowboy tales, this novel follows on the heels of Cowboy Ghost (HarperCollins, 1999) and is perhaps the best one in that vein so far. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, HarperCollins, 231p,
— James Blasingame <%ISBN%>0066237912
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2002: "We was only a bunch of boys. Yet with a biting ache to be men, as battered and bowlegged and brawly as the regular rodeo pokes..." This is the beginning of this entertaining novel set in southern Florida in 1938, featuring a plucky orphaned teenager named Tullis, who works as one of the stable boys in a rundown rodeo. When Tullis gets a chance at last to test himself on a rodeo bull, he ends up crippled, losing some fingers. He is lucky enough to be ministered to by a capable woman doctor who takes him under her wing�and who agrees to help him steal the rodeo's horses when the rodeo goes out of business and they are slated to become pet food. With the help of her father, a jolly, drunken reprobate, the three undertake this foolhardy scheme, pursued by a corrupt judge. High jinks, humor, and adventure ensue, the horses are saved, and Tullis ends up with a pretty girlfriend and happy prospects. A fun, folksy read for fans of Peck's well-known A Day No Pigs Would Die, Soup series, and other historical fiction for YAs. Peck's affection for horses as well as his understanding of boys' longing to prove themselves make this an emotionally convincing tale despite its sometimes slapstick action, leavened with some darker moments. KLIATT Codes: JS�Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, HarperCollins, Trophy, 277p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
The horses and colorful characters of the rodeo become like family to the orphan Tullis Yoder, but it is not until he faces even more difficult times that he gains the family he has wanted for so long. After a tragic rodeo accident in 1938, Tullis spends time recovering with Doc Platt. Still mourning the deaths of her son and husband, Doc mothers Tullis back to health. The rodeo closes after another accident threatens its financial future, and the horses are to be sold to a dog food company. Tullis, Doc, and Doc's father face adventures and obstacles as they steal the horses and take them to safety. This book was difficult to read at times because the speaker changed in each chapter, and there were several storylines that only converged at the end of the book. This could be problematic for struggling readers. After the first few chapters, though, the book became easier to read and a pattern seemed to develop. Boys between the ages of 12-15 would be most likely to enjoy this book. 2002, HarperCollins Publishers, 231 pp.,
— Maryanne Obersinner
School Library Journal
Gr 7-Up In 1938 in Chickalookee, FL, 17-year-old Tullis Yoder takes care of the horses that perform in the Big Bubb Stampede Rodeo until the fateful day he fills in as a bull rider. His first ride ends with the loss of two fingers. Dr. Agnolia Platt repairs his hand and later plays an even greater role in his life. When the star of the show, Big Bubb, is killed in an attempt at bulldogging, the owner of the show decides to close down and sell all of the livestock. Tullis enlists the help of Doc and her jailbird father, Hitch, to steal the horses in order to save them from the slaughterhouse. Myriad quirky characters, whose names match their personalities, weave through the horses' journey to safety. From the mean-spirited Judge E. Carvul Hoad to Miss Clemsa Louise Wetmeadow, who becomes Tullis's love interest, each character contributes to the book's offbeat, irreverent mood. The occasional slightly coarse cowboy humor adds authenticity to the tale. Witty, unpredictable, and a "darn" good story that refuses to take itself too seriously, Horse Thief will have readers cheering for Tullis, his friends, and their herd of 13. -Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"It was the horses that held my heart. . . . It was worship." Tullis Yoder loves horses. A lowly member of the Big Bubb Stampede, a ragged horse show in 1939 Chickalookie, Florida, Tullis is enamored with the life and characters of the almost-rodeo. The chief brag and comic symbol of the show is Big Bubb Nilbut, America's Biggest Cowboy, weighing in at 500 pounds and riding a Clydesdale horse. When the boss, Mr. Judah St. Jude, gives Tullis a chance to live out his dream and be a bulltopper-trying to go eight seconds atop a bad bull named Gutbuster-Tullis falls a few seconds short and loses half of his right hand. When Big Bubb takes a thunderous tumble off of Clyde and breaks his neck, the show disbands, and Tullis's beloved horses are destined to be "trucked to a slaughtery, hit in the head by a sledgehammer, and minced into pet meal." Obviously, Tullis cannot let this be, and the rest of the story becomes a romp, with larger-than-life characters and slapstick action as the 13 horses are rescued and taken on a pilgrimage to safety. Tullis's scenes are told in first person, the others in third, and the transitions are at times jarring. The best scenes are of Tullis and his attempts at bulltopping glory. Peck's prose is lively and lavish, with a gift for the humorous image: "The sheriff felt the political image slowly melt off his face and run down his shirtfront. Like spilled supper." A nobody at the beginning of the story, Tullis is, by the end, a hero, and readers will enjoy following his madcap route to glory. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Good luck, boy.�

Too gut-fluttery even to mumble a thank you to the chute man, I forced a phony grin, stretching out a leg to straddle the massive back of a Galloway bull.

The brute felt hotter than a tent show sermon.

My mind kept repeating, eight seconds. That's how long a bulltopper has to stick his seat on bucking stock to win hisself a belt buckle. Until now, it had seemed a short time. But this wasn't a rodeo. I doubted that any buckle Mr. Judah St. Jude might award would be genuine silver. Or genuine anything.

�Thong your right hand snug tight,� the chute man's partner said. �That's it. Take your time, on account this here animal ain't about to wander nowhere. Wrap the rawhide twice around. Wait up. As your hand's a mite puny, loop it three. Good. Pound the braiding into your glove palm and squeeze, like you'd sweet a gal.�

He smiled with all eleven of his teeth.

�Anything else?� I asked him, hearing the bull snort and feeling his hoof pawing the turf.

�Pretend you're in a real rodeo. Keep a holding your left arm high up, above your shoulder, even though there ain't no judges here. Thataway nobody'll suspect you're turning soft or grabbing leather.�

�A bulltopper,� Chigger Dill, our lame and aging barrel clown, told me early this morning, �always remembers his first bull. And tries to forget his last.� I had yet to attempt my first, but in a few more seconds, Gutbuster was mine to master.

Not knowing my exact age, or even my birthday date, I figured I'd turned seventeen. That made me older than Gutbuster and ought to mean wiser.

�If'n ya spill,� the other guy advised,�git to your feet, even if your pants is down and both your legs is broke, and make for a fence. Some railbirds will be setting on it, creasing their butts, and they'll help fetch you up and over.�

Beneath me stood a bull bigger than a boxcar. His temper rumbled like thunder. My stomach was fidgeting and my throat was too dry to swallow. My heart was a drum. The bull roared. Between my legs a hot rush of urine clouded my jeans a shade darker. One of the tenders noticed. Yet didn't poke fun.

�We all done it, sonny. Myself more'n once. I seed seasoned bullers wet theyselfs. Ain't no sign you're yeller. Just a human bean.�

�Hey, look below,� his helper said, pointing down. �That'n bull took hisself a pee. Poor curly head critter is possible a feared that you be aboard him.�

Everybody laughed except me.

Eight seconds . . . only eight seconds.

�Y'all listen up,� blared the arena loudspeaker with the squawking, familiar voice of our boss, Mr. Judah St. Jude. �Folks, di-rect your attention at gate number three. Tullis Yoder, one a our amatoor lads, fixing to make his virgin voyage . . . first rodeo appearance . . . on a bad bull named . . . Gutbuster!�

Tenders cinched the bite strap.

Under me, the bull flinched. A thick board near cracked. Behind, a third guy jabbed the bull's testicles with a electric prodder, to enrage him. I wanted to climb off. No, I wouldn't! My mind and spirit had been running too long, to escape who I was: a nobody. Best I quit turning tail.

Hands and fingers appeared as the chute crew prepared to swing open the gate. �Ya ready, Tullis? Say when.�

A free hand tugged the cowboy haymaker snugger to my skull. My teeth gnawed each other. Nodding, I said, �Let'em rip.�

As gate 3 pulled open, Ruby Red and the Saddle Tramps whacked into �Rattlesnake Rag.� A furnace-hot hunk of male meat charged free, like flame, heated by hatred and pain. On the flank strap beneath his belly, a cowbell clanked like it'd gone crazy.

The gate didn't open clear enough. One of the latch boards tore at my knee, near wiping me clean off. Leaving the ground, Gutbuster's first jump took off north but landed south, swapping ends, punishing the earth with a jarring thud. He was a bass on a hook plug, his horns shook side to side. Hoofs again bit sand, driving the blade of his bare back into my crotch, and I'd got sliced to halfs, sending me sick into pain. My anus burned like arson.

�Eight!� I tried to holler, screaming, praying the bull would stop. �God . . . oh, God, shut him down. Please make him quit.�

No brake on a rodeo bull. Neither reins nor saddle, and no thick lanyard rope attached to his nose ring. I'd seen Gutbuster dump a dozen cowhands. Why was I trying to top this cusser? Insane with ire, he broke air, hurting and twisting, spooked by the loudspeaker, crowd noise, and a persistent brass band, concentrating on the cause of his agony: a boy on his back.

Head low and heels high, he began to spin, and with us spun all of Florida. Trapped in a blur of whirling dust, frozen in fear, my body was mashed into madness. Boy and bull pain interlocked into a single torment. Twice a second, my neck and spine whip-snapped, like a snake being shook by a dog.

His twirl was too fast, his circling too tight to counter. Instead of leaning inside, my torso yanked out, my inside leg losing its hold. My hand couldn't pull me to him. Fury pounded my privates whenever his bucking would camel up.

Hurt worse when his hoofs hit.

Every part of me left him, save one -- my right hand stuck, tightly thonged within the three braided-leather loops. I fell. Below him now, near his prancing hind quarters, my boot heels dragged in the gravel. I hung suspended by a entrapped arm, fingers warped by their impossible purchase on a bull's hump.

�Help . . .�

Horse Thief. Copyright � by Robert Peck. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Robert Newton Peck is the author of more than sixty books, including Horse Thief, Cowboy ghost, and A Day No Pigs Would Die. According to Newsweek, Mr. Peck "manages to evoke a sense of vanished America — when neighbors were neighborly, when food was home-cooked, and clothes and philosophy homespun." Raised on a farm, he is familiar with cattle, hogs, and horses. He lives with his wife, Sam, in Longwood, Florida, where he and a partner currently own eleven mustangs.

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Horse Thief 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would sit and read for who knows how many hours.  I love Robert newton Peck's books. Horse Thief was very thought out. Robert newton Peck is great for boys  but for girls its hard cause a lot of his books are about ( some not all of them SOME) boys comeing of age  And stuff but i am kinda of like a tomboy so i am ok with it. Robert newton Peck puts love of horses in adventure. Robert newton Peck is a GREAT witer. TRY HIS BOOKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU WONT BE UPSET IF YOU READ THEM!!!
country_girl092 More than 1 year ago
Tullis Yoder has only one dream: to make his name known among bull riders. And Tullis will do anything to make that name. Only 17 years old, Tullis rides his first bull in an old run-down rodeo and loses 2 fingers. But when word gets out that the 13 prized horses from his first rodeo will be sold and made into dog food, Tullis takes matters into his own hands. With the help of a lady doctor and her professional horse thieving father, they steal the horses. But they're followed by crooks, three different sheriffs, a highly powerful judge, and a girl who takes an interest in Tullis. All Tullis is worried about is saving the horses and making his name known. Will he get that chance? What will happen to the thirteen horses? If you like suspense, this novel will keep your attention from beginning to end
Guest More than 1 year ago
In an age where sex and Cialis are dominating every commercial and bit of air time, it is great to sit back with a Peck book and appreciate the finer,simpler pleasures of my grandfather's era. I laughed frequently,smiled often, and even grew a little misty-eyed.A fun,clean,sometimes ornery experience-just as I imagine Mr.Peck himself to be.Filled with homespun similes and a revolving door of narrators, Horse Thief is 7 dollars very well spent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It wasnt the best book I have ever read but I recommend it to people who like reading about horses. I like the language, country. I also like how the chapters are short. If you wish to contact me further you can neomail me at under Buffheart