Text Study: All the Pretty Horses

I have a hard time with Cormac McCarthy books. I tried to read Blood Meridan, and I made it through about 120 pages before I couldn’t stick with it any longer. I had never tried another one until last week when I picked up All the Pretty Horses. I haven’t read very far yet, but I get it now. I get why so many people love this author.

A passage I will read with my students is this one:

The house was build in eighteen seventy-two. Seventy-seven years later his grandfather was still the first man to die in it. What others had lain in state in the that hallway had been carried there on a gate or wrapped in a wagonsheet or delivered crated up in a raw pineboard box with a teamster standing at the door with a bill of lading. The ones that came at all.  For the most part they were dead by rumor. A yellowed scrap of newsprint. A letter. A telegram. The original ranch was twenty-three hundred acres out of the old Meusebach survey of the Fisher-Miller grant, the original house a one room hovel of sticks and wattle, were driven through what was still Bexar County and across the north end of the ranch and on to Fort Sumner and Denver. Five years later his great-grandfather sent six hundred steers over that same trail and with the money he built the house and by then the ranch was already eighteen thousand acres. In eighteen eighty-three they ran the first barbed wire. By eighty-six the buffalo were gone. That same winter a bad die-up. In eighty-nine Fort Concho was disbanded.

His grandfather was the oldest of eight boys and the only one to live past the age of twenty-five. They were drowned, shot, kicked by horses. They perished in fires. They seemed to fear only dying in bed. The last two were killed in Puerto Rico in eighteen ninety-eight and in that year he married and brought his bride home to the ranch and he must have walked out and stood looking at his holdings and reflected long upon the ways of God and the laws of primogeniture. Twelve years later when his wife was carried off in the influenza epidemic they still had no children. A year later he married his dead wife’s older sister and a year after this the boy’s mother was born and that was all the borning that there was. The Grady name was buried with that old man the day the norther blew the lawnchairs over the dead cemetery grass. The boy’s name was Cole. John Grady Cole.


I think of my grandparents’ farm when I read it. If I knew the right dates I could move through the years, portraying lived and significant events just as poignantly –okay, maybe not just as, but I could try.

I know my grandpa was born in the farmhouse in 1899. He farmed the land after his father did. My great-grandfather grew up there from the time he was about two when he was left by his father who emigrated from Scotland. That foster family owned it first. My uncle worked the farm with Grandpa and then took over at grandpa’s passing. My mother grew up there– on the foothills of Ben Lomond Mountain in Pleasant View, UT. It was my favorite place to visit. An adventure for this city girl from Texas.

I bet my students could write about the history of a place. Might be kind of cool.


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