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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • 'The Wintering' remembers hardships and adventures

  • Long before there was a town called Dodge City, Niki Shepherd's great-great-grandfather was driving cattle up from Texas to the railheads in eastern Kansas. He started working as a cow hand for the big ranchers and eventually bought into the business and brought his own herds north, pasturing them on family land near Kinsley.
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  • Long before there was a town called Dodge City, Niki Shepherd's great-great-grandfather was driving cattle up from Texas to the railheads in eastern Kansas. He started working as a cow hand for the big ranchers and eventually bought into the business and brought his own herds north, pasturing them on family land near Kinsley.
    So when Shepherd grew up on the Lazy L Ranch, she enjoyed a family history in the cattle business.
    "We liked doing all the things country kids do," she said in a recent phone interview.
    "We loved the family history and we spent a lot of time talking about the old days."
    Shepherd and her brothers and sisters all drove cattle, moving the herd to different pastures.
    "We fought over who got which saddle — just like all the kids did," she said.
    So she decided to record some of that history— not just her own family stories, but the adventures and hardships of the generations that settled the West.
    "Those stories were something I wanted to save — that sense of place, those kinds of people, the hard lives they lived and the life lessons they taught us."
    She wrote a book but it didn't seem commercial to her. She would look at it every few years, make corrections and put it away again.
    "Then  one year I realized that the people I wrote it for were going to be gone someday and so I published it — warts and all, for them."
    The book, "The Wintering," is fiction. "But it's true to the kinds of people who lived out there, how they helped us and the values they gave us to navigate life and recognize joy."
    Shepherd, who now lives in Merriam, Kan., was working with an agent for awhile, but the agent wanted her to turn the story into an epic.
    "I just didn't see it that way," she said.
    So she self-published the book through CreateSpace.com and she's quick to recommend the process to others.
    "I did all the editing and formatting, which nearly drove me insane, then the CreateSpace designers created the cover I designed," she said.
    One advantage of the CreateSpace method is that the author doesn't have to order a minimum number of copies. The book is available on Amazon.com and copies are printed on demand.
    Shepherd was able to present a copy of the book to her mother on Mother's Day this year. Her mother is 92 and currently in a hospital in Kinsley.
    "But she's alert and enjoyed reading the book," Shepherd said.
    Shepherd considers her book a gift to the people she grew up with and those still living in southwest Kansas.
    Page 2 of 2 - She'll give copies to small town libraries and museums.
    "The people around Dodge are my people and exactly the people for whom the book was written," Shepherd said.
    Shepherd's family is still involved in the cattle business. Her brother, Mike Lewis, is former owner and currently general manager of Pratt Livestock and her nephew, Jake, is sales manager. Her brother, Van Lewis, is a bonded livestock buyer living in Dodge City.
    Shepherd continues to write — essays, short stories and poetry — and she's glad her book is finished.
    "This book was an attempt to hold on to a place and time," she said.
    SYNOPSIS
     In the winter of 1885-86, western Kansas cattle ranges, over-stocked and drought-ridden, endured a series of storms as snow and heavy winds hit the Central Plains. When spring came, some cattle had survived the winter. Some had perished. So it was with the people—the ranchers and the homesteaders.
    Serious in tone and striving for a sense of reality,The Wintering is a character-driven story showing the kinds of people who settled the American West: Maud, from bride to widow in a few short months; Breed, a rancher caught in the change from open-range grazing to settlement; Augusta, eternally pregnant and living in a one-room soddy; Kirsten, a self-made prisoner who finds her own escape; Cora, a realist who learns to live between the hurts; Rachel who  holds on to nothing; Boston who makes his home in the world of his words; and Obadiah, whose destiny is as shaped as his well-worn hat.  
    Told from three viewpoints (Maud, Breed, and Obadiah) the novel explores subjects such as women's lives on the frontier, relationships, nature as teacher, and the cattle industry's change from open-range grazing to settlement.

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