Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. (illus. Gordon C. James). “Let ‘er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion.” Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2019.
Nelson’s newest picture book tells the story of an African American cowboy who lived in Eastern Oregon and competed in the famous Pendleton Round-Up. George’s family is like many who live in the west: his family traveled west on the Oregon Trail, and settled in in the wide-open spaces of Oregon. Whites in the area weren’t always friendly, and so George made friends with kids who lived on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. As he grew, George learned from the tribal horsemen and became an ever more skilled horseman himself and knew that ranching and rodeoing was for him. Eventually at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up George found himself in the bronc-riding finals with two other men. What happened has become part of Round-Up history.
Idaho students will enjoy this completely western story and will recognize many of the references to our area. One of the men who competed in the final with George, Jackson Sundown, was a member of the Nez Perce tribe and is buried in Slickpoo (a real place), Idaho. Let ‘Er Buck is an excellent choice for local stories and for Black History Month, especially as it applies to the Pacific Northwest, which is not common.
This title is beautifully illustrated by Gordon C. James, who uses the same oil on board technique he used in the award-winning “Ode to the Fresh Cut.” The back pages include photographs and mini-biographies of the main characters in the story, along with a glossary of Rodeo and Western Words, and a bibliography. It’s a must-have for all Idaho elementary libraries, and possibly even for middle school libraries.
Dewey: 791.8 Interest Level: Grades 2-6
Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly starred, School Library Journal starred.
Younger readers might like: “Cowboy Rodeo” by James Rice
Older readers might like: “Red White Black: A True Story of Race and Rodeo” by Rick Steber
Fiction Pairing: “Pecos Bill, Colossal Cowboy: The Graphic Novel” by Sean Tulien
On the Web:
The Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Hall of Fame shows George Fletcher as one of the first inductees in 1969, the year the Hall of Fame was established.
Learn a little more about George Fletcher and other black cowboys in Oregon at The Oregon Encyclopedia at https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/black_cowboys_in_oregon/#.XFygIlxKiUk.
Watch this narrated version of George Fletcher’s life on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnH2R6z_ZwA. At just over 4 minutes long, it is well-worth a look.