Request Book Kit

Book and Author

Winner of the 2012 Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Western Novel
A 2012 Kansas Notable Book
2012 Spur Award Finalist
When Thomas Fox Averill first heard Jimmy Driftwood’s ballad “Tennessee Stud,” he found the song hauntingly compelling. As he began to imagine the story behind the lyrics, he set out to research the song’s history–a tale from “along about eighteen and twenty-five” of the legendary exploits of the greatest horse that ever lived, the “Tennessee Stud,” and his owner.

Traveling the same route the song chronicles, from Tennessee into Arkansas, through Texas and into Mexico, Averill visited racetracks, Spanish missions, historical museums, a living history farm, and national parks, inventing characters of his own along the way. His novel captures the spirit of the ballad while telling the story of Robert Johnson, a man who holds love in his heart though adventure rules his time. Pursued by a bounty hunter, Indians, and his conscience, Johnson and his horse are tested, strengthened, and made resolute.

Thomas Fox Averill:  Inspiration can come when one least expects it. Thomas Fox Averill, a professor of English and Writer-In-Residence at Washburn University, was at the Winfield Bluegrass Festival when he was captivated by Jimmy Driftwood’s ballad “Tennessee Stud.” After extensive research on the origins of the song, followed by a trek through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Mexico and back again, Averill wrote a novel inspired by the song and the time in which it was written… “along about eighteen and twenty-five.”

It’s Our Community interview with Thomas Fox Averill

Quote from the book:

“Johnson decided on patience, the virtue a powerless man has no choice but to practice.”


Topics the book will bring up for discussion include:

  • How is rode a love story? a coming-of-age story? a western story? What comes to mind when you think of a “western” story, novel or film? Is that image similar or dissimilar to rode?
  • Is Robert Johnson someone, as his mother describes, who helps and is fit for civilization or someone who hurts and is not? Does this change through the novel?


Kansas is blessed with many wonderful writers.  Listen to Miranda Ericsson’s recommendations for other notable Kansas authors on HUSH Library Podcast #62.  For more information about Kansas Notable Books, go to the State Library of Kansas website.  There you will find information about the award, previous award winners, and other services offered by the State Library.

You may want to listen to the song that inspired the book at your meeting.  The library has several versions of it in our collection.


Have your group discuss the following excerpt.  What feelings does it evoke?  Share your discussion by commenting on this post.

He was but several days’ hard ride from Hiram and Elizabeth, then on to Tennessee.  And yet as he contemplated home, he felt home.  He would be an Arkansawyer, drawing his Tennessee line–his own blood and The Stud’s–into a new line in a new territory, like so many before him.