Riding the outlaw trail
Western author Rick Steber recently announced his latest release of "The Last Outlaw," now available in his storefront, Rick Steber & Company-Makers.
Steber is a keen observer of the evolving American West and recently indicated in an interview that he is always working on four to five books at one time.
"You only get so many books in your lifetime — I am well aware of that," remarked Steber. "I have had more than my share — I have had 50-some (books). I had a guy from Les Schwab one time tell me, 'Boy, you have written a lot of books.' I said, 'Yeah, and I bet if you added it up, you have changed a lot of tires. It just depends on what you do.'"
In finding inspiration for his stories, Steber used the analogy of a miner who shovels a lot of gravel to find a nugget. When he finds a nugget for a story that interests him, the real work begins of researching.
For his newest release, he had a typewritten transcript of a story about Della Melvin, who told the story of being kidnapped by Tobe Skiens. He said that it came from a relative of Melvin's, and this is where he got his nugget to begin the story of the notorious outlaw. The story by Melvin was editorialized in 1935 in the local newspaper.
"My job was to find out if that was valid, and what the rest of the story was, because it was one side of the story saying that she had been kidnapped," noted Steber.
He spent a lot of time in Winnemucca and Elko, Nevada, to get some valid information to establish some of the story, such as the concreteness of the fact that the couple did get married — as well as some other information that Steber included in his book.
In the process of writing his story, Steber had the occasion to meet the grandson of Skiens and Melvin. Mitch Heguy, who lives in Elko, Nevada, read Steber's book and made the following remarks.
"The two main characters in your book, 'The Last Outlaw,' are my grandparents, Tobe Skiens and Della Melvin. My mother told me she always suspected Grandma ran away from home to be with Tobe Skiens. After Grandma died, a cardboard box of memorabilia was sent to me. She wanted me to have it. There was a 60-foot reata and git-down rigging, (a vaquero style used by working cowboys to keep their horses standing while they step to the ground) and there was a silver spade bit, fancy head stall, and a pair of spurs."
He went on to say, "Even though there was no note, it's my guess they belonged to Tobe. I treasure them even though they may have once belonged to a horse thief. Thanks for telling their story, Rick, and sticking to the facts."
For his books, Steber pointed out that every story has to be set in particular area, about a specific character, has to have some drama, and be in a specific time period. "The Last Outlaw" begins in Oregon in 1906 and also takes place in Burns, as well as a strip of land that spans Texas, Arizona and New Mexico between the Rocky Mountains and Sierra and Cascade Mountains.
Skiens was a notorious 23-year-old Texas buckaroo and outlaw who rode into Eastern Oregon in 1906. He soon takes up the outlaw trail, stealing horses and running them across a 2,000-mile swath of desert country. It is a no-man's land that remained wild and outside the fringe of civilization long after the remainder of the country had been settled and gentrified.
Skiens sells his horses in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico and turns around and steals more horses and drives them to Oregon. In this time in history, stealing horses was the most dangerous and exciting of all occupations, and it was played for the highest of all possible stakes — a man's life.
The crimes Skiens was accused of quickly escalate from rustling cattle and horses to kidnapping a young girl names Della Melvin, and keeping her for more than two years, and even fathering a child with her. Skiens finally kills an unarmed man in a cold-blooded shootout, followed by a posse giving chase for 10 long weeks. During this time period in the West, any of these indiscretions would have the consequence of dancing at the end of a rope.
Steber indicated that the strip of land that Skiens rode the stolen horses was 500 miles wide, 2,000 miles long in the high desert and was positioned between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades and Sierras, in Nevada on the west side.
"It's basically this huge area that was the last part to be settled. Civilization really didn't come to that area," he added. "We had roads that went across, and we had railroads that ran across it, but nothing really disturbed it. That is what really allowed him to get away with what he did."
Steber has more than two million books in print and is often considered to be the voice of Eastern Oregon. He has won many national and international awards, with five of his books having been considered as optional for movies.
"To me, it's important when you are telling a story to stick to the facts, and don't embellish it — just tell it in the best way you possibly can," concluded Steber.
"The Last Outlaw" by Rick Steber
Book Launch: 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 featuring artist KC Snider with prints of the cover for sale.
Rick Steber & Company-Makers
Address: 131 NE Fifth St., Prineville
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday
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