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SunLit Interviews

Ian Neligh rode his childhood fascination with heroes and artifacts of the Old West to a year-long project

The award-winning journalist sought to hold up the figures from his youth against modern versions of bounty-hunters, brand inspectors and bare-knuckled brawlers

Ian Neligh.

Ian Neligh has won many state and national journalism awards for his writing and reporting, including first place for online in-depth reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists and first place for investigative reporting from the Colorado Press Association. He has also won numerous awards for his humorous writing. As a journalist, Neligh has flown airplanes, been dog sledding, horseback riding, run with burros, dressed up as mascots, taken part in Civil War reenactments — but generally not at the same time. 

He developed his passion for storytelling growing up in Colorado where around the family dinner table he learned a good story must be captivating — and, if possible, hilarious.

The following is an interview with Ian Neligh.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


What inspired you to write this book?

Like many kids in the Western region, I grew up hearing the stories of the Wild West, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok and was curious to see if some aspect of the Wild West exists today.

I ended up spending a year tracking down and interviewing modern-day gunslingers, bounty hunters, bare-knuckle boxers, treasure hunters, bullfighters, brand inspectors and more to compare them to their historic counterparts.

“SpurredWest”by Ian Neligh.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?

The introduction helps to frame why the book was written and how I went about it. I shared the first half of the chapter on Buffalo Bill Cody because he was the man who arguably popularized the term Wild West. His own life was a combination of real-life heroics and ridiculous tall tales — and he enthusiastically embraced them both. To understand the Wild West, it helps to first understand Buffalo Bill Cody. He represented that time period so well that Colorado and Wyoming have fought over his remains for more than 100 years. 

Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?

I spent a year traveling the Western region looking for people who embodied aspects of the Wild West. My research took me to old newspaper archives and museums. I looked for signs of lost treasure in Colorado and Montana. I met with brand inspectors still hunting for cattle rustlers in the West and interviewed modern-day bounty hunters. To get some sense of what it was like to live off the land during the Old West, I even spent a week in an outdoor survival school.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?

It was challenging to get to the truth behind some tall tales of the Old West and ultimately tricky deciding which of the true stories to focus on — because there are so many great ones! In the end, I chose a little of everything and wrote about historic and modern-day gunslingers, treasure hunters, and more.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet? 

When I’m on deadline, I prefer things to be quiet if possible. I find good research is best accomplished with as little distraction as possible, but I’m also the owner of a Husky who revels in being an agent of chaos and distraction. When I’m out in the field interviewing subjects, I end up in many locations including rodeos, coffee shops, museums, and difficult to reach spots in the mountains. My home office is generally where I write, and I do so during all times of the day.

What’s your next project?

I’ve got a couple of interesting nonfiction projects I’m contemplating as well as my first fiction project.

Buy “Spurred West” through BookBar.
Read an excerpt from the book.

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