If ever there was a labor of love, Bret Marchant’s stunning book “A Clear View of the Pryors” is it – love for his mother, Jackie, who started the project, and love for the land he calls home.
Marchant has been in Lovell to visit his dad, Jack, and promote his book, copies of which quickly sold out during a book signing Saturday at the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce downtown visitor center.
Marchant was born in Lovell and spent his early years in the area before his parents moved to Utah. He has lived for many years near Florence, Ariz., but he returns frequently to roam the country where his family roots run deep. He said his family has lived in the area since 1893.
“There are so many different parts of my family around here, it has given me the opportunity to explore all of these areas,” he said, noting the areas covered by the book. “I’ve managed to see it all.”
Bret’s grandparents, Austin and Louise Marchant, lived at Lovell’s namesake ML (Mason-Lovell) Ranch, working for the Bischoff family, at the Bowler Ranch working for C.A. Lewis and at the Dryhead Ranch.
“My first memories are of the Bowler Ranch on Bowler Flats, and I’ve managed throughout my life to have the opportunity to ride all over the Pryor Country.”
Marchant said exploration is in his blood.
“I’m one of those guys who, I’ll be driving down the road – and I have to do it alone – and I’ll see an old highway and I’ll get off and follow it,” Marchant said. “And then I’ll look for the road before that one, and if I look close I’ll find the old wagon trail or look even deeper and find the old original trail. It’s a sickness.
“If you take the time to find old trails and roads, along the roads you’ll find old cabins and foundations. I’ll say, ‘Why is there a group of cottonwoods down there?’ and sure enough, I’ll find an old corral. Then I’ll have to go back and find out who lived there. I’ve just always been a history buff. Every time I come up here I head off into the hills by myself. I don’t like to be hemmed in.”
From Jackie to Bret
Bret Marchant comes by his love of history naturally.
“I get it from my mother,” he said. “She always gathered history. She took the time to dig up old newspaper articles, and she was organized. She had a lot of material but didn’t know where all of the places were.
“About 2007 Mom got a hold of me and said, ‘I want to write a book, a history book and start at Crystal Creek and work my way around the Pryor Mountains and back to Lovell.’ Her goal was to ‘take me to a spot and tell me the history as far back as you know to the current time.’ That got me going – clear back to the trappers and before. I started to study ancient Indian history, like where they camped.”
Although he didn’t type well at the time, Marchant put pen to paper and hand wrote probably 200 pages of history, including maps, and gave it to his mother. He then gathered and took as many photographs as he could.
Marchant knew he had to pick main themes and stick with them, otherwise “the book would never end.”
“You start on something and open another door and get into that room and spend six months on it, and you might use a fraction of it but it would open another door,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many hundreds of newspapers I would look through and not find anything until I would find an obituary.”
Marchant said just in the time he has worked on the book probably a dozen people died who he wished he could have interviewed. He said lot of family stories get passed along through the generations but don’t get put down on paper. Thus, the main goal of his book is to get the facts down on paper and then in the future someone else can pick up the history trail and continue.”
Around Thanksgiving of 2009, with her health failing, Jackie told Bret where all of her historical files were kept. She also told him he needed to learn how to type.
“In the last 30 days she was giving me subliminal messages,” he said.
Jackie died around Christmas of 2009, and Bret took over the book project and went full steam ahead.
“The last thing I expected to do was to learn how to type at my age, but one day Dad gave me a disk and said here’s all the stuff you and Mom were working on,” Marchant said. “I could not believe my eyes. In the last 45 days she was alive she typed everything I’d written with a laptop.
“Everything I’d written was in front of me and there were places in red saying ‘make sure how to spell that name’ or ‘check this date.’ She was hoping I would carry on with the book. I got into it and started writing. I just took off with the book.”
After four years of learning how to use a computer to dig up information, Marchant had a mostly-finished product.
Marchant said some good luck helped him find a publisher. He was talking with a friend about some novels he is writing based on the stories of the Little People of the Pryor Mountains and surrounding area and the man knew a publisher who would be interested in the subject manner. Marchant got together with Chuck and Peggy Lesher of Writers Cramp Publishing, who agreed to tackle the history book as well as the Little People novels. Their fee was minimal and their work was outstanding, Marchant said.
Chuck Lesher got into the project so much that he ended up knowing the country like a native, even though he’s never been to the Pryors and the Dryhead, and he even helped dig up even more information, as well as historical photos. When Marchant saw the final book layout, he said it brought tears to his eyes. He knew Jackie would be proud.
After reaching the market last December, “A Clear View of the Pryors” is being snapped up and is very popular already. Marchant’s allotment sold out at Saturday’s book signing at the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce building, and when he visited the TX Ranch on Thursday a guest from Australia had a copy of the book with her and said her reading of the book influenced her decision to go to the TX rather than the other guest ranches she was researching.
“That’s what I wanted, for people from all over the world to be intrigued with this country,” Marchant said.
The book is available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and directly from the publisher, Writers Cramp Publishing.
Marchant has also written and published “Nirumbee – The Little People” through Writers Cramp Publishing and is reworking the novel into a four-book Nirumbee series: “Mystic Canyon,” “The Great Migration,” “The Ice Caves” and “Medicine Mountain.”
The first of the series should come out later this summer, he said.
A busy man
Marchant has done all of this while operating Cross Cane Land and Cattle and Marchant Development in the Florence/Queen Creek area in Arizona. He is also a Western singer and songwriter who has been writing songs since he was 16 – probably 200 to 300, he figures – and is working on his seventh CD. He said he was inspired by Ian Tyson and has tried to emulate the Canadian legend’s style. Many of his songs are historical in nature.
As for the book, Marchant said he is indebted to many people who kept treasures of history but never had the chance to do a similar project.
“They would tell me, ‘Please, please, get this down.’ This is an accomplishment of all of them,” he said. “I give credit to everybody I can. I feel like I’m the guy who collected the information and put it down – a vessel. It had to be done, and it will have to be done again in a hundred years.”
Besides his mother and others, Marchant gives credit to his aunt, Pat Kelsey Marchant, who provided a wealth of information for the book including diaries, newspaper articles and more.
“I believe Pat carried in her soul and veins the love of the Pryors as much or more than anyone,” he said.
Bret Marchant and his wife, Rhonda, have four kids and six grandchildren.
By David Peck