Actually, There’s 1 More Spur Award Winner From Wyoming (And He Won 2 Of Them)

Saratoga's J.B. Zielke has rolled his experiences cowboying on six continents into his acclaimed novel "The Lost Cowboy," which won two 2024 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America. He joins four other Wyoming writers to be honored.

Andrew Rossi

March 15, 20246 min read

Wyoming author J.B. Zielke has won two 2024 Spur Awards for his Western novel "The Lost Cowboy."
Wyoming author J.B. Zielke has won two 2024 Spur Awards for his Western novel "The Lost Cowboy." (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming is well-represented in the list of 2024 winners of the Western Writers of America’s Spur Awards.

Saturday’s announcement of the winner had a handful of Wyoming writers named for what’s considered the highest honors for Western writers.

Two of those are Cowboy State Daily contributors Candy Moulton and Rod S. Miller. Moulton won Best Biography for her book “Sacajawea: Mystery, Myth, and Legend.” Miller’s poem “Even the Birds” was a finalist for Best Western Poem.

Craig Johnson, author of the popular Walt Longmire series, won Best Western Contemporary Novel for “The Longmire Defense.” And W. Michael Gear won Best Western Short Fiction for his story “Bad Choices: A Wyoming Chronicles Story.”

But there was one other Wyoming winner, and a notable one at that.

Saratoga's J.B. Zielke is the only Wyoming writer to win two 2024 Spur Awards, both for the same novel, “The Lost Cowboy.” He won for Best Contemporary Nonfiction Book and Best First Nonfiction Book.

Although the awards were announced less than a week ago, Zielke told Cowboy State Daily that it’s already having an enormous impact on his life and sales of the novel.

“I was pretty surprised when a friend reached out and said, ‘Congratulations on your Spur Award,’ and I have no idea,” he said. “The amount of people reaching out and congratulating me has been pretty overwhelming, and I definitely saw a little spike in book sales.”

Learning From Locals

“The Lost Cowboy” is a memoir of Zielke’s experiences ranching around the globe. After growing up near Saratoga, Zielke spent his early 20s living the Wyoming cowboy lifestyle on ranches across six continents, from Argentina to Mongolia.

“You can find work pretty much anywhere,” he said. “At a lot of places I went, I just worked for a bed and food. I traveled until I ran out of money and had just enough to get home. Then I'd come back and work on a ranch in Encampment until I had money to travel again.”

Zielke’s goal was to get a real-world education by doing. He learned how communities on different continents grow their food and manage their livestock by working alongside them and comparing it to his ranching experiences in Wyoming.

“Ranching and agriculture happen everywhere on Earth,” he said. “I went and worked just to get the experience and learn from the locals. There are a lot of places that are not quite as civilized as the U.S. Life was very different, and the challenges that people faced were, in some cases, extraordinary — things that most Americans probably wouldn't think about. But then they had everyday agriculture that probably would be somewhat relatable to most Americans.”

Entertaining Scrapes With Death

The inspiration for “The Lost Cowboy” came from a harrowing ordeal.

During one of many “near-death experiences” chronicled in his book, Zielke said he found himself in the middle of a cartel gunfight.

“I was laying on a cold concrete floor below a window trying not to catch a stray bullet from this gunfight,” he said. “And I got to thinking, ‘I don't want to take the stories to the grave with me if I die, so maybe I should start writing them down.’ And that eventually turned into my book.”

Zielke describes “The Lost Cowboy” as a collection of “near-death experiences and things people would find entertaining, all based around ranching and agriculture.”

It’s his memoir of a few eventful years in the life of a young, globe-trotting Wyoming cowboy.

The authentic cowboy lifestyle is a significant theme in the book and Zielke’s life. He cites media like the TV show “Yellowstone” and the Longmire books and series as signs of a resurgence of “the cowboy” in popular culture.

“It's really all I know, and it's what I've done with the majority of my life,” he said. “Fortunately, cowboy culture is cool again. It seems like people are willing to listen to the stories and tell them in whatever way they're being told. It's a good time to be alive if you're in the ranching world, because people actually find it interesting.”

Many Ways To Tell A Story

Since the publication of “The Lost Cowboy,” Zielke still ranches and writes. But he doesn’t consider himself “full-time” for anything at the moment.

“I still travel around the country working on ranches,” he said. “I've been trying to line up as many book signings as I can, and I've recently done a little bit of public speaking. I've been trying to get more into talking to groups and stuff about my book and international agriculture.”

Zielke also founded a video production company that shoots music videos with working cowboys. The goal is compelling storytelling, whatever the medium.

“I don't even really consider myself a writer,” he said. “I would consider myself a storyteller more than a writer. Writing is only one way to tell stories, and I think there are many other ways that I can tell stories and capture other people's stories as well.

“So, for the foreseeable future, that's what I plan on doing: telling stories and capturing other people's stories.”

One definite event in Zielke’s foreseeable future is a June trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the Western Writers of America annual conference. There, he’ll receive the two Spur Awards he won for “The Lost Cowboy,” placing him among the highest-regarded writers in the Western genre.

Zielke believes the announcement has introduced his book to people who otherwise might not have found it. For someone who was trying to live and write about the experiences of a Wyoming cowboy, being a Spur Award winner is uniquely surreal.

“I don't think I've ever won an award for anything,” he said. “It's pretty amazing and a pretty good feeling.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.