Candy Moulton: Ol Max and The Rounders

Columnist Candy Moulton writes, "You may know the story of The Rounders because you have seen the film starring Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. But you may have never read the novel that inspired the film — and changed Max Evans' life."

Candy Moulton

June 11, 20244 min read

Candy moulton 4 16 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Every year when D-Day rolls around, I get a lump in my throat at the heroic actions of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate a continent.

And I always think of my good friend Ol Max Evans, a New Mexico writer who was among those who landed on Omaha Beach that day.

Max was just a kid then, and fortunately survived that brutal fighting. He would draw from the experience in later years through his art and his writing.

Fifty plus years ago Max Evans wrote a little book. It not only changed his bank account, but it also changed the direction of his life.

Max Evans started out cowboying when he was just a kid. After completing his service to his country during World War II he came home to the Hi-Lo Country of New Mexico.

By the time he wrote The Rounders, he had cowboyed, gotten involved in a mining adventure, had a wife and twin daughters, and lost $86,000 in his mining adventure.

He wrote the book because he had bills to pay; a family to feed. He desperately needed to make some money and so he wrote what he knew: ranch cowboying.

The little book is not like the traditional Western books of the day—it has no shootouts, no story of Buck the cowboy, saving Betsy and her farm (or ranch). But it has cattle – wild, rank beasts. And it has fistfights – call ‘em barroom brawls.

It is the story of two unlikely heroes, men just content to do a good job,  and make a yearly visit to town. And although there are no outlaw men in the book—there is a heck of a good outlaw horse, Old Fooler!

You may be like me and know (or think you know) the story of The Rounders because you have seen the film starring Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. But you may also be like me and have never read the novel that inspired the film—and changed Max’s life.

There are copies of the original publication floating around, and the University of New Mexico Press also published a 50th Anniversary Edition, making it easy to get a copy of the book.

The story involves two contemporary (1960) bronc busters who find themselves banished to a remote area of the Hi-Lo ranching country with a string of barely broke horses and a task to roundup wild cattle all for the promise of a big bonus by the Fourth of July—including the opportunity to go to town.

And of course, there is Old Fooler—the horse that is the third main character; An animal solid and savvy, rank and unpredictable. As Ol Max told me once it was the horse that started it all.

The horse began this story. It saved Max from poverty by becoming a movie that is now a classic.

It launched him to a career that showed readers and other writers it is not necessary to follow the pack, but that breaking out with something new and different, but something you know and can tell in a way nobody else can, is really the best advice and the best action for any writer.

I became good friends with Ol Max and even had the opportunity to do a book with him—Hot Biscuits—which is an anthology of short stories written by ranchwomen and men. 

For Hot Biscuits, Max wrote a foreword and the final story in the collection. He called his story “The Last Cowboy.” I always referred to it as “The Rounders Revisited.”

I suggest you read The Rounders, and then read Max’s story in Hot Biscuits, also published by UNM Press. Those two pieces will give you great appreciation for the hardworking cowboys of the West.

I guarantee that you will laugh, and you may also get a lump in your chest as you recall the good cowboys you may have known in your own lives.

Candy Moulton can be reached at

Share this article



Candy Moulton

Wyoming Life Columnist

Wyoming Life Columnist