J.B. Zielke is a Wyoming cowboy with an extensive travel log. Zielke has traveled by horseback on every continent on Earth that supports livestock.
He’s been everywhere from Argentina to Mongolia, Mexico to Australia, and Sweden to South Africa. Zielke has experienced all sorts of adventures and has witnessed gunfights, wild bulls, bank truck robberies and even reindeer riding, just to name a few. Luckily for us, he’s been able to capture these memories and much more in his book, “The Lost Cowboy.”
In advance of the first book signing and live music event to celebrate “The Lost Cowboy” at The Virginian Saloon last week, author J.B. Zielke joined us recently in the KHOL studios.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on May 19.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: Where did the inspiration come from to put your thoughts on paper?
J.B. ZIELKE: The reason why I started writing was when I was down in Mexico, I ended up in the middle of a gunfight going on in the streets, and it was pretty terrifying. Once I got back in the house, [I was] laying on the floor below the window, just trying not to catch a stray bullet as this was going on in the streets. And I got to thinking, any of this that I’ve done could kill me.
So after that day, I started writing, at least taking down the journal. And then when I got back to Wyoming, I started documenting it a little bit more. I just started leaving myself voice memos, kind of an audio journal, just to remember what all had happened. And then that turned into a book because originally I thought I might just kind of give that to a ghostwriter or something. And then the more I thought about it, if that book didn’t do well, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened had I wrote it. And I personally couldn’t live with that. So I thought, I’m just going to start writing a little bit at a time.
I started writing about a thousand words a day while I was night-time calving for my grandpa, and that’s about three months out of the year that I would just write a thousand words a day. And so it was a couple of different years in a row I would write during that time and then shelf it the rest of the year and not even think about it. So, some of it was written in a barn. Sometimes I was sitting in a pickup with my laptop with a soggy, wet, cold calf that I had just pulled out of the snow bank. And he’s warming up on the floor and I’m writing down, typing on my laptop. So that’s how I wrote it. It was not necessarily the conventional way of writing, and it was about four years of working just three months out of the year, four or five years, and it turned into a whole book.
KHOL: There’s a quote from the foreword of your book from musician Colter Wall. He says “something has driven JB to travel to where the modern world has just begun to meet the untamed land.” Can you expand on that for us and tell us what you hope people get out of your book, “The Lost Cowboy?”
ZIELKE: Most of these places I traveled to, I didn’t go do the typical guided tours of these places. I kind of refused to do that because I want to go really experience the culture and see people that are off the beaten path, that are kind of obscured by modern things. So I mean, I met people for the first time that were illiterate, adults that were illiterate. It was kind of mind blowing the first time I ever saw that. And I don’t really see a lot of that when you stay right on the beaten path. And so I wanted to go experience as much of that as possible. And you hear people nowadays say, ‘Oh, I was born 100 years too late. I wish I could have lived back then.’ Well, the truth of the matter is you still can. I mean, sell your stuff and move to Mongolia or Argentina. And I mean, they don’t have phones. They don’t check their email. A lot of them can’t read and write. They’re riding horses to get their food and everything. So, it still exists. They’re kind of like time capsules that you can jump back into. And unfortunately a lot of them, I think, are kind of vanishing. So, to me, it was important to go see those before they were long gone.
As far as what I’d like people to take from the book, I absolutely would not condone doing what I did. It was very dangerous. I don’t know that I would do it all again because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started. But what I hope people do take from that is that I really had no money. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just was dirt bagging all across the world. I think what people could take from that is that you could apply that to your life in very different ways. And maybe that just means getting out here in the mountains more often, going on more solo trips. Go camp by yourself, because a lot of people are uncomfortable with things like that. It’s about doing things that are uncomfortable, outside your comfort zone, because that’s where you really grow and learn a lot about yourself. I hope people can take that from the book and apply it in whatever way it works for them.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with J.B. Zielke.