Horses, Canoes and Gift Fish: the Writings of Patrick McManus


Pat McManus

Pat McManus at Eastern Washington University By Eastern Washington University [CC BY 2.0]

You can’t always be out and about exploring during your adventures.  Sometimes it’s imperative that you sit on the ground, put your back against a tree and open a great book.

Well, Patrick McManus’ books aren’t great in the sense of being an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture, but they are hilarious and, well, maybe they are great books.  Most are compiled of stories from his newspaper columns.

The Tales

McManus exemplifies the wild child – a kid that managed to get into every kind of trouble imaginable and, surprisingly, lived to tell about it.  His characters range from Strange, his aptly named dog, to the woodsman Rancid Crabtree that liked to offer up little life lessons, to his older sister “The Troll” to his best friend Crazy Eddie Muldoon. Not to mention Retch Sweeney,  Al Finley, and his rich friend Fenton Quagmire.


“You know how to check fer thin ice, boy?  Wall, what you do is stick one foot way out ahead of you and stomp the ice real hard and listen fer it to make a crackin’ sound.  Thar now, did you hear how the ice cracked when Ah stomped it?  Thet means it’s too thin to hold a man’s weight.  Now pull me up out of hyar and we’ll run back to shore and see if we kin built a fahr b’fore Ah freezes to death!”

– Rancid Crabtree in They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?

The stories tell the tale of various situations McManus, maybe, experienced as an outdoorsy kid growing up in the forests of northern Idaho.  Situations like the deer on a bicycle, the homemade airplane on the barn roof, levitating Lester, collecting road kill and many more.  Did I mention they are all hilarious?

The Books

As far as I can tell there are 14 books in this series with a story per chapter.  Here they are:

McManus was born and raised in Sandpoint, Idaho (known in his books as Blight, Idaho) the setting of most of his adventures.  I lived for a time just down the road from Sandpoint in Libby, Montana where a couple people I knew actually showed up in McManus’ books.  So, yes the stories are true – as best as McManus can tell them.

The Plays

To build on his distinguished career writing books, McManus decided to write plays (five so far) – starring himself, portrayed by actor Tim Behrens.  There are several  video clips to watch from  his plays on YouTube, if you’d like to get a better idea of his stories.  The complete plays are available on DVD, should you have your DVD player with you in the wilderness:

The Bottom Line

Get one of these books for your next camping trip – pick any of them, you can’t go wrong.

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