Don Alonzo “Lon” Taylor, the Johnny in this book, was born of a pioneering family whose moves westward closely followed America’s development. An early ancestor, Thomas Taylor, was born at an Indian outpost on the Merrimac River, north of Boston, in 1710; the family progressively moved west, ending with his own migration to California in 1924. It is not surprising that in 1882, the Taylors, along with twenty other families, were on the first train ever to come to the Dakota Territory.
Eight-year-old Lon, with his four siblings, reveled in the homesteading life in the area north of Ellendale, North Dakota. As an adult he moved buildings (still an active occurrence in modern day North Dakota), many of them damaged by tornadoes. He also worked as a contractor, building silos, barns and houses. Upon his marriage to Jennie Anderson in 1901, he built a home in nearby Oakes, North Dakota, where they raised their four children. In 1924 the family moved to the milder California climate, settling in the town of Alpine, near San Diego, where Lon continued to work in construction.
Obviously, he never forgot his boyhood adventures in the Dakota Territory and because he wanted to tell his children “about exploring the wild prairies, and finding a lake white with pelicans, or watching a wolf attack antelope . . . to tell them about men he knew and the things he learned from them,” we are all the richer.
Though Don Alonzo Taylor is the real author of the Old Sam tales, it is his daughter Hazel Hohanshelt we have to thank for bringing the stories to wider notice. A dedicated schoolteacher, she read her father’s stories to hundreds of school children. She watched them live over and over again the boys’ many prairie adventures with Old Sam. Their enthusiasm inspired her to undertake the editing process that finally led to the stories being published in two volumes by Follett Publishing Company: Old Sam, Thoroughbred Trotter in 1955 and Old Sam and the Horse Thieves in 1967.
Born in 1905, Mrs. Hohanshelt attended college in California and, before and after her marriage to Forrest Hohenshelt whom she had known in North Dakota, taught school in Alpine, California until her retirement in 1962. Since her husband’s death in 1970, Mrs. Hohenshelt has continued to live alone in the Hohenshelt home whilst the community she served for so many years has grown up around her. Now in her nineties, Hazel Hohenshelt is delighted that yet another host of children will have the opportunity to enjoy her father’s adventures in the Dakota Territory with Old Sam, thoroughbred trotter.