Through the Fire


Over the past four decades, the Texas Panhandle has been the backdrop for one of the most popular and acclaimed book series.

“Hank the Cowdog” has inspired families around the world having been translated into multiple languages, but the story behind John Erickson’s latest release is universal.

Tragedy is unpredictable but the generosity that springs from the ashes is inescapable.

It was March 6, 2017. It started out like a normal day for the Erickson’s. Kris and John were enjoying life on the great wide open.  

Their little slice of paradise stretches out over 5,000 acres. The Erickson’s bought the ranch in 1990 and moved there three years later.

It is nestled somewhere between county roads and crossing guards southeast of Perryton.  It is picturesque. The caprocks and canyons carve out a landscape fitting of a John Wayne western.

The fire would change everything.

John and Kris were able to escape but everything they left behind when they drove to town on March 6, 2017 was lost in the fire.

“When John told me it was time to go I didn’t know what that meant,” says Kris Erickson. “We figured we would be out the next day.”

John Erickson told his wife to grab her laptop and mandolin because the fire was getting too close.

The Texas A&M Forest Service called it the Perryton Fire. When the last ember was out, it had burned more than 300,000 acres. 

“That fire didn’t leave much,” John recalls.  “That was a hot fire.”

The Erickson’s son Mark drove in from Amarillo early the next morning. He would call his dad to deliver the bad news.

The house was gone.

The losses began to add up. The bunkhouse and John’s writing office were nothing but rubble. The fire took their dog, a horse, and a yearling or two.

Mrs. Erickson remembers getting to the ranch and seeing everything for the first time. 

“When we got there it was indeed gone. You’re just in shock.  Everything you had for 25 to 30 years that you were use to and comfortable with and enjoyed were gone,” she said.

When John talks about losing everything he quotes Job 1:21, “It brings to mind the passage in Job which I’ve said many times, naked we come into this world, naked we will leave it.”

John said the experience was branded on their minds and he knew he had to write about it but had no idea where it was going to go.  

“I don’t like unhappy endings,” says John. “I think that art as I practice it should seek to go beyond the crucifixion and find the resurrection. I didn’t know whether I could do that or not.”

As the Erickson’s picked up the pieces, they found strength in their community, in their faith, and with their family.

“Our son Mark wrote a song about the fire and it’s called Restoration,” says Kris. “One of the lines in it is, if restoration is a burden too heavy for you, let me be your strength.”

The family found restoration.

John got a new writing office in the same place where the old Hank stories came to life. They moved in a double-wide mobile home and built a new front porch. It was home.

John began writing down things he was doing on a daily basis after the fire. He was not sure how he was going to use it but he knew he would need it. Enter Hank the Cowdog.

A typical Hank the Cowdog book takes four to six weeks to write.  This one only took three weeks.  

It was through his trusted friend of 36 years that John was able to get closure. Hank helped him heal.

“It was hard to face nothing and having to accept the charity and the goodness of people in our church and town,” says John. “But as one of the characters in the new Hank book says, ‘well Mr., if you don’t like taking charity in the Texas Panhandle don’t let your house burn down because if it does, you’re going to get help.’”

Through the lens of generosity, John Erickson found his happy ending, “We can’t expect to escape hardship and tragedy but when it happens, we are not alone.”

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