Canadian author Nikki Tate could write about the history and landscape of Nevada and put the state's historical characters and events in her children's books.
But there's one thing for which she couldn't have found a definition until she rode the Pony Express Trail across the state: the unforgettable scent of fresh sage.
"They never described that," she said of historical accounts she researched.
To the delight of around 30 second- to fifth-graders at Hugh Gallagher Elementary School, Tate rode into Virginia City on Friday astride her white, 21-year-old Arabian mare, Breezy. She brought with her a tale of riding across the middle of Nevada and a glimpse at the life of a Pony Express rider.
Each horse would be ridden 10 to 12 miles before riders threw their mail mochillas to another horse. Riders would jump from one horse to another, she told the children.
What kind of people rode on the trail?
"Cowboys and cowgirls," one little girl replied.
Probably not any girls, but boys for sure.
"Do you think they used fat, old men?" Tate asked. "No? What would happen if they did?"
"The horse would fall down," another boy said.
Pony Express riders were usually young, skinny orphan boys who nobody would miss if they died on the trail, certainly "not old ladies like me," Tate said.
Tate, of Victoria, British Columbia, decided to ride across Nevada in part to publicize her children's book, "Jo's Triumph." It's the story of a 12-year-old girl who cuts her hair, escapes from the Carson City Home for Unfortunate Girls and, posing as a boy, becomes a Pony Express rider.
Tate likes to visit small rural schools where school children don't have an opportunity to have many guest speakers.
Children peppered Tate and her daughter, Dani, 15, also a budding author, with questions about writing books. Children listened wide eyed with their mouths slightly opened as Tate read a section of "Jo's Triumph."
Ethan Garner, 8, pumped his arm back and forth muttering, "Yes, yes, yes." after he won a copy of Tate's latest book in a raffle.
"I like horses and it sounds interesting," he said. "I liked how she read part of the book. She read it so it sounded interesting."
Fifth-grader Marissa Moya planned to buy a book, but won one instead. She's looking forward to digging into Jo's story.
"I always wanted to learn more about the Pony Express," she said.
Tate will sign books today at Virginia City's Mark Twain book store. Monday, she will present children at Gardnerville Elementary School with letters carried in her leather mochillas from British Columbia. Tuesday, she will present some of the pen-pal letters to Washoe County school children.
IF YOU GO
What: Book signing with children's author, Nikki Tate
When: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., today
Where: Mark Twain Books, 111 S. C St., Virginia City
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