The Day ‘Longmire’ Creator Craig Johnson Came to Town

Author: Dottie Farrar. Reprinted by permission of the Patagonia Regional Times.
Craig Johnson

Patagonian Cynie Murray (right) persuaded famed ‘Longmire’ author Craig Johnson to visit Patagonia to help raise funds for the town library and the Patagonia Creative Arts Association. Photo by Dottie Farrar

Wearing a big old cowboy hat, jeans and boots, Craig Johnson, Wyoming-based author of the popular long-running “Longmire” mystery series, charmed and awed fans who came to meet him at three events in Patagonia on March 7 ahead of his appearance that weekend at the annual Tucson Festival of Books.

Johnson’s day began when he was welcomed to the Patagonia Library for his morning talk by about 50 people—and one dog. The podium in the filled-to-capacity library reading room was centered under a sign proclaiming “Craig Johnson for President,” jokingly placed there by Friends of the Library. Some folks in attendance wore Longmire t-shirts and hats.

For 90 minutes, a gracious, funny, and intelligent Johnson told stories, read from his latest novel, The Longmire Defense, and answered questions regarding his writing process, inspirations and goals.

Johnson recalled that he was in his 40s when he wrote his novel Cold Dish, published in 2003, about “the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state”—that is, Sheriff Walt Longmire of the fictional Absaroka County, located in northern Wyoming.

After reading the manuscript, Johnson’s editor and publisher were so impressed that they asked him to do a series of Longmire books, one every year for the foreseeable future. The books have been hugely successful, inspiring a Longmire television series that ran for six seasons on A&E and Netflix.

Johnson told the library audience that he sees the Longmire series as a “tapestry with all kinds of threads that make the whole. The voice of each character has to be very different from the others. There has to be knowledge of the community, conflict must be there. Things have to line up. Is this a social issue? Is it believable? The structure depends partly on the weather, using the four seasons. Each book takes place in a different season, so a completely different world. It takes four books to complete a year of Walt’s life. So Walt’s only five years older [now] than when we first met him.”

Craig Johnson (in hat) chats with Patagonia Library patrons who came to hear him discuss his work and read from his latest novel. Photo by Cynie Murray

An hour and a half at the library passed all too quickly, and around noon it was time for Johnson to move on to the day’s second event, a book signing at the Trading Post. Longmire fans came from as far away as Sierra Vista, Green Valley, Tucson and Phoenix, with some folks planned to attend the Tucson Festival of Books the next day to enjoy Johnson again. Trading Post owner Andy Anderson said, “It was a fantastic event. It introduced many new people to Patagonia.”

Next on Johnson’s schedule was an evening event that began in the courtyard of the Creative Arts Center. Piñatas, fairy lights, live music, beverages and Southwest Arizona appetizers decoratively arranged on long tables created a festive atmosphere. Around 100 people, paying $50 each, reveled in the company of the author, who mingled and chatted, signed more books, laughing and telling more stories. As it began to lightly rain, everyone moved inside to the Tin Shed Theater for the author’s talk and a Q & A.

Cassina Farley, director of the Creative Arts Association, introduced Johnson saying, “Speaking of generosity of spirit and abundant creativity, add in abundant charm, extraordinary talent and a big old cowboy hat, here he is.”

Johnson was indeed very charming and very funny. For example, he said of one of his most well-known characters Henry, a Cheyenne: “Henry figured that the reason the Cheyenne had always ridden Appaloosas into battle was because by the time the men got there, they were so angry with the horses they were ready to kill anything.”

Johnson told more stories about his experiences writing, the people in his community and the Native Americans living on the reservation near his ranch in Ucross who were the inspiration for many characters in his books, including Henry, owner of the Red Pony Bar, who figures prominently in the series. Fans also learned that the character of Vic is “kind of” based on Johnson’s wife, Judy.

Discussing his day-to-day life as an author, Johnson said, “I write for a living. I don’t have time to dawdle around. My workload is a book a year. When I write I know who did it and I know why. I understand why and what they did.”

Asked if he discussed his books with anyone while he was writing them, Johnson quipped, “In the morning when I feed my horses, I discuss my books with them. They listen to me because I haven’t fed them yet.”

He closed the evening arguing for his strong belief that the written word will endure in popular culture.

“Writers have a tool, which is the reader’s imagination,” he said. “Hollywood doesn’t stand a chance against a book.”

It is this loyalty to books and libraries that helped bring Johnson to Patagonia for this day of events in the first place.

“I got an email from some people I know saying, Hey, can you conjoin your appearance at the Tucson Festival of Books with a visit to Patagonia?” Johnson said. “I said sure, if my visit can benefit the local library.”

The people Johnson knew turned out to be Patagonia’s Cynie Murray, whose sister lives in Sheridan, Wyoming near Johnson’s hometown of Ucross, population 25. Cynie had been reading the Longmire books and her sister had been viewing the Longmire series on Netflix. The women decided it was worth a try to see if they could lure Johnson to Patagonia for a talk and book signing. So last fall Cynie emailed Johnson, mentioning that she had tended bar at Porky’s in Ucross back in the 1980s. Connection made. Johnson agreed to come to Patagonia before the Festival of Books. The Patagonia Library, the Creative Arts Association (PCAA) and the Trading Post collaborated to make the arrangements. Profits from Johnson’s appearance were split 50/50 between the library and the PCAA.

A week after Johnson’s tour of Patagonia, people were still talking about how great it was to have the Longmire author visit our community. Jade De Forest at the Library summed it up best, saying, “It was simply wonderful.”