Liz Hughey loved to pack and is passing that passion on to the next generation through her book series.

A handful of eager youth ran into the corral when Liz Hughey invited them to put their hands on her sawbuck pack saddle and bedroll pack she had on hand at Art of the Cowgirl in Queen Creek, Arizona. The former Colorado packer led an interactive demonstration on packing for kids at the event, and it was nearly as popular as her books on the same subject.

Hughey, who now lives in southeastern Indiana on her family’s Red Angus farm, packed in the Steamboat Springs, Colorado, area with Steamboat Lake Outfitters and J Bar H Outfitters. When she became a mom, she wanted to instill the same love for mule packing in her son, Wade, but couldn’t find a book to fit her needs.

“I love reading meter and rhyme; it is so great for building vocabulary in kids. I really looked, searched, for about a month online and didn’t find anything,” she recalls. “About 1:30 one morning, I got this idea in my head; I got up, wrote it down, and the next morning, I read my little poem I’d written, and thought, ‘That’s a children’s book!’”

Armed with her budding book but lacking the next step, Hughey took a leap of faith and wrote to Baxter Black, her “literary hero.”

Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

“He got back to me and said to read [his] book, “Secrets of a Desperado Poet,” then he called and walked me through self-publishing,” she says. “He said illustrations are what sell books and that [I needed to contact] a mule artist in Idaho. Bonnie Shields and I became quick friends. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of Baxter, Cindy Lou and Vicky at Coyote Cowboy Company.”

The first book, “Barney the Lopsided Mule,” kicked off a series of three that focus on themes Hughey puts to use in her own home with her now 9-year-old son.

“The rules in my home are: be polite, eat your veggies and go get dirty,” she says. “The message in ‘Barney the Lopsided Mule’ is to eat your veggies; in ‘Pack String Hang-Up: A Mule Trail Tale,’ the message is teamwork. In ‘Trash Talk,’ the message is don’t be a litterbug!”

The books have earned recognition at the Equus Film & Arts Festival, earned Will Rogers Medallion Awards and traveled into the hearts of children that live in cities and in rural America. While she sold out of “Barney the Lopsided Mule” while in Arizona, readers can purchase Hughey’s books at

Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

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