Saturday, January 9, 2021

Little Ponies and Saltwater Cowboys

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I wrapped up the year's focus on Colorado history featuring a historical marker honoring the very first Christmas in this state. If you missed that post, you can read it here:

Today, it's a new year, so we have a new theme. I'm in the process of writing a 3-book series set on a little island called Chincoteague, just off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It will feature the stories of my family on my mother's side, many of whom grew up or spent a lot of years on the island.


I don't know about you, but growing up on the Delmarva Peninsula (made up of the entire state of Delaware, and parts of Maryland and Virginia) meant the 1947 book, Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry was famous in those parts. Everyone I knew had heard of or read this book, and the majority of them had actually been to the island itself.

For me, there's an even more personal connection, as my grandfather (mom's dad) grew up on the island. His father owned a barbershop there where he first learned to cut hair. In 1961, Marguerite's book was made into a movie, and the barber shop was featured in one scene. That shop was sold just prior to WWII when my grandfather's family moved to Washington, D.C. and a Father & Son barbershop was opened on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the early 1950's, my great-grandfather retired and returned to his beloved Chincoteague where he died in 1956. When my grandfather left D.C. to also return to Chincoteague in 1978, he took over ownership of a barbershop and continued cutting hair until he passed away in 1982.

I grew up hearing the stories of Misty and the BeeBee family on which Ms. Henry based her book. It wasn't until I was in my late teens when I realized there are several streets on Chincoteague island named after members of my family. There's no doubt in my mind that this connection is the primary reason for my love of horses as a little girl and even to this day.

So many evenings were spent reading about Misty, drawing pictures of horses, and dreaming one day of owning a horse of my own. We had a family reunion one year on Chincoteague, and it took place right around the time of the annual Pony Penning Day. This is a time when the ponies (who actually live and roam wild on the neighboring Assateague Island) are rounded up by the island's fire department volunteers and driven across the shallow channel between the islands.

This event has been taking place since 1925, and the men who do the roundup are called "saltwater cowboys" as they often have to get into the water with the ponies to keep them swimming toward Chincoteague or help the yearling foals swim.

Ms. Henry highlighted this event in her book, which went on to receive the coveted Newbery Award Medal for children's literature. As a child, I never really questioned much about the horses depicted in photographs, and their size never made a difference to me until I saw them up close and in person this one year during Pony Penning Day.

They weren't much taller than I was, and their bodies appeared to be rather plump. I learned this is because of their diet consisting mostly of the grass from the saltwater marshes surrounding Assateague. The salt actually stunts their growth and causes their bellies to be slightly bloated. There have even been times when these ponies have been connected to the Shetland Ponies, located on the Shetland Isles to the northeast of Scotland, but there is no tie between these two breeds.

For years, I was so enamored by Marguerite Henry and her stories. I've read every single one of her books about horses, and even one about a donkey named Brighty in the Grand Canyon. Once I began writing my own historical fiction, it never dawned on me to use Chincoteague as a setting in any of my books.

During a conversation with an editor at a writer's conference, I realized I had actually been putting Ms. Henry and her stories of Chincoteague on an unreachable pedestal. That editor laughed a bit and told me it had been 65 years since that story was written, which meant it was probably safe to use the island as a setting. (grins)

So, that's what I intend to do this year. That editor is interested in a series set on the island and including some of the stories of my family intertwined with the stories of the primary characters. Over the next several months and possibly through this entire year, I'll be featuring various aspects about Chincoteague and Assateague Islands as they pertain to the research I'll be doing for my newest series. Grab your reins and saddle up with me as we travel along this journey and engage in a little horseplay. *smile*


* Have you ever read Misty of Chincoteague? Had you even heard of this book before reading this post?

* What is your favorite memory from childhood, and has that memory inspired anything you do or love to this day?

* Do you have any historical connections like this that beg to have their story told? What are they?

Leave answers to these questions or any comments below. Next month, I'll delve more into the history of Chincoteague Island.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. She loves to share life-changing products and ideas with others to help better their lives.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children, two dogs, and two cats in Colorado. She has sold twenty (24) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.


  1. I enjoyed hearing about your family's connection to the island that I visited on several occasions. Misty was one of my favorite books as a child. I read it often.

  2. Oh I'm so excited! I loved the Misty books! This past year I've been trying to get my granddaughters interested, especially when I heard one of them loves horses. We got as far as watching a documentary on the pony penning. I have a copy of "Misty" but can't convince any of them to read it, much to my chagrin.

  3. Oh my gosh - I have read all the Misty books and loved all of them, including Brighty!! I read them so often they did not survive :(. Looking forward to reading your books set on Chincoteague.

  4. VERY interesting post! I love the Misty books! My 96 year old Dad just watched the movie with me the other day. We both love horses! I can't wait to read your books. I just subscribed to your blog. I haven't read any books by you yet. Thanks for all the information.

  5. Oh my, Misty of Chincoteague was one of my absolute favorite books growing up! I can't even recall how many times I reread it. I read just about all of Marguerite Henry's books and still have them, although they're stored away now. How fascinating that your family has such a strong connection to the island! I've always thought it would be incredible to visit.