Kings of Colorado

A Novel

Kings of Colorado

A heartfelt portrait of a bygone age.

William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same.

Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards.

With twenty-four months of hard time ahead of him, Will quickly learns to distinguish his allies from his enemies. He also learns about the high price of a childhood lost. At Swope, herds of mustangs are trucked in to be broken by a select group of inmates. Once the horses are gentled, they are sold to ranchers and landowners across the Southwest. Horses come and go, delinquent boys come and go. The boys break the horses, Swope Reformatory breaks the boys. Throughout this ordeal, Will discovers three others who bring him into their inner circle. They are life preservers in a sea of violence and corruption.

But if the boys are to withstand the ranch, they must first overcome tragedy and death—a feat that could haunt them for years to come.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439183847 | 
  • January 2011
List Price $2.99 (price may vary by retailer)


Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Kings of Colorado includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author David E. Hilton. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


To defend his abused mother, thirteen-year-old William Sheppard stabs his drunken father in the ribs. He’s sentenced to two years at the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory in rural Colorado. Despite being located in the beautiful mystique of the Colorado wilderness, William soon realizes how dangerous and brutal the Reformatory is. Each day he must navigate a world packed full of troubled boys and guarded over by wicked and cruel men. The only true outlet the boys are allowed is their relationship with the horses they are charged with “breaking in.” Young Will quickly finds that he must overcome tragedy and death if he is to withstand the ranch, but only at the cost of losing his innocence.


1. Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Do you agree/disagree with that remark? How do you think that relates to the novel?

2. Discuss the role of th see more

About the Author

David E. Hilton
Photo by Patrick Wilson

David E. Hilton

David E. Hilton earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard Payne University in 1998. He wrote Kings of Colorado mostly in his apartment’s stairwell just after the birth of his first son. He spends his spare time either writing or training his miniature dachshund to run in the annual Buda Weiner Dog Races. He lives just outside Austin.