Tim Madigan at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram put it this way, "He embarked on Armistice Day 1957, a strapping, dark-haired man whose only companion in a heavily loaded canoe was a dachshund puppy named Watty, who took his name from the Mexican word for peanut,cacahuate. They paddled 175 serpentine river miles in three weeks through chilling rain, bitter blue northers, and warm, radiant, yellow-winter afternoons. Mr. Graves scribbled in small notebooks all the while, seeing, remembering, feeling."
The result was Goodbye to a River, which was published in 1960.
With the first proceeds from Goodbye to a River, he purchased an empty, weary, 400-acre tract of Somervell County land an hour southwest of Fort Worth that would become a place called Hard Scrabble, the title of his second major book published in 1974. There he would build a farm, listen to the screech owl’s song at night, and he and Jane would quietly raise two daughters.
“This place was such a gift to me and my sister,” [his daughter] Helen Graves said Wednesday. “He not only built it, but engaged us in it all along the way. We rode our horses. We walked. We swam. It was an extraordinary way to grow up. It was a labor of love for him, for the land, for literature. The writing was always there, even when he was fencing. It wasn’t something that he saw as separate. Everything was very much apiece.”