Friday, May 11, 2018

True grit in the modern American West: 'The Last Cowboys' by John Branch

The 1,200 acres the Wright family owns in Utah, just shy of Zion National Park, can't alone support their hundreds of cows. To keep the herd growing — as many as 4 pounds a day per head, in peak season — the family leases close to 20,000 acres from the federal government. But developers are coming and tourists are massing and federal employees keep setting the number of animals they can run lower and lower each lease renewal. As John Branch explains in his gripping new book, "The Last Cowboys," there was money to be made — with beef prices rising every year for five years in a row — but those dollars were being made by fewer and fewer ranchers. One of the original Mormon families to settle Utah, the Wrights today are a multigenerational clan headed by Bill, the plain-speaking patriarch who — like his sons and grandsons, but not so much the women, who mostly occupy supporting roles — is both a rancher and rodeo rider. It's nearly impossible not to find Bill earthy and real. "Worst ride I ever had was better than my best walk," he says; one of his two Australian shepherds is named Dog. We fall in love as well with the larger family's ingenuity and way of life. During branding — presided over by Bill, his son Cody and the four grandsons, Ryder, Rusty, Statler and Stetson — each calf is marked with the ranch's unique logo. The cowboys "wiped dryer sheets on their faces, because it was the best thing they'd found for fending off the swarms of gnats that came from nowhere on hot, breezeless days." You can tell, especially when it comes to rodeo — in the galloping career of two-time World Champion Cody Wright and his many talented sons — that Branch logged countless hours in trucks and chutes, surrounded by dirt and dust, to understand just how these worlds function... We don't imagine Branch wants us to think these problems and solutions — the astonishing rodeo success and essential decency of the Wright clan, or their picturesque location beside Zion — would be identical if he had spent a couple of years with another set of ranchers. Certain readers will hunger as well for sharper and more debatable insights about range management and the West. But what Branch focuses on so beautifully is how one remarkable American family navigates the situation of wanting to do dangerous, peculiar and deeply impressive kinds of work. "All they wanted," Branch writes, "was something much like what their ancestors had done: raise cattle and build something together."...MORE

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

4 lbs per day? Must be a record gain for range land.