From Camelot To Abilene

To Owen Wister, the unlikely inventor of the cowboy myth, the trail rider was “the last cavalier,” the savior of the Anglo-Saxon race

We think of the cowboy and of the open range as part and parcel of the American legend that spread eastward from the West during the nineteenth century. Yet the legend had not become national until the early twentieth century, and its principal literary architect was an Easterner to the core. The crucial event in its popular dissemination was The Virginian , a novel written by Owen Wister and published in 1902. Its success was instantaneous, large-scale, and enduring.Read more »


Piskiou,Vaches Sauvages, Buffler, Prairie Beeves—

One morning in July, 1966, a lone buffalo bull grazed near the highway on the mountain between Virginia City and Ennis, Montana, unmindful of the click of camera shutters or the rustle of hesitant tourists getting in and out of automobiles. Nor did his tail rise and kink at carloads of miners and cowboys and store owners and the rest of us, come up from the towns below.Read more »

The Wilder West Of George Lawton

By the 1890’s, when Denver telegrapher George Lawton began collecting the curious photographs on this and the following pages, the era of the Western badmen was coming to an end. The old hiding places were no longer secure: marshals, sheriffs, Pinkerton agents, and bounty hunters swarmed everywhere, eager to claim the rewards posted by banks, railroads, and stockmen, and descriptions of outlaws and their movements could be flashed across the West in an instant by telegraph. Scores of bandits fell to posse bullets; many more were hanged or jailed.Read more »

Sailors, Ships & Seatowns

Images of the Maritime West

Here is a bit of the old West nobody knows—or almost nobody—the West generally overlooked by both the fastdraw myth-makers and the scholars from the Land of Ivy. The cowpoke and the cardsharp, the sodbuster, the gunslinger, the prospector, the men who went down in the mines or up in the trees, ladies of the night and gentlemen of the road have all been popularized and exploited, analyzed and monographed. But scarce a word about poor Jack, who kept it all together out where the dust stopped short. Read more »

A Plundered Province Revisited

The Colonial Status—Past and Present—of the Great American West

The pelts of beaver, the dust of placer gold, the tongues and hides of buffalo, the proteinaceous feed of native grass, the smeltings of precious and commercial minerals, the viscous gush of oil: these have been the elementals of the American West shipped eastward to enrich the nation while the West historically went begging, went bankrupt, struggled to recover before being exploited anew. Bernard DeVoto defined the cycle of mercantilism and misuse in a celebrated essay in Harper’s in 1934.Read more »

The Cowboy And The Critter

It was the time we were working out of the Diamond Hook, Davy Stevens’ starve-out operation at Cloverdale in northern Nevada. Cloverdale was the cluster of sod and tarpaper shanties the RO Ranch was using as a line camp late that particular fall, and Davy Stevens was the eighty-year-old cowman who held title to the spread. The RO and the Diamond Hook outfits shared a corridor of range through the San Antone sand hills, and we used to help Davy with his riding.Read more »

Headin’ for the (Almost) Last Roundup

Organizers held an old-fashioned cattle drive to commemorate the cowboy's role in winning the West, but, as they say, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

The cowboys are gone, and so are the critters, Owen Ulph tells us in “The Cowboy and the Critter” on the preceding pages. The West, Ulph says, will never see their like again. Perhaps-but the image left behind them, lambent with truth or riddled with error, is not something we Americans are willing to give up easily. Or so it would seem from an event that took place in Arizona in the fall of 1975. Read more »

High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy

Who is Colonel Tim McCoy? He is the last surviving cowboy hero of the silent screen. His contemporaries—Tom Mix. Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Fred Thompson, Harry Carey, and lesser lights—are all gone, some of them for many years. Only McCoy remains, now as then solidly sure of the choices in life and decisively intolerant of injustice. Read more »

American Characters

Western miners, the hard-rock stiffs, were as tough and horny-handed a breed of men as any in the world.

The man and the face are anonymous-and familiar. Familiar, because this man, propped up with the tools of his trade, was but one of the many thousands who over a period of about seventy years in the trans-Mississippi West spent the bulk of their adult lives wrestling with the brute immobility of stone. They were miners, hard-rock miners, though more often than not they called themselves hard-rock stiffs, as tough and horny-handed a breed of men as any in the world.Read more »

Knights of the Fast Freight

For hoboes, the West was the land of milk and honey, of adventure, scenery, and easy living. A “land stowaway” hopped the first transcontinental train, and for six more decades they rode the rails

When young Jack London described the Reno of 1892 as “filled with … a vast and hungry horde of hoboes,” he was reporting no isolated phenomenon; shaggy, rootless men—tramps or hoboes—could be seen in every part of the West from the 1870’s down to the Second World War. Beginning in 1869, when Omaha Bill beat his way on the first Union Pacific train to the Coast, they were to be seen on all the western lines.Read more »