How ranchers in the West survive on their winnings from rodeo riding
No doubt there is something romantic, even literary, about rodeo: the grit, the sacrifice, the tinge of nostalgia, the dust lingering beneath the floodlights after the final ride. And yet, unlike baseball or boxing, rodeo is rarely given serious literary treatment. If you Google “books about rodeo” you’ll find no passion project of a great American novelist but instead a smorgasbord of trashy romance novels, each one adorned with a square-jawed cowboy unencumbered by his pearl snaps, the sunset bouncing off his waxy chest.
This makes “The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West” seem entirely overdue. The book, an intimate if sometimes insular portrait of one family’s rodeo dynasty, profiles the Wrights of southern Utah, who have ranched on Smith Mesa near Zion National Park for 150 years, “long before there were any roads to get there,” writes author John Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter. But in the 21st century, as climate change triggers periods of drought, land values continue to skyrocket, and the attraction of Zion expands along with its hotels, restaurants and bike shops, the family operation finds itself “squatted at the intersection of the old and new Wests.”