Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 4, Fall 1981, pp. 268-69.
This book is a valuable contribution to the history of the working cowboy and the ranches that brought him into being. The twentieth century has furnished a wealth of books, both historical and fictional, delineating the cowboy and his way of life. Most have dealt with the old-time cowboy who followed cattle up the long trails from Texas and carved out his livelihood on the open ranges of the West. Few have been written on the modern cowboy, living within fences and under vastly changed conditions.
John Erickson has provided this modern version. An excellent writer, Erickson has spiced his account of a difficult four years with a great deal of humor. To the reader who knows ranch life the story rings true. We find in its pages, for instance, the word "chousing," used in the right place with the right meaning. The word was likely invented on the range when a green hand stirred up a herd of cattle unnecessarily and was curtly ordered to "stop chousing those cows." Any such treatment of cattle costs the owner money in lost animal weight.
The setting, as the title implies, is the Oklahoma Panhandle, but it could have been almost anywhere in cattle country. However, the particular outfit, the Crown Ranch, was somewhat unusual. As the cowboy author describes it, he and his family lived "in a Greek mansion, surrounded by statues of Venus and Sappho .... After a day on horseback I bathed in a tub made of black marble and drew my bath water from a spigot made in the image of a swan." There is more about this "Prairie Parthenon."
This ranch was different, too, in that it was stocked with wild cattle. Why they were wild, Erickson never figured out, but wild they were and wild they stayed. This curious factor, coupled with the extremely rough country in which they ranged, was a combination that forced the panhandle cowboy to use saddle horses more than most ranches do today. The four-wheel-drive pickups, so much in use on modern ranches, just couldn't negotiate some of the Beaver County terrain.
Even the horses on the ranch presented unusual problems. The confrontations and solutions in this respect offer some special entertainment. Only the weather, which ranged from blizzards to blast-furnace winds, was of the kind cowboys from Texas to Montana grow accustomed to.