The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000

Book Reviews

This volume brings environmental history into the millennium, connecting
new issues, such as gender, urbanism, and ethnicity, with the older themes of
region, wilderness, and frontier. While a collection of individual essays can tend
to have an unevenness of quality, each section develops its subject and presents a
different perspective. Notes are produced at the end of each essay to provide the
reader with sources and additional references. Brief sketches of the contributors
are included at the end of the book. Hal Rothman is to be commended in com-
piling the essayists and the themes of this volume. To the new reader of environ-
mental history, Reopening the American West is a great introduction; to those
already familiar with the discussions, this book expands those issues and opens
new topics to the field.
Salt River Project SHELLY C. DUDLEY
Let the Cowboy Ride: Cattle Ranching in the American West. By Paul F. Starrs.
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. xx+356. Illustrations,
lists, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.
ISBN 0-8018-5684-1. $35.95, cloth.)
Cattle ranching on the federal domain in the 1990s, and the tension that rela-
tionship engenders, is the subject of Paul Starrs' somewhat curiously titled study
in cultural geography. In reality, ranching and cowboying are distinct subcul-
tures; yet in the minds of most Americans they are synonymous, inseparable.
They both represent a way of life, one that the author thinks should and will sur-
vive, in spite of the anti-grazing outcry that envirowriter Ed Abbey and others
caused to become shrill in the 1980s. Washington's tenant ranchers are "sea-
soned pragmatists" (p. 2o7), who will make the necessary accommodations, and
besides, public sentiment is overwhelmingly on their side.
Starrs, a geography at the University of Nevada-Reno who spent considerable
time working cattle in eastern California and the Great Basin, set out to write "a
scholar's book" that displays "firsthand knowledge of landscape and its partici-
pants" (p. xx). He has done just that, to the extent that his densely worded intro-
duction and the first part of the book, devoted to detailed background discus-
sion, will likely discourage all but the most tenacious nonacademics. The essence
of the author's message-"The land's the thing" (p. 3)-becomes clear in parts
two and three, especially as reinforced by one northern Nevada cowman:
"However we try, we can't get past the fact that they [the federal government]
have what we need, and the sons-a-bitches won't turn loose of it" (p. 1).
Tensions between range users and federal landlords, principally the Forest
Service and the Bureau of Land Management, are studied in four public domain
counties: Rio Arriba in northern New Mexico, Cherry in northwestern Nebraska,
Sheridan in north central Wyoming, and Elko in northeastern Nevada. For con-
trast, Starrs, in his least effective chapter, has included consideration of Deaf
Smith County in the Texas Panhandle, because Texas, which retained its
undeeded acreage upon admission to the United States, exemplifies "the quick
movement of land into private hands" (p. 1 lo). Analysis of the impact of federal
land ownership in Rio Arriba and Elko counties is convincing, as are the three
concluding chapters, which offer interpretation and a definite point of view:

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/. Accessed August 20, 2014.