The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004

Book Reviews

The Last Cowboy: The Personal Story of a Vanzshzng Cowboy. By Davis L. Ford.
(Austin: Eakin Press, 2002. Pp. xvi+255. Illustrations, appendices, endnotes,
bibliography, index. ISBN 1-57168-709-2. $32.95, cloth.)
A century ago, America was fascinated with the cowboy in dime novels, "Wild
West" traveling circus shows, and later with Hollywood "western" serials and fea-
tures. Now that the cowboy has been replaced by the action-movie hero, a new
genre of popular cowboy history has apparently emerged concerned with find-
ing the "Last Cowboy." This book is one of those that goes in search of the van-
ishing breed. It is different from many of the other "last cowboy" books because
it projects one particular cowboy, Leroy Webb, as the apotheosis of the cowboy
archetype with the highest virtues.
The biographical content reviews Webb's life from a school-dropout ranch
worker to professional rodeo life to successful ranch manager in West Texas,
Colorado, and Eastern New Mexico. The book also opens a window into the lives
of many other individuals with whom he had contact. Webb knew and worked
with the best of his contemporary rodeo and ranching cowboys. The chapter on
"Cowboys I have known" offers brief biographies of cowboys such as Hugh Ben-
nett, Jack Kyle, Carlos Ortiz, and Harp MacFarland. Most poignant in the ancil-
lary biographies are those on his wife, Nora, a dedicated ranch wife, and his son,
Hurley, whose lifelong blindness did not prevent him from becoming one of the
cowboy heroes in the book.
The strength of the book is in its weaving of Webb's life into the context of
ranching history in the second half of the twentieth century. The book provides
a useful secondary-source account of ranching in the eastern New Mexico and
West Texas area. Most elucidating is the author's review of the modernization of
ranching and the beef-processing industry. He describes the transformation of
ranches to feedlots with feed grains, and mass merchandising. The result has
been a ranching industry operated largely by veterinarians, nutritionists, and
marketers.
While parts of the book are interesting, it is pedestrian throughout-its mar-
ket limited to readers of popular western magazines who want a bit more histori-
cal and literary depth. The author draws his inspiration from movies such as
Stagecoach, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, and Red Rzver, and the
views of Ben K. Green, J. Evetts Haley, Walter Prescott Webb, and J. Frank Dobie
(p. viii). Although it includes footnotes and explanatory notes, it relies almost
exclusively on secondary sources-awkwardly mixed with long, extraneous pas-
sages on the histories of hotels and land grants. The book also has a pronounced
chauvinistic tone throughout, employing quotes by "cowboys" like the unsuccess-
ful candidate for Texas governor, Claytie Williams, and J. Frank Dobie in com-
ments decrying political correctness and academicians. Dobie is quoted in the
use of the word "Meskin," which rankles Mexican Americans about as much as
the "N" word does African Americans. Women may find it difficult to read that
true cowboys were good old boys who were tough on cows and "their women"
(p. 35). This blunt language cost Williams an election and Dobie his job. While
it may gratify some readers, it may also cost the book a readership in more schol-
arly markets.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed September 18, 2014.