A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter’s gripping portrait of one Western family struggling to hold on to age-old American ways.
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A gripping portrait of one family’s gamble that rodeo and ranching are the future of the West—and not just its past.
For generations, the Wrights of southern Utah have raised cattle and world-champion saddle-bronc riders—some call them the most successful rodeo family in history. Now Bill and Evelyn Wright, parents to 13 children and grandparents to many more, find themselves struggling to hang on to the majestic landscape where they’ve been running cattle for 150 years as the West is transformed by urbanization, battered by drought, and rearranged by public-land disputes. Could rodeo, of all things, be the answer?
In a powerful follow-up to his prize-winning, best-selling first book, New York Times reporter John Branch delivers an epic and intimate family story deep in the American grain. Written with great lyricism and filled with vivid scenes of ranch life and the high drama of saddle-bronc competition, The Last Cowboys chronicles three years in the life of the Wrights, each culminating in rodeo’s National Finals in Las Vegas. An unforgettable book by one of the finest reporters of our time, The Last Cowboys is a moving tribute to an American way of life.
“John Branch covers sports the way Lyle Lovett writes country music—a fresh turn on a time-honored pleasure. With his story of the Wright family, kings of the classic rodeo event, Branch has composed a wonderful ballad of intrepid Old West men bucking a modern world that’s going dry fast.”
“John Branch is simply one of America’s best sportswriters and this book showcases every one of his talents. Deeply reported, lovingly told, and beautifully written, The Last Cowboys is a riveting portrait of a crazy dangerous sport and the vanishing landscape that made it possible.”
“The Last Cowboys is brilliantly reported and beautifully written, mixing heart-pounding action with heartbreaking nostalgia. It feels both intimate and epic, timely and timeless. John Branch is a master of narrative nonfiction.”
“The Last Cowboys is a beautiful book, threading deep reporting into a gorgeously written narrative. It is American portraiture at its best.”
“Hold on to your Stetson! John Branch gives us broncs bucking and bones breaking. Through masterful reporting and storytelling alchemy, The Last Cowboys is, at heart, a wise and tender evocation of family, a gritty way of life, and the American West.”
—Gary M. Pomerantz
“The Last Cowboys is a wonderful book about a way of life that has been vanishing for generations but refuses to become extinct. More importantly, it’s a book about family, the land, the West, extraordinary courage, and so many broken bones that rodeo seems to be a form of revenge that horses and cattle administer to people. Branch shows great compassion for the winners and losers of this unforgiving sport, and by the end you get that the sense that—despite all the odds, the development pressures, and the lures of Las Vegas—these may not be America’s last cowboys after all.”
Praise for The Last Cowboys
Saddle-bronc riding is the classic rodeo event, the one depicted in the cowboy silhouette of the Wyoming license plate. It takes balance and rhythm, brains and guts. The cowboy has to stay on the horse for eight seconds to receive a score, and cowboys that ride smoothly usually get rewarded with the best scores. But even staying on doesn’t guarantee earning any money, and the ones left broken in the dirt get nothing.
No family in the world does saddle-bronc as well as the Wrights of Utah. Four of them have been crowned world champion, and there are more Wrights on the way. But rodeo is a young man’s gamble, even for the first family of saddle bronc, and only a few make a working living at it. Every buck of the horse can be the last.
The Wrights know this better than anyone.
YETI Presents: The Wright Boys
An excerpt from The Last Cowboys…
Also by John Branch
“Shows us, in tender detail, a life consumed by our unholy appetites.”—Steve Almond, New York Times Book Review
The tragic death of hockey star Derek Boogaard at twenty-eight was front-page news across the country in 2011 and helped shatter the silence about violence and concussions in professional sports. In this gripping work of narrative nonfiction, Branch tells the shocking story of Boogaard's life and heartbreaking death.
JOHN BRANCH is a reporter for the New York Times. His feature article about an avalanche in Washington state, “Snow Fall,” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize; he has three times been featured in Best American Sports Writing; and his first book, Boy on Ice, won the PEN/ESPN Prize for Literary Sportswiting. Most recently, Branch wrote the feature-length New York Times story about recovering bodies from Everest, called, "Deliverance From 27,000 Feet." He lives near San Francisco.
Photo by Catherine Branch