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In stores May 15, 2018. Pre-order now.

A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter’s gripping portrait of one Western family struggling to hold on to age-old American ways.

The Last Cowboys

The Last Cowboys is a beautiful book, threading deep reporting into a gorgeously written narrative. It is American portraiture at its best.”

—Susan Orlean

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. Will Bill and Evelyn be able to hold the family together as rodeo injuries pile up and one of their sons goes off on a religious mission? Will their son Cody, a two-time world champion, make it to the finals one last time—and compete with his own son? And will the younger generation—Rusty, Ryder, Stetson, and the rest—be able to continue the family’s ways in the future?


This is a grand and compelling work of reporting that, like Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, offers deep insight into American ritual and tradition. And in telling the Wright family’s story, from branding days to rodeo nights to annual Christmas gatherings, Branch captures something vital of the grit, determination, and integrity that fuel the American Dream.


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. The Last Cowboys is a wonderful ballad of intrepid Old West men bucking a modern world that’s going dry fast."

—Nicholas Dawidoff

Praise for The Last Cowboys

An excerpt from 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

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.


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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.


John Branch

Photo by Catherine Branch