The Secret Life of Cowboys

The Secret Life of Cowboys

by Tom Groneberg


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In this classic memoir, a young man facing a future he doesn’t want to claim has an inspiration—Go West. Tom Groneberg leaves behind friends and family, follows his heart, and heads to a resort town in the Colorado Rockies, where he earns his spurs as a wrangler leading tourists on horseback. Later, Groneberg moves to Montana, where he works for wages at a number of ranches before buying his own ranch. Demystifying the image of cowboys as celluloid heroes, The Secret Life of Cowboys is a coming-of-age story as stunning as the land itself and a revealing look at America’s last frontier.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806136509
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 12/28/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Tom Groneberg and his wife, Jennifer, have lived and worked in four Montana locales, managed a ranch, and introduced their three sons to cowboy life. Today they live in northwest Montana, where Tom has a day job on a working cattle ranch.


Polson, Montana

Date of Birth:

October 17, 1966

Place of Birth:

LaGrange, Illinois


B.A., University of Illinois, 1988; University of Montana, 1991

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Secret Life of Cowboys 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
snat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Groneberg's non-fiction account of his love affair with the West, its land, and its people, is an enjoyable read for anyone who has ever thought, even for a second, that "I shoulda been a cowboy." An English major from Chicago, Groneberg chronicles how his love for the ranch life evolves from the romanticized West of myth to an honest admiration for the hardscrabble existence that actually exists in its place. In the process, Groneberg himself evovles as he is forced to confront his definition of himself, his status as the eternal outsider, and the daily struggle with life and death that is part of ranch life. While the book lagged at times (I found my mind occasionally slipping into a sing-song litany of "Cows, and horses, and hay, oh my!"), it was an overall entertaining read. I would have enjoyed it more if I had also read a novel in conjunction with the book and alternated between the two.
baggette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read the dust jacket and saw that this was largely about the author's life in Montana. I've always been fascinated by the idea of Montana, so itlooked like an interesting way to spend a weekend. I wasn't disappointed. This is a rough chronical of the author's experiences with ranching and 'Cowboy-up' times just out of college.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I grew up in the fifties when Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Rex Allen were Saturday matinee heroes. So of course I wanted to be a cowboy too. I had the sixguns (cap pistols) and the hat and my brothers and I rode the range of the local sandpit on our imaginary mounts. Then I graduated to Peckinpah and adult westerns and eventually forgot about being a cowboy. Tom Groneberg never did. After finishing college in Illinois he headed west and chased his dream of cowboying, first as a dude ranch trail guide, then as a real ranch hand. He rode broncos a couple times He even had his own ranch for a while, but found out there was a lot more to ranching than meets the eye - too much pressure, too many heartbreaks. So he went back to working for wages. And he wrote it all down - all the stories about horses and hay crops and cows and rodeos. And there's a love story in there too. He loved the land and cowboying, of course, but most of all he loved his wife, Jennifer, who was with him through all of this stuff. And he learned about being a father. There's plenty of great prose here about riding the range and branding and just plain working his butt to a tired nub. But here's a passage that nearly made me cry, about being there when his son was born - "I hold Jennifer's hand the entire night, through the contractions and the fears. And then, after seventeen hours, it is time. I have seen so many cows give birth, witnessed the bloody miracle of a calf's first breath, but when the nurses coax me to look at the crown of my son's head as it pushes into the world, I cannot. Instead I watch Jennifer, her beautiful and weary face. I don't know how to explain why I can't watch the birth, except to say that it is too much." There it is. It is too much. Montana, cows, calves, love and baby boys. Groneberg writes about all these things and more with extraordinary grace and an eloquent simplicity that sometimes made me want to weep. Gene and Roy and Rex taught me about honesty and how to treat ladies and babies - and horses. Those guys would have been proud to know Tom Groneberg. This is a profoundly moving story. I recommend it highly and am looking forward now to reading Tom's other book, One Good Horse.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What little boy doesn't think about becoming a cowboy when he grows up? Tom Groneberg actually did it; he left his home near Chicago and took a job as a ranch hand in Montana. Even if you are not interested in ranching, you may be surprised to find you have an unexpected urge to relocate to the West and raise cattle after reading this beautifully written book. Favorite Quote: "It begins with a poem, a haiku: 'Hard work with horses in a beautiful setting. Write for more info.'"
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good but strange book. He's always feeling like an inadequate outsider, though he has an apparently wonderful wife and his parents buy him a ranch in Montana. After one hard year he decides he's failed and goes into therapy. But he writes the book from such a distance we don't see many feelings, much less anything about his wife. Good nature/animal descriptions though.
davidabrams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I was growing up in Wyoming, I was surrounded by cowboys. My high school classmates were evenly divided into three cliques: the hippies, the smart rich kids and the cowboys. There was also, I suppose, a fourth social order: the outcast weirdo loners. That was my group. From my position¿flattened against the lockers between classes, books hugged to my chest, eyes downcast¿I'd watch the sneakers and the boots passing by. The sneaker-set always seemed to walk on the balls of their feet, as if tip-toeing through life; the boots, scuffed and manure-stained, always swaggered down the halls. If I'd raise my eyes, past the fancy leather belts with "Clay" or "Pete" or "Wanda" tooled across the back, past the back-pocket can of snuff which left a tell-tale faded ring, past the Wrangler shirts with their pearl snaps, all the way to the faces, I'd be met with impenetrability. The mouths, the eyes, even the nostrils were hard, tight, closed-off. Those sons and daughters of Wyoming ranchers, with their bony elbows and snuff-packed lower lips, were a mystery to me. I could discern nothing behind their eyes except rodeo bravado and grossly exaggerated tales of Saturday night drinking in the cabs of pickups. Reading Tom Groneberg's memoir, The Secret Life of Cowboys, I begin to suspect that there was actually very little separating me from those hard Wyoming kids¿apart from bronc busting, a few broken bones and an addiction to Copenhagen, that is. Cowboys are just regular people, Groneberg writes. A bit battered by weather and the occasional broken heart, but good folks all the same. They are neither gods nor ghosts. They raise dust. They cast shadows. These men bleed and they smile with teeth rotten from chewing tobacco. The dust settles on their clothes, in the folds of their skin, in their lungs. Their hearts are as big as dump trucks, full of the land and the life they love. They are beautiful. The Secret Life of Cowboys is a first-rate account of men and women whose lives revolve around hard land and stubborn animals. Through his portraits of ranchers, wranglers and rodeo champs, Groneberg goes beneath the stereotype of saddles, saloons and sagebrush. Good-bye, John Wayne. So long, Gary Cooper. It's time for you to ride into the sunset of mythology. This a book that tells it like it is, showing both the joys and the dark agonies of life in the modern American West. What Frank McCourt did for Irish poverty, Groneberg does for Montana ranching. Truth be told, this book is not so much about the hidden secrets of cowboys as it is about Tom Groneberg, disillusioned kid from Chicago who goes west in search of purpose. "I chased a dream and it kicked me in the teeth," he writes. "Yet I find myself falling for it again and again." It's a cliché from the Me Generation, but Groneberg does "find himself" in the hard work, the unforgiving land, and the company of horses. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in English, he suddenly found himself adrift in a sea of indecision. I was sick of myself and couldn't imagine that I had much to offer anyone. I had to do something big and dramatic and drastic to break the force field of the couch and the glow of the television set and the way the top of a beer can had begun to look like a face to me. And so, he answers an ad in the back of Utne Reader: "Hard work with horses in a beautiful setting. Write for more info." Soon, Groneberg is playing out a childhood fantasy of living the cowboy life. He gets the job at a Colorado dude ranch, leading tourists¿often arrogant, ignorant city slickers¿on scenic trail rides. Though he admits he doesn't know hay from straw or gelding from mare, he's a quick study and soon falls in love with the cowboy way¿especially the animals they ride: I inhale horses. They fuel my heart and my head and my whole self. We watch as this Chicago college boy tries to fit in with the other men, the ones with hard faces and snuff-can rings on their back pockets
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I feel that this book was quite refreshing.I really enjoyed the book in the end, but at first I thought it read somewhat slow. I was very suprised at the way Groneberg pulled me in by displaying such a well written description of his life. Mr. Groneberg is a strong writer who keeps my attention, displays good organization/structure, however he could do a better job of giving definitions on certain 'cowboy' terms that those from the city may not know or understand. Mr. Groneberg establishes his credibilty in this book by explaining that he has lived and worked on cattle ranches. He does a good job of giving descriptive details, personal experiences and observations, and examples and illustrations. Mr. Groneberg's book is recent and more applicable to this generation of 'wannabe' cowboys. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the cowboy way of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read/review about 50 books a year. This one is, hands down, the best-written book I'd read in a long time, easily my favorite new author of the year. A strong man, Tom Groneberg decides to pursue his dream of being a cowboy. He realizes his emotional development and dream chasing are inextricably intertwined, and the rest is an amazing accomplishment of words, spirit and soul. This is the new voice of the American West, in my opinion, and a book for dreamchasers everywhere to devour, while comparing their own dream-chasing verocity to the author's.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So far, my favorite book of 2003. The author has a rare talent for words, and a rare courage to pursue his dream. The last few pages will bring even the toughest cowboy to watery eyes. Tom Groneberg's debut is a stunning accomplishment for both his writing style and the part of his soul he shares with readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Groneberg has given us all inspiration and motivation to look for the happiness we all aspire to find. I looked forward everyday to picking up this book and reading about more of his adventures, mishaps, and life lessons. I would recommend this to anyone! A fantastic book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I got to a point where I realized I didn't like the author, I tossed it in the trash. He seems to have compassion for horses, but not humans. And why waste four years of college to become a ranch hand?
Guest More than 1 year ago
While Groneberg did a fine job illustrating some of the details of ranch and 'cowboy' life in modern day Montana, the focus -the landscape, the people, the lifestyle - were lost in his all-too-frequent attempts at achieving some sort of existential enlightenment. Yes, cowboys live a hard life. Yes, the land is wonderful and beautiful, harsh and demanding. But whenever a cow pooped in a field, Groneberg tried to turn it into a powerful and moving look into his own life and why he exists. I appreciate his honesty and willingness to share intensely private feelings, but the attempts at revelations and epiphanies on nearly every page got to be too much. I did, however, enjoy the book for the portrayal of what life is like for some in the new west.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book in a long time that has kept me up into the wee hours of the morning simply because I did not want to put it down. I read it upon recommendation from a friend, and from the moment I opened it until reading the last paragraph, I was spellbound -- a state of mind I did not expect given my preconceived lukewarm interest in the subject matter. Tom Groneberg definitely has the gift of story-telling and the ability to pull the reader into his world. And with lyricism, grace and disarming honesty, he¿s able to transpose his observations and lessons learned on the range into potent insights into life in general. When I finished, I wanted to start over from the beginning. Everyone on my Christmas list will be getting a copy of this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Through his story, Tom Groneberg took me along for the ride. Through him I felt the freezing cold of winter, the bruises, the blisters and the heartaches. But most of all, I felt what it must be like to be a young man in search of a dream. From cover to cover, it¿s a book you can¿t put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is easily the most enjoyable book I have read this year (and I'm a fairly avid reader). Groneberg's book is very well-written and it moves at a nice smooth pace; it's funny in places, sad in others, but honestly written and never dull. I'm certain you will enjoy reading (and maybe re-reading) this book as much as I did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Secret Life of Cowboys is one of those rare books that when you finish, you're sad it's over. Groneberg's lyricism, his honesty, the beauty of the landscapes as he describes them, all combine to form a pitch-perfect telling of an incredible story. It is a book for anyone who ever had a dream, and wondered what life might be like if they had the courage to pursue it.