The Last Cowboys is informed by scrupulous and compassionate reporting, casting light on a side of the sporting world typically hidden from view."
Wall Street Journal - Andrew Graybill
"Keenly observed and artfully conveyed."
San Francisco Chronicle - Michael Berry
"One hell of a ride."
Washington Post - Carson Vaughan
"A fascinating dive into what it’s like to make a living by horseback, both on the range and at the rodeo."
Texas Observer - Christopher Collins
The Last Cowboys is a humble but sweeping portrait of a humble but highly accomplished family."
Dallas Morning News - Chris Vognar
"Gripping.… What Branch focuses on so beautifully is how one remarkable American family navigates the situation of wanting to do dangerous, peculiar and deeply impressive kinds of work."
Los Angeles Times - Nathan Deuel
"Branch does a beautiful job chronicling a family as it navigates old traditions in a new, fast-paced century.…
The Last Cowboys is an excellent, compassionate book."
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Michael Schaub
The Last Cowboys] has an uncommon ambition: it’s a story not just of rodeo, but of the contemporary West."
New York Times Book Review - John Swansburg
…remarkable…To his credit, Branch avoids the sentimentalism that can seep into such a tale. He also does an impressive job of making the rodeo life come off the page. The art of bronc riding can be mystifying, especially for those of us who haven't earned our spurs. Old hands see in a well-executed ride an eight-second epic of horsemanship, but it can be difficult to capture what separates a middling showing from a transcendent oneespecially when the best riders make it look easy and carry themselves with a cowboy's stoicism. "Cody never said much," Branch writes. "He always thought he could learn a lot more by listening than by talking." It's a maxim the best reporters live by as well. There must have been some serious stretches of silence between author and subject on the long Western roads between rodeos.
The New York Times Book Review - John Swansburg
Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Branch (Boy on Ice) develops his 2015 New York Times article on a successful rodeo family into a full-blown tale of modern life on the range in southern Utah. The book focuses on the Wrights, a family of cattle ranchers and world champion saddle-bronc riders, as they struggle to hang on to land that’s been in their family for more than 150 years. It’s also the place where Bill Wrights and his wife, Evelyn, raised their 13 children, including seven sons, all of whom have gone on to become famous rodeo riders. But the older Bill gets, the harder it is for him to look after the land, especially amid numerous conflicts with the Bureau of Land Management and a flurry of buyout offers from commercial developers. Branch writes with immediacy when describing cowboy life, whether branding and castrating cattle (the “dirt-covered testicles... looked like dusty pearl onions”) or attempting to last eight seconds on the back of a wild and angry mustang (a fallen rider “crashed clumsily on his left shoulder, and the pain shot through him like electricity”). Branch’s fly-on-the-wall reporting and evocative prose renders this a memorable tale of family and the American West in a state of flux. (May)
"Avoid[s] country clichés and reveal[s] not only why rural Americans must adapt, but also the reasons they might want to."
"A tribute to the things that matter."
Deseret News - Amanda Olson
"A real-life story that’s not only compelling, but oddly reassuring."
Los Angeles Review of Books - Tucker Coombe
The Last Cowboys isn’t just about winning saddle bronc titles…It’s about the Old West becoming new."
This elegantly written account of the extraordinary Wright family of southern Utah succeeds in showing the challenges facing modern Western American ranchers. Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Branch (Boy on Ice) integrated himself with the family to produce an intimacy with world-class rodeo saddle-bronc riders, government land administrators, and hundreds of bawling cattle. Branch relates how rodeo prize money dramatically saved and improved the Wright's traditional ranching business, even while battering family members with uncountable broken bones and sacrificing critical family time. Far less political than James Pogue's account of the Bundy family (Chosen Country), Branch's take nonetheless portrays ranchers faced with restrictive federal government land policies and a significant increase in recreational users of the same lands they lease for grazing rights. VERDICT A dramatic and personal account of the Wright family and how they developed a second business in the modern rodeo circuit to support their family ranch at Smith Mesa. Recommended for understanding 21st-century American cowboy culture.Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Branch (Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard, 2014) immerses himself in a huge Utah family to understand contemporary cattle rearing, rodeo riding, and the endangered environment of the American West, which is owned primarily by the American government but leased to private ranchers.The Wright family goes back more than 150 years in rural Utah; their initial settlers were part of the Mormon migration in the 1850s. "Americans weren't always known for their roots," writes the author, "but the Wrights had them planted in the red soil of Smith Mesa before the transcontinental railroad was connected up north, decades before Utah was an official state." Bill and Evelyn have raised 13 children in Smith Mesa. These children, plus an ever growing brood of grandchildren, populate the narrative, which is focused mostly on the men due to the rodeo thread. Branch tells the saga in mostly chronological fashion based on his time with the family, with historical flashbacks and occasional flash-forwards mixed in. The rodeo thread focuses on the sons (and a few of their sons), most of whom have succeeded at the highest levels in their sport. Participating in rodeos provides them with both monetary rewards and a sense of competitive pride, not to mention plenty of broken bones and head injuries. The cattle-rearing thread focuses primarily on patriarch Bill; his children and grandchildren pitch in at times, but caring for the herd is his passion. As the story progresses, the grazing land begins to wear out, federal regulators keep watch, corporate cattle operations swallow the industry, and tourism encroaches. All the while, Bill wonders how many more years his business will remain viable.Packed with fascinating information, lively writing, and a certain pleasant nostalgia, this book is a good candidate for reading one chapter per day; eventually, the narrative becomes unwieldy—too many family members to track easily, too many long drives to rodeo after rodeo, and too many abrupt narrative shifts from cattle to rodeo to environmental degradation.