The Last Cowboys is one part ethnography, one part sports writing. Branch spent three years with the Wrights, at their homes, at their ranch, and on the road to countless rodeos. The result is a warm, fascinating account of a family that might not know how extraordinary they are.— Rikki
An NPR Book of the Year
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.
About the Author
John Branch is a reporter for the New York Times. His feature article about an avalanche in Washington State, "Snow Fall," won the Pulitzer Prize; he has been featured three times in The Best American Sports Writing; and his first book, Boy on Ice, won the PEN/ESPN Prize for Literary Sports Writing. He lives near San Francisco.
Remarkable…[The Last Cowboys] has an uncommon ambition: it’s a story not just of rodeo, but of the contemporary West.
— John Swansburg
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.
— Nathan Deuel
The Last Cowboys isn’t just about winning saddle bronc titles…It’s about the Old West becoming new.
Keenly observed and artfully conveyed.
— Michael Berry
A real-life story that’s not only compelling, but oddly reassuring.
— Tucker Coombe
Avoid[s] country clichés and reveal[s] not only why rural Americans must adapt, but also the reasons they might want to.
— Craig Fehrman
Compelling…The Last Cowboys is an excellent, compassionate book.
— Michael Schaub
A tribute to the things that matter.
— Amanda Olson