The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Cinch up your saddle, you're goin' for a ride!  With every page, expect dust.  Dirt.  Broken bones galore.  Empty beer cans.  A faint whiff of sage brush mixed with sweat.  Long days.  Trailers full of rambunctious steers.  Rock slides.  And the best darn family of bronco riders that ever set saddle on America's professional rodeo circuit.


The story begins with Joseph Wright and his young family who joined the great Mormon migration to Utah in 1849.  The Wrights became one of 220 families settling about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, near today's Zion National Park.  But that was then.  Seven generations later the Wrights -- still eking out a living in the area -- realized that rodeos could be a cowboy's salvation.  Soon, they were barn-storming the West.  If there's one thing about Mormons, they know how to have kids -- and in this family, each kid rode and bucked better than the next.  Result?  At any big-purse rodeo, there might be eight -- count 'em, eight -- Wrights riding.


So, what is it about rodeos?  For the best-of-the-best, it's an all-consuming life.  And it tends to blow anything else in life away like a tumbleweed.  Professional golf or tennis can do the same, but rodeo riding is like an itch that never goes away.  Sure, there's money to be had.  And if you add up the hours rodeo riders spend getting equipped, getting to events, getting a grip on horses and staggering home at wee hours of nights -- most cowboys are probably netting around a buck fifty an hour.  But the Wrights -- who some claim them to be "the most successful rodeo family in history" -- use rodeos to keep their place in history thriving.


John Branch, the author, spent years climbing atop three generations of the Wright family as they roped, branded and tagged calves.  Castrated steers.  Ran them in and out of Smith Mesa.  He hit the road crammed into the back seat of trucks on long drives to the next rodeos.  This is another world.  And what you'll realize as the real deal?  If the Wrights can survive public-land disputes and periodic droughts, their family will be able to weather their cowboy world for another seven generations.  Come on along.

— Bob Wells


"A can't-put-it-down modern Western." —Kirk Siegler, NPR

Longlisted for the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

The Last Cowboys is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Branch’s epic tale of one American family struggling to hold on to the fading vestiges of the Old West. For generations, the Wrights of southern Utah have raised cattle and world-champion saddle-bronc riders—many call them the most successful rodeo family in history. Now they find themselves fighting to save their land and livelihood as the West is transformed by urbanization, battered by drought, and rearranged by public-land disputes. Could rodeo, of all things, be the answer? Written with great lyricism and filled with vivid scenes of heartache and broken bones, The Last Cowboys is a powerful testament to the grit and integrity that fuel the American Dream.

About the Author

John Branch is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the New York Times. He is the bestselling author of Boy on Ice and The Last Cowboys and has been featured multiple times in Best American Sports Writing. He lives near San Francisco, California.

Praise For…

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

— Susan Orlean

One hell of a ride.
— Carson Vaughan - Washington Post

Remarkable.… [The Last Cowboys] has an uncommon ambition: it’s a story not just of rodeo, but of the contemporary West.

— John Swansburg - New York Times Book Review

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 - Los Angeles Times

The Last Cowboys is informed by scrupulous and compassionate reporting, casting light on a side of the sporting world typically hidden from view.

— Andrew Graybill - Wall Street Journal

The Last Cowboys is a humble but sweeping portrait of a humble but highly accomplished family.

— Chris Vognar - Dallas Morning News

Keenly observed and artfully conveyed.
— Michael Berry - San Francisco Chronicle

A fascinating dive into what it’s like to make a living by horseback, both on the range and at the rodeo.
— Christopher Collins - Texas Observer

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.

— Michael Schaub - Minneapolis Star Tribune

[The Last Cowboys] isn’t just about winning saddle bronc titles.… It’s about the Old West becoming new.

— Associated Press

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393356991
ISBN-10: 039335699X
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 4th, 2019
Pages: 288
Language: English