Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West

Christopher Knowlton. HMH, $29 (448p) ISBN 978-0-544-36996-2
America’s Wild West is popularly remembered for its hard-drinking cowboys, “bat wing saloon doors,” and quick-draw gunfights, but Knowlton, former London bureau chief of Fortune magazine, triumphantly upends such familiar images. He describes life in the Wild West instead as a much richer and more diverse experience, where the hardships Westerners had to endure for the good of the cattle temporarily blended cultures and classes. Knowlton ties his narrative together by following a few historic figures from the inception of cowboy culture to its barbed-wire-induced death knell, sprinkling in lively stories about the birth of cattle towns and herds spooked by thieves. Englishman Moreton Frewen, Frenchman Marquis de Mores, and American Theodore Roosevelt represent for Knowlton the “cowboy aristocrats” whose optimistic and naïve leaps into ranching resulted in ruin for the first two and transformed the third into the future “conservation president.” Excerpts from trail driver Teddy Blue Abbott’s autobiography provide a cowboy’s perspective, demonstrating Abbott’s cheeky antics, well-founded self-confidence, and numerous life-threatening experiences. Knowlton’s quality book would be even stronger with more accounts from the cowhands, particularly from former Confederates fleeing the South or liberated slaves looking for pay equality. Knowlton’s absorbing work demonstrates that the years of lucrative cattle driving may have been short, but meatpacking and transportation innovations and the rugged individualist ideology of the West maintain their place of importance in American life. Agent: Jeff Ourvan, Jennifer Lyons Literary. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/17/2017
Release date: 05/30/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 464 pages - 978-0-544-36997-9
Paperback - 424 pages - 978-1-328-47025-6
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