KILL THE COWBOY by Sharman Apt Russell


A Battle of Mythology in the New West
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 Take the cowboy, please, and send him packing, along with all his mythological baggage--or so argues Russell (Writing/Western New Mexico University) in this provocative and iconoclastic study. Huge tracts of public range are beginning to go lunar: badlands-scale erosion; dry and degraded stream beds, void of wildlife. Livestock overgrazing is much to blame, Russell says, and greedy, land-rapacious ranchers are the culprits. ``Greedy'' because this public land could support and benefit from a moderate grazing regimen--except that ``moderate'' isn't part of the stockman's vocabulary. Government institutions such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management--along with the powerful rancher's lobby in Washington--seem intent on keeping the status quo, while a wide array of groups and individuals have taken up opposition. Russell documents the struggles of these ranching opponents and their visions of a different land use, from Quaker to Earth First!-er. Much is afoot on public rangeland--from possible wolf-reintroduction and holistic resource-management to the loss of almost all riparian ecosystems due to cow-stomping and the poisoning of wildlife by ranchers who don't like the competition- -and Russell samples from all these waters. How can we restore degraded land? asks Russell. How can we have healthy systems of soil and water? How can humans fit into the landscape? The author, meanwhile, is aware that ranchers are in a predicament: How can they change their ways and still avoid economic ruin? The final chapter finds her in a philosophical mode, ruminating on Judeo- Christian ethics, biodiversity, Gary Snyder, and Native American attitudes toward the land. Russell takes a cultural icon and, in one bold stroke, brings it full circle from myth to menace. The West needs a new image, and she's given us many to choose from.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-201-58123-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1993


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