A quixotic son of the Southwest hits the road to follow a truly American sport and, incidentally, chase his own history as well.
Stratton (Backyard Brawl, 2002), a journalist based in Austin, Texas, hailing first out of Guthrie, Okla., takes to the rodeo trail (usually leaving wife Luscaine at home) and travels to cowboy circuit venues Prescott, Cheyenne, Oklahoma City, Portland, even Las Vegas. He reports on the small-time ranch-hand contests and the major meets, on the bruising sport of the rough stock and saddle bronc riders, on the baggy pants clowns, the steer wrestlers, cowgirl barrel racers and stock contractors. Here are the professional cowboys, the ass-kickers and assorted feckless adepts of the dirt arena and open air. Here are the fierce animals and the fabled heroes. Here are Tom Mix, Bill Pickett, Yakima Canutt, Freckles Brown and Tornado, the bull he rode in on. Our guide Stratton, shod in his Luccheses, crowned in his Stetson, sketches the history of the sport from the Spanish inheritance and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. There may have been a touch of racism in the past, he indicates. Now, judging from the author’s research, the raw and wild rodeo world is still redolent of the smell of the stockyard along with the tang of human musk. We learn the rules of proper cowboy demeanor and appropriate dress as well as the rules of the various standard events. Certainly, it is show business, traditional and commercial. But it’s more: It’s a primeval, fierce contest between beasts and men, with rough lives and sad endings. Stratton ties his own family history into his account, including an embezzler grandfather, colorful ladies and Cowboy Don, the runaway father he never met. He chases the rodeo and Cowboy Don’s specter, and he catches and hogties them both.
Vivid rodeo life and lore for armchair cowpokes and bowlegged hands alike, by a devoted “kicker with a literary bent.”