Book Review: The Day the Cowboys Quit

This is an award-winning western written by Elmer Kelton. The shut down by the cowboys was a true event that actually happened in the Texas Panhandle in 1883. The strike by the cowboys was an event that happened and was precipitated by the events that preceded it. The cowboys were true and honest men who worked for other honest men. There were three men who brought about the problems in the story. The first one was an old time land hungry rancher who had entered the area as the smoke and dust of Indian troubles were disappearing with the southwestern wind. The second man a big ranch manager who had no real tie to the land, his god was the almighty dollar, and he was willing to squeeze it until he felt that he had gotten all of the value he saw in it out. The third was a young married man who was trying to accumulate the most cattle. All three men had one thing in common and it was greed.

The story begins with the weeks preceding the events that would precipitate the strike. The main character Hugh Hitchcock was a foreman for the W ranch. He was an honest and true rider for the brand and he wanted to be treated with respect. Giving his word drew him into the strike. The level thinking he possessed pushed him to the leadership of the strikers. His position caused him to loose everything he had worked so hard for. Things began to tumble around and the events on their own generating a storm. Rules were posted that affected many of the cowboys who worked for the large ranches. Men were viewed as pieces of a larger puzzle of the ranch and not as men with value and worth. The beginning of the strike was slow but as it progressed the feeling got more intense and the actions increased in severity. The old firebrand rancher wanted retribution for perceived losses and shadowed wrongs. Hang a few rustlers and they all will get the message was how he viewed it. The manager that squeezed the dollar felt that money could buy his way out of anything and then tried to prove it. The young man after cattle was proceeding in the same direction that the larger ranchers accumulated their herds but times had changed and he felt the end hanging by his neck labeled a rustler.

The multitude of events bounced and tumbled around our main character and all parties won and also lost at the same time. The events were the winners and the results changed things in a slow and steady manner. Doing the right thing survived but it was bruised and battered by the times. I recommend this book as a potentially real depiction of what happened as things began to change in the west.

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