Sure, Midland, Texas, has been practically synonymous with oil in recent years, but we must not forget that even the Permian Basin was cattle country before the petroleum era.
Thanks to the legacy of the late, great J. Evetts Haley, a Western historian of the caliber of J. Frank Dobie and Walter P. Webb, Midland’s Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library continues to remind us of West Texas’ ranching roots by means of exhibits, scholarly get-togethers and publications like this one: a big, strapping, handsome volume that is worthy of its subject. The book’s title is from a quote by Haley, who was unable to accept the dim view of critics that old-time cowboys were merely “hired men, on horseback.” He wrote that “Cowboys rode proudly, buoyantly, recklessly upon the trail.” Here are brief biographies of 28 cowboys from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, written by commentators like Jane Pattie, Dud Cramer and Elmer Kelton. Each mini-biography is illustrated by a pen-and-ink sketch by such first-rate artists as Joe Beeler and Tom Ryan. The chapters show how the traditions of David Dary’s Cowboy Culture continued long after the advent of “bob wire,” the closing of the free range and the end of trail-herding to Kansas railheads.