Simpson Forum Short

Editor’s note: WyoFile is pleased to present the fourth installment in our special project: “The Pete Simpson Forum,” a conversation about how our state can best deal with a host of challenges and opportunities. People with different backgrounds are invited to write about a particular topic. WyoFile publishes a pair of columns each month. 

A note from Pete: Phil Roberts serves both as myth buster and provocateur. What do you think? Has the historical cowboy become suspect as a symbol of Wyoming’s political identity today? After all, the “knight of the prairie” is not the miner whose work undergirds Wyoming’s economy, not the fast-food worker who is attached “hip and thigh” to the tourist industry. And, as the post-industrial American economy, the service economy, more and more replaces what remains of Wyoming’s agricultural economy, will there be room for the cowboy symbol at all, or will advocating for it become nothing short of delusional, or worse, just hypocritical?

Perhaps Nina McConigley’s essay answers that for all of us cowboy devotees, and I’m one. She talks eloquently of deep values that transcend both class and race – matters of character, of neighborliness, of measuring a person’s worth without regard to color or creed. Don’t those attributes hearken to Roberts’ description of the cowboy? And wouldn’t those attributes continue to describe Wyoming today? 

I’ll look forward to a discussion. 

Equality State or Cowboy State — and what about the miners?

Wyoming State Seal
The Wyoming State Seal, illustrating the competing mythologies that have existed in Wyoming from the start.
Essay by Phil Roberts
— November 26, 2013
Phil Roberts
Phil Roberts

Over the past two or three years, this Wyoming native has noticed a major change in the way we refer to our state. The “Equality State” is the official nickname — recognising the role the first territorial legislature had in decreeing that their new territory be the first in the nation to grant women equal rights. But, today, even though it is more generic and less specific to Wyoming, the nickname “Cowboy State” seems to have supplanted the earlier, official label.

Rather than emphasising the equality aspirations set forth by the earliest Wyoming lawmakers, many seem to take greater comfort today in the nickname, “the Cowboy State.” And it probably should be no surprise. There is little comfort provided by the obvious contradictions in equality in theory and equality in fact. Even casual knowledge alerts the least observant that equality is hardly closer today than it was in the last century. The enduring quality of the cowboy myth continues to resonate for those nostalgic for a time that never was.

The Cowboy Myth

In politics, the cowboy myth has been used as a powerful symbol of rugged individualism, disdain for government, impatience with rules, and a certain feeling of inferiority. It is bolstered by clinging to the perceived virtues of that mythical common man. The reality of the cowboy, however, is an uncomfortable reminder that America always has had a class system. In the economic scheme of things, the cowboy was at the bottom, the ultimate loser in the American game of using the weight of possessions as a measure of success. He was the hired itinerant worker whose only possessions were a horse, a saddle, a hat, chaps and boots. Few of these cowboys survived the waves of ranch consolidation, emphasis on machinery to do what physical labor once confronted and, in terms of their own livelihoods, increased opportunities for education, rural electricity, social security and the enforcement of labor standards and the minimum wage. If he didn’t become a rancher, the cowboy went into another occupation which often necessitated a move out of Wyoming to more urban areas of America.

As a contemporary measure of this collision between the cowboy myth and the cowboy reality, no one today aspires to the role of the real cowboy — seeking to make a living on the meager wages offered for distinctly unskilled labor. Real cowboy jobs in Wyoming go begging or get taken only by non-English speaking immigrants whose labor options are almost entirely closed. Maybe it isn’t accidental that the real cowboys that are celebrated in the state’s heritage — “the characters” as Pete Simpson calls them — were made extinct by the New Deal To those celebrating the mythic cowboy, the real cowboy would be the subject of scorn — the product of an underachieving, underclass. Who with any ambition, after all, would aspire to a career as an itinerant laborer, working with cattle, facing the most precarious of futures fraught with economic hardship?

The myth of the cowboy was in full swing by the early 20th century, but for Wyoming, a place lagging the national trends, the celebration of the cowboy myth took on its greatest significance in the 1930s when the bronc rider took his permanent position on our license plate. The last of the open-range cowboys, if any were left, celebrated their 80th birthdays or older. The hardships dimmed with years or media depictions modulated the worst of them into heroic obstacles that were overcome.

“A cowboy… to bolster the team’s strength”

The mythic cowboy had become the mascot for the University of Wyoming. That adoption, in the late 19th century, furthers my point. When an opposing team, a group of soldiers from Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, played against a University of Wyoming team and suffered a humiliating loss, the opponents accused Wyoming of hiring a “ringer” — a cowboy, a paid itinerant, to bolster the team’s strength. The accusation continued in later games, too. “They have a bunch of cowboys on that team,” was the derisive charge, the meaning of course that Wyoming had a bunch of itinerant, lower-class, probably paid ruffians on the team who lacked the mental acuities expected of collegians.

Wyoming students, however, seized on the symbol and the cowboy of myth. Many must have known full well that the cowboy of reality was what many of their fathers would have known when they were their age. The fathers — or grandfathers — had overcome the hardship, and thus, had the means to send their sons off to college so they would avoid a similar hard existence.

To one old-timer in Niobrara County many years ago, Wyoming and, indeed, the nation, was now celebrating the very lifestyle he had worked a lifetime to overcome. “All that time I was a cowboy, I didn’t know how romantic it was,” he said, not pointing out that the educated classes of his youth, too, had failed to see the occupation as anything but lower-class, loathsome and indicative of a lack of ambition, if not total absence of a brain. It was an age when free land could be had through filing under federal Homestead Acts. Why would anyone remain an unskilled, floating, itinerant laborer unless he was lacking in ambition, ignorant, attempting to flee a criminal past, or just in love with work around livestock — animals that one didn’t even own?

Co-Opted Cowboy

Later, jobs for the poorly educated laborer in such areas as the oil industry, construction and urban-based manufacturing were becoming more lucrative, and if not unionized, at least made secure through workers compensation statutes and guarantees of income after retirement. What incentive was there for anyone to remain a low-paid, seasonal agricultural laborer?

But if changes in the economy and various forms of government regulation brought an end to the cowboy of reality, it served to incorporate the cowboy myth of the rugged individualistic who disdained regulation, worked alone and in all kinds of weather to serve and protect the interests of his employer. While he might have done it for the love of the animals, that is difficult to see, given that he was protecting what would be steak and hamburger once it was shipped to faraway markets after roundup.

In the 1930s, re-creation of what the cowboy actually represented made its way into state politics. At first, politicians like Democrat Lester Hunt profited from the powerful symbol after he commissioned the “bucking horse” for the state’s license plate when he served as Secretary of State. But later, the newly fashioned image suited post-World War II conservatives who embraced the new mythical cowboy while their Democratic opponents inexplicably ceded the powerful symbol that Hunt used effectively for election to governor and the U. S. Senate.

The conservatives carefully refashioned the image. As opponents of big government they adopted the mythical cowboys as symbols of resistance to any organised government. With their big business allies, they also repositioned the cowboy as someone utterly loyal to authority {while}, not unlike how Southerners once were convinced that the slave mammies in the antebellum South so loved their employers. The cowboys demonstrated th{at} love through unconditional loyalty, steadfastly guarding their individuality by accepting whatever wage the rancher would pay, and storing their bedrolls in bunkhouses regardless of such inconveniences as lack of heat, solid walls, or tight doorways, or vermin and snakes under the floorboards. By accepting those conditions, the cowboy was showing a fierce loyalty, a love for his boss and an acceptance of his {own} inferior station in society. It is in those respects that the myth of the lost cause and Southern slavery coincides with the myth of the Wyoming cowboy.

Celebrating the mythical cowboy, for some, may mean wanting to relive those mythic times when employees accepted with gratitude whatever they were given and worshipped the boss as a higher form of humankind. The message for today is unmistakable. Why can’t that class of people be that way today? And there should be more of them. Clearly, it must be the current culture, spurred on by government policies, that made them change and drove them into other endeavors. It was the minimum wage, unions, other alien forces, that make the current lower classes shiftless and lazy, disrespectful of their superiors and unwilling to accept the conditions their predecessors “thanked us” for providing. Why can’t they be like the cowboys of the past?

The bucking horse logo reflects the nostalgia of a by-gone age. With its complicated mythology, the cowboy image provides the state with a retrospective of where we believe we came from —regardless of whether or not it is accurate in any or all of its historical details. The myths can provide inspiration, whether or not the story is absolutely correct.

On the other hand, our motto as the “Equality State” can be viewed as far more than retrospective pride in an isolated legislative act carried out in the first territorial legislature on the frontier. We can view it as aspirational — it is more than the past that we commemorate by the term. It is a goal which we, as a state, ought to be moving toward.

The Myth of the Miner

One must also consider the other tradition in Wyoming history. More people worked on the railroads and in mines in 19th century Wyoming than worked as cowboys on the open range. To this day, the state’s economy is much more reliant on mining than on agriculture. How did the miner lose out to the cowboy when it came to historical myth-making in Wyoming?

Unlike his contemporary cowboy who worked in more familiarity with his boss, miners worked under supervisors who, in turn, served absentee owners whose motives were never in doubt — higher profits regardless of the toll on human labor. Unlike the myth of the cowboy that grew in contradiction to the reality, the myth of the miner more closely parallels the facts. The story is a familiar and oft-repeated one about banding together to gain economic parity with an absentee soulless corporation bent on making profits and paying as little as possible for labor, safety and benefits to its workers.

But the miners are still with us. They lasted longer than cowboys because they were more successful in organising and gained greater protections from government as a result. (After all, the Office of State Mine Inspector goes back to before statehood). But those economic gains and assurances of safer working conditions came at a high cost to the myth of the miner! Who wanted to return to those mythic times when non-English speaking workers were so desperate to live in America that they accepted jobs in the far interior in a place bereft of vegetation, besieged by bad weather, plagued by cave-ins, subject to loss of limb from unsafe equipment, and at the mercy of outside economic interests? Who wanted to celebrate the myth of the miner who experienced working conditions so vile that mine disasters in Wyoming took hundreds of lives and brought thousands of life-shortening injuries and disease?

One important element of the myth of the miner, that they were one big international family, was rooted in company policies seeking to divide labor by using their racial and ethnic differences.

Historians recognise the class nature of such racist-tinged incidents as the Rock Springs massacre {of Chinese workers who accepted lower wages thereby undercutting their American counterparts}. Yet, at the same time, the Johnson County Invasion continues to suffer from misinterpretation as an incident of sheepmen v. cattlemen (false) or farmer v. rancher (false), or law-abiding citizen v. rustler (also false). Even those who are descended from the small ranchers who were targets of the “invaders” seem to deny it was a class-rooted conflict between big operators and many of their former employees–ex-cowboys who were seeking escape from the itinerant lifestyle, now so celebrated in the myth of the cowboy, if not the reality of his actual condition in the open-range days on the frontier.

The Reality of the Cowboy

One can argue that the reality of the cowboy — an individual who was forced to cope as best he could with the economic circumstances he found himself in — did believe strongly in the concept of equality. There is the famous story of the newly-arrived British ranch owner who met a cowboy on his ranch just as he was arriving in Wyoming. He introduced himself and announced that he was the man’s “lord.” The cowboy shot back, “That man ain’t been born yet.”

The cowboy well knew that when conditions were difficult on the range — in bad weather, in stampedes, in confrontations with rustlers — he needed to count on his fellow cowboys for help. Regardless of their race or ethnicity, they became a part of his community. While stories are told of ugly racial incidents in cattle country in the 19th century, there are even more stories of men judging their companions on their honesty, integrity, steadfastness — men who would “watch your back.” And the race or ethnic background was entirely irrelevant in a time and place where the individual character was the supreme judge of a man’s worth.

But one must view this individualism in perspective. The cowboy’s worth was not measured by his own ambitions as much as by how well he cooperated with the others in his “community”–his co-workers and those who relied on his character for their very lives. “Equality” meant that each person was measured without regard to color or creed. Character came with the person — not from what group he may come from. Respect for the boss came when it was earned and demonstrated. If the boss didn’t earn that respect, the cowboy simply moved on. In those instances, the boss might have had a superior economic position, but to the cowboy, he was distinctly unequal — indeed, inferior and not worthy of respect.

Individualism, defiance of government regulation and disregard for community has many contemporary heroes not bogged down by the baggage of the real cowboy. They are the radio talk-show host, the glib politician, the entrepreneur, the computer billionaire, the corporate CEO, the major shareholders in the huge multinational chain stores and fast-food franchises. They are those making millions in salaries and stock options while they disparage reform or pare down the labor force and shift jobs offshore where labor is cheaper. In the political future, what role will pieceworkers in the computer industry, Wal-Mart “associates,” fast-food workers, and low-paid tourism service workers have as they are replaced by automation, cheaper imported labor or innovation? And what part will the itinerant “temps” in all these various sectors have in the nation’s mythology? Will they become the 22nd century version of the American cowboy? And, by then, how will that extinct species be used nostalgically to excuse inequality, chastise the unworthy, justify exploitation, and forgive unearned privilege for another generation?

— Phil Roberts has taught the history of Wyoming and the West, legal, and environmental history at the University of Wyoming since 1990. A native of Lusk and a Marine Corps veteran, he holds degrees from UW and the UW College of Law. His Ph.D. is from the University of Washington.
Editor’s note: Please comment on these columns: let Pete know what you think, and whether you would like to be invited to contribute to The Pete Simpson Forum (send a note to Simpson via Thank you in advance for your participation! Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters.
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Phil Roberts is emeritus professor of history at the University of Wyoming. He specializes in the history of Wyoming and the American West, legal, environmental and natural resources history. His website,...

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  1. It’s 2023, this column cries out for re-publication. Wyoming has joined the Confederacy: “You have asked that our office stop a private citizen in Wyoming from flying the confederate flag as it offends you. I know this is not what you want to hear but Governor Gordon has no authority to stop this activity. Citizens of the United States have the right to free speech and this includes the right to express
    beliefs with which others do not agree. And while governments have some powers over private property such as zoning and eminent domain, they do not have the authority to deny a property owner the right to fly a flag of his or her choosing. There is no law that prohibits a private citizen from flying the confederate flag on private property in Wyoming.” a direct email response from the Governor’s office. I think one of the things that may be really weird for people in my age group who were kids in the Civil War Centennial years (1060-65) and the Civil Rights Movement that followed it right through to the MLK assassination and beyond is that we were (for lack of a better term) “indoctrinated” to believe powerfully in “The Equality State”. For many of us (of the few of us in numbers) the rage we feel for this new mythology and Wyoming political hardening, embracing a politics and cultural language that does not originate in Wyoming (“Get woke!” sounds like something a cowboy would say) is very real and heartfelt. Get ‘er done!

  2. Phil,
    Thank you for shining some light on the myth of the cowboy. My family were the itinerant Wyoming immigrants who left their small family ranch in New Mexico to scratch out a living as sheepherders, cowboys, ranch hands, railroad and coal workers in Wyoming.. My grandfather after a few years of New Mexico statehood was inducted into the US Army while working as a ranch hand in Cokeville, Wy..
    Years later his children and neighbors in New Mexico also came to Wyoming and worked in the mines, railroad and ranches.. An Uncle worked in the mines in Rock Springs when he was underage and was injured in a mine collapse.. The company obtained his liability release by buying my Uncle a new car. He died of black lung disease many years ago..

  3. Very thought provoking, as always, Phil! This conversation — and the comments — makes me want to continue to play with the ways we transmute characters, through myth or history, and the ones we use today. Backlash against your accurate portrayal of the 19th-early 20th century cowboy originates from loyalty to the myth as well as modern day cowboys (and supporters) who are now more likely to be multi-generational ranchers: mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. What the cowboy was, how he is portrayed (and used today by politicians), and who he or she is today are three different individuals. The ranch was a corporation, often with absentee landlord and hired working class hands, but today it’s a family operation: Stegner’s “stickers”. The way “cowboys” are used today doesn’t make much space for our current ranch families who — like your grandfather, Phil, was both cowboy and rancher. It definitely doesn’t make space for the other “real” cowboys of today: UW Cowboys and Cowgirls who are, often, out of state athletes completing undergraduate degrees and furthering Wyoming athletics before leaving for other careers. For other characters in Wyoming history and myth, let’s also compare miners today, miners in the past, and current oil and gas field workers — who share some traits with miners (but not collective bargaining power), are mythologized like the cowboy and share some of the historical cowboy traits — but not necessarily the bottom-of-the bucket pay. Corporate structure, outdoors working experience, independence… How do these workers fit into our understandings of Wyoming political identity? Many of our politicians use cowboy imagery (but not cowboy ideas of healthcare); bank on oil and gas, not cows (even family ranch cows); also bank on coal, but don’t support labor interests. Thanks for sparking the conversation, Phil!

  4. Seems some concepts in the book Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River have a place in this discussion. The word “myth” is a highly charged term. What I studied as Greek or Roman “mythology” was as real to people of those times as Christianity is now. The Cowboy myth, part true and part revisionist history, can be used for good or bad purposes. When I hear it used to dehumanize and degrade the poor, I cringe.

  5. A fine essay that I will print and keep in my Wyoming litany. Thanx Phil.
    Being Wyoming born of Wyoming roots and having delved deep into the continuum of cultural events that shaped our State, I still cannot exorcise the embedded entity of the UP Railroad presence in forming Wyoming from the earth inside its arbitrary quadrangle. The core Cowboy Culture was all but gone before World War I – the vestigals of it today are nowhere resembling the classic cowboy of the late 19th century ,except in sentiment. Ditto the miners in that the coal jockeys today have mutated away from the miners of the formative years, and are wedded to the oil and gas extractor. For accounting and tax purposes , petroleum is factored into the state economic picture as mining. Betwixt these two historical figures we still have and use the railroads . The railroads modernized – cowboys did not.

    I wholly understand the urge to cling to the past; to extoll it with honorifics or simulate it as stagecraft. What I don’t get is those who still think it is 1890 around here and we still play by 1890 rules and live 1890 lives, then get very condescending towards us who say Wyoming is long past the time to move into the 21st century. You don’t have to give up the ” Cowboy Way ” to do that , and you can still live the cowboy life. But fergawdssakes puh-lease do not be a ball and chain by impeding the rest of us who wish for real progress around here.

    I’ve noticed that the conservative Wyomingite who espouses the Cowboy Creed is slow to turn his/ her mind. Once a mind is made up , even in instantaneous mode, it takes a good 20 years to change it. The excuse is usually ” because that’s how we’ve always done it in Wyoming…”. And also explains why Wyoming is usually 20 years behind the rest of the nation’s societal dynamic. We are quick to form an opinion and decree it as policy , and s-o-o-o-o slow to change it. Our Legislature is a glacier; our Governor’s manor when occupied by conservatives of the GOP persuasion is the sojourning of one Rip Van Winkle . Doubt that ? Matt Mead is the self-willed reincarnation of his grandfather Cliff Hansen in most of his working ideologies.

    Nobody is trying to show the cowboy to the retirement home, and we do tolerate miners and roughnecks and frackers. But is it asking too much that in return we get some open doors and clear views thru the windows and an unencumbered path pointed towards closing that 20+ year gap in our social development ? I ask this because I strongly feel the day is not far off when the outside world will have no need of nor desire to purchase our bee on the hoof, dirty coal, or fracked gas.

    Then what ?

  6. Being a great-grandson of one of those immigrant miners, this was a delightful read.

    I am often dismayed when generational longevity is used as a validation of conservative political opinion (“I’m a 4th generation rancher so you can take your California liberal politics back there”).

    The experiences of my grandfather in the mines at the turn of the century have shaped the politics of my family tree decidedly left. That is not an “imported” liberalism, it has been forged by the classism my ancestors faced.

    We are a much more politically diverse state than most of those in office are willing to admit, and that is not a recent development. It has to become unacceptable to use a fabricated version of our past to forge a future that only benefits those who need to be benefited the least.

    And there’s my rambling two cents.

  7. Hello Dr. Roberts. As one of your many former students, I so much love reading your informative articles. This one is especially interesting to me because I have been debunking that cowboy myth my entire life – and I was born and raised here too.

    Everything you say about cowboy life, I have experienced and believe me, I couldn’t wait to get out of here when I got out of high school. That “rugged individualism” might appeal to some but I’ll tell you honestly boys, I never met a cowboy that didn’t smell like a horse and then complain about the shortage of willing women. 🙂

    It’s time we moved into the current century where real cattlemen today operate iPhones and wear ball caps with Nikes instead of holey bluejeans, dirty boots and ragged straw hats. The day of the Cowboy is over – and thank God. The day of Equality dawns. Embrace change; it’s the only way to stay young and viable both for an individual and for a State. Great Article!

  8. As for Aaron’s comment, I’m a native of Wyoming (grandson of a Wyoming cowboy who became a rancher) and lifelong resident. The only time I ever lived in California, I didn’t have much of a choice. I was stationed there by the U. S. Marine Corps. But, in point of fact, even some of my own fellow natives of the state have no understanding of our history or how open-range cowboys worked and lived in our state when it was still a young territory. It’s disappointing, too, that often the ones most mistaken about those times refuse to inform themselves of the actual history.

  9. Jeff, when I’m defining the cowboy myth in the first part of the article, I’m describing what, socio-economically, those open-range cowboys often were and also how certain individuals in those times thought of them. The REALITY of the character of many of those men is described toward the end of the article. The key point is that as Wyomingites, we’ve allowed outsiders to define what the cowboy tradition is and they can imagine all kinds of things, but often based on their political ideologies and impressions gained from mass media depictions only slightly based on fact. I don’t think we’re that far apart with respect to our admiration for the REAL cowboys and real cowboy tradition.

  10. Gina did a good job of summarizing my article correctly. The primary point was that while it is to be expected that the open-range cowboy would be mythologized, when it is done, the myth ought to be backed up by the facts. We shouldn’t allow the cowboy tradition to be distorted by out-of-state corporations or self-serving right-wing talking heads who THINK they know what cowboys must have been like–without bothering to do any research. Open-range cowboys were no fools. After all, they formed the nation’s first cooperative healthcare organization (the Fetterman Hospital Association) with some of the same principles as “RomneyCare” and “ObamaCare” but a century and a half earlier. Wyomingites could benefit by embracing the real open-range cowboy tradition!

  11. Gina did a good job of summarizing my article correctly. The primary point was that while it is to be expected that the open-range cowboy would by mythologized, when it is done, the myth ought to be backed up by the facts. We shouldn’t allow the cowboy tradition to be distorted by out-of-state corporations or self-serving right-wing talking heads who THINK they know what cowboys must have been like–without bothering to do any research. Open-range cowboys were no fools. After all, they formed the nation’s first cooperative healthcare organization (the Fetterman Hospital Association) with some of the same principles as “RomneyCare” and “ObamaCare” but a century and a half earlier. Wyomingites could benefit by embracing the real open-range cowboy tradition!

  12. Speaking as a Wyoming resident of more than 45 years, a former working cowboy from a long line of working cowboys, and someone very familiar with the history of Wyoming, I’m curious as to exactly what you think the “Cowboy Myth” is, exactly.

    It’s a myth that the cowboy of the 19th and early 20th Centuries was an ill-educated, unskilled peon from the bottom of the labor pool. That same myth was grafted onto the oilfield workers of the late 20th Century as well – mostly by “educated” white collar types and college professors.

    The drovers of the cattle boom era, like the oil workers of the oil boom era, gold miners, fur traders, etc., were mostly tradesmen who chose to do what they did. Why? Because they made good money doing it. The more skillful they were, the more money they were worth.

    Nor did their “lowly” professions keep them from making their individual mark on history. Oscar “Jack” Flagg founded the Buffalo Voice, one day after the Johnson County Invasion ended. Will James rode the grubstake from Canada to Mexico for most of his youth before becoming a famous author and painter. John Kendrick followed a herd of cattle to Wyoming from Texas and became the Governor and a U.S. Senator.

    While I agree with 90% of Phil’s article, I would caution not to paint a picture with too big of a brush and dismiss the cowboys who played a huge part in the formation of our state as being a mere “myth”.

  13. What is so interesting about Mr. Lore’s comment is that for the entire history of the state (of which Dr. Roberts and I are both Natives) is that others have spoken for Wyomingites our entire history. Our state constitution is an amalgamation of various other states and many of the decisions that have shaped the state, and still guide it today are either made by those who don’t live here, or those who simply want to do business here. Wyoming has been, for many years, a place that most pass through on their way to somewhere else. Because of this, it is no wonder that those from elswhere so heavily influence the state. The majority of the state’s revenue is made from mineral royalties, paid by companies that are from outside of Wyoming. Our politicians are funded by money from elsewhere, and many of our young citizens graduate high school and college and take jobs elsewhere.
    When looking at the myth of equality alone one can see that we talk a better game than we play. The same can be said for wage equality. But, as with all myths, it is plain to see that those who believe it will protect it fiercely, in the face of a reality that is less attractive than the lie.

  14. Aaron,

    Phil Roberts is from Wyoming and he is in no way being derogatroy towards ranchers in Wyoming. He is simply pointing out the various aspects of using the myth of the cowboy to represent our state. If you read the first paragraph you would have caught that Phil is a Wyoming native. And if you read the last paragraph you may have understood that he is talking about the myth of the cowboy being used (abused) to further justify explotation of human labor everywhere not just in Wyoming. He is not belittling current Wyoming ranchers. Nor is he insinuating that Wyoming ranchers are to blame for the abuse of the cowboy myth. Conversely, he is pointing out how people who considered themselves above the cowboys used that very myth of the cowboy to repess them and keep them from becoming ranchers themselves. You have completely missed the point of this article. I hate to point out how your comments are so typical of people who currently espouse the “cowboy myth”. It would behoove you to re-read this article with care and interest.

    Further, I, too, am a Wyoming native just to curtail your remarks about how I may know nothing of the people who live here. Wyoming is a diverse place with diverse populations. And as Phil suggests it may be in our best interest as a diverse state to espouse “The Equality State” as our motto because the treatment that cowboys were given was nothing near equal to anything. Adopting “The Equaility State” as the Wyoming state motto implies that there is room for everyone ranchers, women, cowboys, chinese railroad workers, and historians.

    In closing, I urge you to re-read this article, unhinge the rusted gates of your mind, and look into what Phil is saying rather than taking offense at first glance. Best regards,

    Gina Clingerman

  15. I only want to add that the homesteaders and settlers of Wyoming were most often neither cowboys or ranchers. It was tough to be involved in the livestock industry with a few hundred acres. In fact, the real core of the state were the people who would “stick,” as Wallace Stegner put it, and build communities. I think we should consider the role of these over-looked but invaluable souls as the real source of values and culture for the state.

  16. The “like so many Californians” comment is utterly hysterical. Dr. Roberts is a 4th or 5th generation Wyoming native! He also travels the state “asking folks from Wyo. their opinion,” and he speaks with people who agree AND disagree with him. Ah, the amusements to be had from reading comments sections.

  17. “A certain feeling of inferiority”… ” the cowboy was at the bottom, the ultimate loser”…”acceptance of his {own} inferior station in society”…Excuse me?!! One thing that I have noticed about Wyomingites is that they do NOT play the “american game of using the weight of possessions as a measure of success”… perhaps you should leave your elitist attitude at the state line.

  18. Mixing Fact and Fiction will always strike a match in a place full of myth. Thanks Phil you did a great job of placing the Cowboy mystic right where it needs to be, in two places at the same time. Your right it’s all about the duality of the idea, and your look into has shined a light where there needs to be light. Maybe that light is shining bright on the whole idea of FREEDOM, rather than slavery. Where Freedom is understood as shared work towards a common community good. And inner human skills of fairness and equality are the two main traits of any worth while shared endeavor. The whole idea of this shared ideal where’s a hat, boots and work gloves, knows the goal and won’t stop till he or she get there.

  19. Sir I’m not sure you have ever been to Wyo. and I’m sure you didn’t take much time to go around the state and talk to those who are still ranching. You like so many Californians moving to our area have no idea of what you are talking about. I’m glad that you wrote this as an opinion because you didn’t spend much time getting the facts. Before you wasted your time why didn’t you spend a few seconds asking folks from Wyo. their opinion? Something you forgot to report on how Wyomingites despise others trying to speak for them or about them in a derogatory manner. Or trying to paint our history like you have.