Let’s Talk About It Oklahoma
For each program, participants pick up a copy of the book about a month in advance, and on the program date, a university professor from Oklahoma leads a discussion.
Readings on the historical cowboy include reminiscences from “real” cowboys and fictional depictions—from Owen Wister’s romantic idealization to Larry McMurtry’s sometimes humorous realism.
Books will be available soon and may be picked up in advance at the Miami Public Library circulation desk. Sessions will take place at the library in the upstairs meeting room.* All sessions will begin at 6:30 p.m. Attendees are asked to fill out a survey at the end of each session. The program is open and free to the public.
Call 918-541-2292 for more information.
*Arrangements will be made for virtual attendees on request. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up.
Title & Date
Cowboy Life: Reconstructing an American Myth edited, with an introduction and afterword, by William W. Savage, Jr.
Wednesday, July 12, 2023, 6:30 PM
*Scholar: Jeromy Miller
The Virginian by Owen Wister
Wednesday, August 9, 2023, 6:30 PM
*Scholar: Kurt Lively
The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams
Wednesday, September 13, 2023, 6:30 PM
*Scholar: Andrew Vassar
Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer
Wednesday, October 12, 2023, 6:30 PM
*Scholar: Emily Dial-Driver
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Wednesday, November 8, 2023, 6:30 PM
*Scholar: Brian Cowlishaw
More About "The Cowboy" Series
The historical cowboy, the hired man on horseback who rode the ranges and trails of the post-Civil War West, was quite unlike the representations made of him by novelists, playwrights, and other purveyors of entertainment, who began their work in the 1880s for eastern audiences already nostalgic for what they believed to be a rapidly disappearing West. The historical cowboy was actually a rather prosaic fellow, a common laborer in the context of his times. Many of these cowboys, if they could have found other employment, would have abandoned the hard, dirty job of cowboying in an instant. By the time the writers and publicists had finished with the cowboy, this sometimes reluctant wage-earner had become in the popular mind a dashing hero, the embodiment of noble virtues like truth and justice, a two-gun, guitar-strumming fashion plate astride an unusual horse, and, altogether, a behavioral example worthy of emulation, especially by small children. Dime novelists and Hollywood script writers replaced an ordinary worker with an Americanized knight-errant and, in the process, created not only an enduring image but also a cultural symbol recognized around the world. High visibility makes the cowboy image a ready point of tourist identification for states like Oklahoma, with some connection to the history of the range cattle industry.
William F. Cody was among the first to remake the image of the cowboy when, in 1884, he introduced a twenty-seven-year-old Texan named William Levi Taylor to audiences attending Buffalo Bill's Wild West as Buck Taylor, "King of the Cowboys." Three years later, Prentiss Ingraham, a prolific writer occasionally employed by Cody as a publicist, made Taylor the protagonist in the first of a series of dime novels, confirming Taylor's popularity with youngsters. By the time Buck Taylor died in 1924, Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister, Will Rogers, William S. Hart, and Tom Mix (among others) had made substantial contributions to cowboy imagery, each in his own way contributing to the separation of the cowboy from his historical and occupational context, so that, by the end of the process, the cowboy would be not a laborer, but a heroic figure who had little or nothing to do with cows. As the television series Rawhide (CBS, 1959-1965) indicated, trail-driving merely provided an excuse to be in a different locale every week. The cattle business became an essential backdrop, but, like scenery in a play, it could be conveniently ignored, as Gil Favor, Rowdy Yates, and the rest of the trail crew left the herd and rode off in defense of law, order, and fair play.
Today, one contemplates the cowboy in PBS documentaries of contemporary ranch life; in rodeo performances; in television and magazine advertising; in museums like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, the Pawnee Bill Ranch in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and the 101 Ranch in Ponca City; at "gatherings" of cowboy poets; and in the seemingly endless reprints of novels written by Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. Clearly, popular interest in the cowboy, either as he existed in history or as Hollywood and the novelists have imagined him, remains strong. Understanding the cowboy image, in its various manifestations, may lead to an understanding of the ways Americans, at different times and in different places, have perceived their history and, in some measure, defined themselves. The cowboy of fiction and cinema may be taken to represent freedom to a population coping with adjustments to life in a post-industrial society, and, if that is so, his cultural durability must also be of interest. As entertainment fare, the cowboy has outlasted the mountain man, the pioneer, the soldier, the settler, the gold seeker, the scout, and even the Indian in terms of frequency of appearance, if not in quality of representation. The readings for this program may help to explain the primacy of the cowboy over all other western types from the nineteenth century.