September 19, 2011Some years ago, I was in a Bisbee bookstore and saw a rather shocking title, at least to me, "Kill The Cowboy." I picked it up and thought it might be some clever take on the Wild West, but no, it seemed to be an indictment of cowboys and cattlemen being the bad guys in the environmental movement to save the planet. I glanced through it and seem to remember that the author grew up on a ranch and had a change of heart, going "to the dark side," that is, if part of your family is in the ranching business and a few of mine are. It was quite weird to see an American icon, the cowboy, as the villain.
On our recent road trip to Prescott, Monument Valley and Durango, we went the back way thru Mexican Hat. I love that route. Great scenery. On our way to Durango, we stopped in Bluff, Utah at a little hippie coffee shack and while waiting for an iced coffee I looked through their book rack and saw a huge coffee table book, "Welfare Ranching: The subsidized Destruction of the American West." I bought it because I wanted to read their case: "Your land is their feedlot," is the main premise, which has some merit, considering the huge corporations who skim by on the dole, stink up the landscape and skate by on the coattails of the cowboy image, so I get that. They also make the case that cows don't belong on the land and we foot the bill for it. That's a bit more contentious. Quoting from the back jacket, "Welfare Ranching is testimony to an environmental tragedy, yet it is also an expression of hope that America's heritage of wild and vibrant western landscapes will be restored and renewed." The Cliff Notes version: they want to kill the cowboy and take away their land. Sound familiar? If you were an In-din, you might say, "Hey, it's your turn in the barrel."
If Native Americans are no longer a viable villain in a Western (and they are not), then how about a new style of Western where these two camps go at it for the heart and soul of the American West? You could even call it "Cowboys & Eco-Aliens."
Anyway, I am still noodling ideas for a centennial series of paintings commenting on the changes I have seen since coming to Arizona in 1946 (and moving here for good in 1956). Here's one idea, based on the above: "Arizona Icon Under Fire".
"Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be eco-terrorists."
—Waylon and Ed Abby, a legendary duet