Cowboy life is rough stuff even when everything goes as well as could be. Throw in a few horse wrecks and bull stompings and no wonder the old cowboys in the old bars in remote towns in Montana appear physically and emotionally mangled. There’s nobody going to come up to these old prairie salts and say “Damn glad you did that to yourself—what a terrific choice.” Just to vary the possibilities, let an oilfield or two spring up in the local geology and you can add being worn down by heavy machinery to your resume.
Blame belongs to Easterners for all the things there are to dissent from. Viewed from the High Plains, the Easterners are very obviously in charge of the world, and they’re not doing a very good job. The High Plains and the High Desert are on their own and they know it. This reminds to me ask who the last Western president was. Nebraska: Gerald Ford. LBJ was a Texan but then we have to speculate whether Texas is part of the rest of the West or somewhat like a different country. If Kansas is west enough, then the answer could be Eisenhower (also born in Texas though). California is not the west, it's the coast. There has never been a Mountain West president. It’s possible that as a nation and as a people, so to speak, we could do with a crack at that.
These are the people, and agriculture, specifically the ranches, remains the chief economic and civilizational explanation for life on the High Plains. This despite the Billings refineries, a brief hydrocarbon boom and the reasonable expectation that there will be another. The stick-togetherness is about farming and cattle on these vast expanses. An active social life requires burning a lot of gas. And success on the ranch requires equipment. A combine harvester can cost half a million dollars. Being a rancher is like having several largely entrepreneurial full-time jobs at the same time. Prosperity hangs by a thread. But I speak as a retired editor, the most ruthlessly unprosperous profession in America. So on some levels these guys are pretty lucky. And they have the Badlands.
And the K-T Boundary, and the mass extinction that ended the Mesozoic. And the ever-looming possibility of that dinosaur jackpot. Like Dinosaur Dan, living in a trailer with thirteen children, hitting a multimillion dollar T. rex and, two divorces later, very nearly half-ruined again. I did not meet Dinosaur Dan. A guy deserves some privacy. You need privacy to be a legend, and Montana can still produce legends.