The cowboy roaming horseback across the American West is nearly inextricable from what it means to be American. But in reality, most beef is raised out East where there’s more grass, and only a tiny fraction of the economy in the West comes from cattle. Now a new generation of ranchers is working to reinvent this iconic way of life to fit a modern world.
For the Elliot family, there isn’t just one kind of cowboy. There are guys like Jake who chase the idea of the rodeo star, never sinking roots, a rolling stone. And then there’s Jim, the hardworking and intimidating rancher. In this episode, we bust some myths about what it means to be a “real” cowboy and whether ranching ever measures up to our American ideals.
The Abeyta family has been driving sheep down from the mountains of southern Colorado for generations. But it hasn’t been easy to keep that tradition alive – they’ve had to fight for it. Through their eyes, we trace back the beginnings of the cowboy to the Mexican vaquero and find out how those adventurous roots are still very much alive in the American southwest. (more…)
The history of how we brought the pastoral cow to live on the arid lands of the West is a violent one. Jim Elliot grew up in the shadow of that history and his stories are quintessential cowboy, full of guns, death and hard winters. But even Jim recognized the tragedy of the attempted annihilation of Indigenous culture and bison to make way for cows. But now, there’s growing hope among tribes as bison make a comeback. (more…)
This time, we head to Wyoming’s Red Desert – and hear the history of the 19th-century range wars. They led to laws requiring grazing fees and regular land health check-ups. But over a century later, some say these regulations haven’t done enough to protect our wild spaces. Not to mention our climate. (more…)
The Modern West brings you heartfelt stories about poignant issues happening today in the rural west. A lot of these issues are also felt in other rural communities, across the country. Today we take you to the foothills of the lush Appalachian Mountains in East Tennessee. There you’ll meet people who lost their way of life when a federal agency decided to take their land and flood their rich river valley, burying beneath the water much of our country’s early history, including many sacred Cherokee sites, and threatening an endangered species. This was all done in the name of progress. (more…)
We follow the cow’s journey from the mountain pasture to the feedlot and eventually the slaughterhouse. Along the way, we hear from animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin and cattle handlers who all want a fairer, more humane market – and one not so monopolized by large corporations. (more…)
The Rardins are father and son cowboys watching climate change threaten their way of life. They’ve given up on the old idea of “get big or get out” and joined the regenerative ranching movement. Inspired by how bison improve the land, they raise cattle to protect grasses and reduce emissions. But for many, it’s still a financial risk. (more…)
A few years ago, the May family set off on a trailblazing path to protect their land, and the carbon it stores, by selling carbon credits on the global market. By promising to never plow the land, the Mays store carbon and protect native wildlife. But with diminishing margins and the looming threat of fire, the road hasn’t been easy.
Everyone likes to say that there’s no better place to grow up than in the Rocky Mountains. Building snow forts, riding your bike everywhere, learning how to find your way out of the woods when you’re lost. But for kids having a hard time, no one’s handing them a map and compass. In Wyoming, kids are incarcerated and dying of suicide at higher rates than anywhere else. Longtime education reporter Tennessee Watson started to wonder if all this had to do with the “cowboy up” attitude we take toward child-rearing in the American West. (more…)
In 1892, Wyoming hosts its first execution and it’s a teenage boy named Kansas Charley. His trial causes a big national debate: is Charley a hardened criminal or a neglected child? It’s a question we still haven’t answered in the American West, where children are incarcerated in greater numbers than anywhere else. We also hear from a modern-day Kansas Charley who’s living out his days in Wyoming’s prisons who says, growing up, no one ever asked him the simple question: do you need help?
In Rock Springs, Wyoming, we follow the treacherous paths of two young women. Larissa endures one trauma after another and soon finds herself unable to escape a cycle of probation and incarceration. Another kid, Jess, endures racism and bullying and seems headed down the same road. The system fails them both, but Jess’s story takes a turn when she lucks out with a new teacher. But Mr. Baker says kids shouldn’t have to rely on good luck. (more…)
Fifteen-year-old Kate just lost her mom. On top of that, her learning disabilities are making it hard to go to school. She’s missed so much that the school says she might get sent away to a residential treatment center hundreds of miles away. But her grandparents are fighting hard for their right to keep her home. (more…)
Reservations have been some of the hardest-hit communities in the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, for Native Americans, this all feels awfully familiar…the arrival of a terrible illness that kills elders while the federal government does little to stop it. But this time, tribes know what to do. Coming September 29, we’ll bring you a three-part series we’re calling Shall Furnish Medicine, tracing that devastating history from its beginnings. (more…)
For Native Americans, the story of pandemics started the moment European colonizers stepped foot off their ships. Savannah Maher’s tribe the Mashpee Wampanoag experienced that first Great Dying. Arapaho and Shoshone descendant Taylar Stagner tells the history of how those diseases came West as a form of biological warfare. (more…)
It’s the late 1800s. With no government help in sight, Omaha citizen Dr. Susan LaFlesche is determined to bring health care to her tribe. Decades later, the U.S. still hasn’t gotten around to fulfilling its treaty promise to furnish medicine. So, tribes find a way to take over their health care system, and a quiet social movement is born. (more…)
When COVID-19 arrives on reservation borders, tribes aren’t sure if their newly minted health care programs can hold up against the onslaught. The fear is that this is history happening all over again. But the two tribes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming decide early to roll up their sleeves–literally–in a fight for the very survival of their tribal identity.
They say those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So what can Old West ghost towns teach us about today’s shrinking rural towns? Starting September 16, we’ll take you to the windswept prairie where towns once stood and to new ghost towns in the making. We’re exploring rural decline and resilience, and asking, why does it matter if America’s small towns disappear? (more…)
Years ago, small towns like Walden, Colorado were vibrant. Street dances, a health food store, a movie theatre, the works. At least, that’s how host Melodie Edwards remembers it from her childhood. Now it’s shrinking, part of the “ghost towning” of the American West. But can communities like Walden find a way to survive? Or will Melodie’s parents be forced to move away, like so many others? (more…)
Why are we so fascinated by old ghost towns? And what can they teach us? We go looking for the ghosts of an old silver mining community called Teller City to see if they have any lessons for how the nearby town of Walden, Colorado can keep from falling into the same cycles of boom and bust. (more…)