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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA

Cowboys and Longhorns


Cowboys and Longhorns Stanley, Jerry. 2003. Cowboys and longhorns: A portrait of the long drive. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN: 0375815651.

All of us have grown up with the myth of the great American cowboy. In this frank and candid study of the history of the American cowboy, Jerry Stanley paints a picture before his reader of a very different reality for the legenday hero. The text begins with an overview of misperceptions and also gives brief hypotheses about how and why these have been perpetuated in American culture across the decades. From the frits sentence of chapter one, the reader realizes that Stanley will dispel these falsehoods and give credit where it is due. Chapter one begins with, "The first cowboys were of Spanish descent, and the methods they developed for controlling cattle were copied by American cowboys." Stanley also tells the history of the longhorn, and then follows the path of the cowboy and the longhorn on their long journey across the plains to Kansas. Along the way, Stanley is able to detail the many dangers faced by both livestock and cowboys.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the author will not gloss over the realities of herding longhorns. Reviewers called Stanley's prose "gripping," "graphic" (Tilottson, 2004), and "gritty." (Sullivan, 2003) Cowboys often met a gruesome death, and the longhorns were also in grave danger from both their own wild nature and the means the cowboys employed to force them into submission. These atrocities are described in gory detail. At the same time, Stanley uses a friendly and easy going style as he transports his readers back to these wild times through lines such as, "It starts in Texas during that period of history when cowboys were called vaqueros." (Stanley, p.4) which is the last sentence of the introduction. Although there is no recurring character, the trek up the Chisholm Trail itself seems to become the main character as Stanley lays out each step of the journey and the dangers faced along the way.

Through Stanley's text, one senses his passion for telling the true story of the cowboy as he dispels one myth after another. The depth of his research can be seen in the extensive bibliographic note on page 78. Sources are arranged by subject matter, and the note is written in paragraph form. Picture credits, acknowledgments, and a thorough index are also included.

The text itself is printed in a medium-sized serif font. Illustrations include maps and sketches, portraits and scenes from the lives of real cowboys, and also pictures of Hollywood's version of the American cowboy. Stanley is able to use these illustrations to expand upon his text, such as the justaposition of portraits of the real cowboy and the Hollywood version on pages one and two of the introduction. A portrait of Gregory Peck portrays a sharply dressed man with flawless skin holding a shiny clean rifle and sitting jauntily on a wooden fence with one leg cocked at an angle. His perfect hat is perched on his head as he stares out in space. On the next page is a picture of a real cowboy in profile. His skin is sunburned, his mustache is in need of a trim, and the brim of his hat is bent and tattered. He is hunched forward and his jaw is tight with concentration. These pictures bring out the differences between the two in sharp contrast. Besides the introduction, the book contains eight chapters, each of which is titled with a relevant phrase from its text. The first page of each chapter also contains a silhouetted graphic of things such as a horse and rider or a longhorn. When there is a shift in the subject matter of a chapter, this change is marked by a center-justified, stylized "Zia," which is a Native American symbol. An example can be seen at

Although this book is at times very graphic, it is also eye-opening. At the conclusion, the reader is amazed that any cattle and cowboys actually made it to their destination alive.

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