Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cruise Up and Down This Road

I just got through reading a book that just stunned me with the familiarity with my formative years. Robert Rebein, who is originally from Dodge City, has written a book about growing up in the old cowtown. I graduated in 1977 from Cimarron - eighteen miles to the west of Dodge, Robert in '83. He has captured the essence of teenage prairie living, and in fact, life on the prairie, period, for all ages. The name of the book? Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City.

There are parallels for us and differences, of course. He was raised in a large Catholic family and went to Sacred Heart School in Dodge. Small Catholic family here, but I have had experience with nuns in Catechism (at St. Stanislaus in Ingalls) and at St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge. Dragging, or cruising Wyatt Earp was a bit more of a destination for us than him - we had our own route in Cimarron with much the same social rules. We had some reverence for dragging Earp - it was in the Big City, there were People Who Might Want to Fight (particularly if one strayed further east of Boot Hill, where the gangs were), and there were more fast cars and hopefully fast women there. A sort of Mecca, as it were.

The book is divided into three parts - Part I: The Town, Part II: The Country, and Part III: Of Horses, Cattle and Men.

Part I contains the chapter Dragging Wyatt Earp, and here is where most quotes I've read have been pulled - mostly because they're damned good.
Wyatt Earp, to us, was not a person but a place, a mile-long ribbon of asphalt that stretched from Boot Hill on the east to the Dodge House on the west
Wyatt Earp, the historical figure, really didn't make a dent in our lives. The street probably had more influence on us. But another observation Rebein makes really hit home for me:
What is it about growing up in a small town in the West that breeds such bravado, such innocence and blind faith? Was it our isolation? The vaunted self-reliance of the region? The fact that our parents and teachers praised us inordinately or that acceptance into any of the state colleges was a fait accompli? Maybe but I have another explanation:  we were leaving. And not just for a year or five years, but forever. Like the region's cattle, wheat and corn, we'd been raised for export, and most of us had learned this at about the same time we learned that Santa Claus was a fiction.  
We'd been raised for export.

It's true. Since day one, most of us knew that our parents wanted something better for us, that we were to get an education away from cattle and farming, and leave. Find a job we could love, get married and raise kids in a more forgiving climate.

There were exceptions - many were being raised to take over the farm or the family business, which most have done with great aplomb with no regrets. Some of us found we didn't really want to leave - that the lonely, rough, inhospitable prairie is something we love.

Part II contains some of the history of our little corner of the prairie, and Rebein's personal search for Quivira, the legendary home of the seven cities of gold that the Spaniard Francisco Vasquez de Coronado sought. His trips to several Indian massacre sites, seeing the Flint Hills led him to discover that the preferred campgrounds of the Cheyenne mirrored his own choices (and mine as well) - a scenic area sheltered from the incessant winds with water, game and grass. He also talks a lot about hunting - something that for most of us is akin to breathing.

Part III is all about the cattle and cowboys. I can certainly relate to the cattle - I've doctored, herded and branded many a heifer or steer (and made 'em steers in the first place). Dad didn't believe in keeping horses, so I have never really ridden or learned to ride - just never had the inclination. So, am I a cowboy? Not so much, and never will be. Robert Rebein is, and regales in the experience, making me realize how much I missed. He also spends some time doing some modern cowboying - working as a pen rider at a feedlot managed by one of my ex neighbors. I say ex, because I'm a townie these days, but his house was on my route to work for the past seven years before the ol' place burned down.  And he is the epitome of a modern businessman cowboy, and Rebein captures him elegantly and truthfully. There is certainly a cool factor in reading about your neighbors in someone's book.

There is so much more in this book that I am not even beginning to cover here. I think that anyone raised on the Great Plains would find commonality here, and those who weren't surely could see the attraction to our choosing to live here. It was a great regret when I reached the end.

The book is also available in Kindle format for $9.99 - it's how I read it (Amazon's Cloud Reader browser plugin). If you might wonder what makes me and my compadres tick, this will surely go a long way into gaining some insight.

Highly, highly recommended. Sure wish I could write as well....


threecollie said...

"Raised for export", wow, how I can relate to that even if we have foothills instead of prairies. I have GOT to read this book. Thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

Totally different experience from mine, in all aspects - but you described the book so convincingly I might try it.

[how come I see Captcha again?)

Jeffro said...

Tatyana: You see Captcha because it's zero spam comment that have to be deleted every day vs. hundreds. I mentioned earlier - hated to do it, but man, I've only got so many hours in a day.