Book Review: The Day the Cowboys Quit

“The Day the Cowboys Quit” is a 1971 Elmer Kelton book, based in the early 1880s on the Texas Panhandle. Things are changing rapidly, and few, if any, are equipped to handle the change. The old-school cowboys want to keep their way of life, working hard for $25 a month, riding for the brand and, if lucky, mavericking a few head of cattle for themselves — their own 401(k) plan.

The old-school ranchers who came when there was nothing and fought weather, bandits and Comanches to build their ranches are now uncomfortably teamed with the eastern investors who don’t know a thing about cattle or cowboys, but don’t miss a dollar when it comes to the bottom line.

Hugh “Hitch” Hitchcock reluctantly leads the cowboys out on strike. They are ill-prepared to strike, not even sure what they are striking for and doomed to fail when they go up against the moneyed ranchers, the bought and paid for sheriff and judge, and of course, the hired gunman. But every time they’re knocked down, they do the only thing they know how to do: get back up. And Hitch, with help from the new town banker, a former cowboy, shows them the way.

“The Day the Cowboys Quit” is fiction, but it is based on the actual Tascosa Cowboy Strike of 1883. It was impossible to read “The Day the Cowboys Quit” without having a sensitivity for the cowboys, but also for the ranchers. Change is hard for all men, though inevitable. The following is the actual list of demands made to initiate the strike and signed by 24 cowboys:

“We, the undersigned cowboys of Canadian River, do by these presents agree to bind ourselves into the following obligations, viz:

First: that we will not work for less than $50 per mo. and we furthermore agree no one shall work for less than $50 per mo. after 31st of Mch.

Second: Good cooks shall also receive $50 per mo.

Third: Any one running an outfit shall not work for less than $75 per mo.

Any one violating the above obligations shall suffer the consequences. Those not having funds to pay board after March 31 will be provided for 30 days at Tascosa.”


Three horseshoes.

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