August 2009


Wyoming Memories: Cowboys Crying

The stereotypical Cowboy in Wyoming is, by inherent definition, the definition of hyper-masculinity.

Accordingly, these men never, ever cry.

Not once, ever, never.

Well… maybe every once in awhile—but rarely.

These are the guys who grew up on a ranch and would come to the university only to be stunned by the overwhelming selection of movies (when I first moved to Laramie there were 3 screens), direct dial telephones in the dorms (hey, party lines weren’t that uncommon in rural areas in the mid 1990s), and sedans (trucks are the normal mode of transportation, if a horse isn’t directly involved). (Realize that I jest, in good nature, of course.)

One could easily spot them—the ones walking around campus wearing cowboy boots and a big cowboy hat. Depending upon their internal fortitude, the wearing of boots and hats would become less frequent as they tried to fit into the campus scene, save for a couple of true die-hards who were proud of their roots.

Honestly, true cowboys (those wearing the regalia or not) were few and far between—the stereotype was out there, but although the Cowboy is the ultimate symbol of individuality and freedom for Wyoming, the truth is that Wyoming’s economy is driven by extraction: natural gas, coal, and trona. The Cowboys who have come to symbolize the state are culturally important, but not really economically important.

I was lucky enough to know a few real Cowboys over my six years in Wyoming. Unfortunately I’ve lost touch with them—but these guys met the absolute stereotypical definition of “Cowboy”—never seen crying, save that one time.

That one time was while watching 8 Seconds, a movie that was, perhaps, little noticed by Americans in general, but was a huge hit in Wyoming. Starring Luke Perry (why I was interested at first), it’s the story of Lane Frost, a bull rider who was killed in 1989 by a bull after successfully completing a ride during Cheyenne Frontier Days.

The whole story is the quintessential American story—the relentless pursuit of happiness.

Since rodeo isn’t that common of a sport, let me explain where the name of the movie comes from: In order to successfully ride a bull, one must stay on it for eight seconds.

The movie manages to make Cowboys tear up twice: once when Lane Frost is killed, and then at the end when Lane’s best friend, another bull rider, Tuff Hedeman is competing at the National Finals Rodeo. Tuff successfully rides his bull for the requisite eight seconds, and then, instead of getting off the bull, he stays on another 8 seconds, honoring Lane.

Real cowboys don’t just tear up, they sob.

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