An Animal History
The Environment in Modern North America
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
312 Pages | 6 x 9 | 39 b&w illus.
"What would rodeo look like if we took it as a record, not of human triumph and resilience, but of human imperfection and stubbornness?” asks animal historian Susan Nance. Against the backdrop of the larger histories of ranching, cattle, horses, and the environment in the West, this book explores how the evolution of rodeo has reflected rural western beliefs and assumptions about the natural world that have led to environmental crises and served the beef empire. By unearthing behind-the-scenes stories of rodeo animals as diverse individuals, this book lays bare contradictions within rodeo and the rural West.
For almost 150 years, westerners have used rodeo to symbolically reenact their struggles with animals and the land as uniformly progressive and triumphant. Nance upends that view with accounts of individual animals that reveal how diligently rodeo people have worked to make livestock into surrogates for the trials of rural life in the West and the violence in its history. Western horses and cattle were more than just props. Rodeo reclaims their lived history through compelling stories of anonymous roping steers and calves who inspired reform of the sport, such as the famed but abused bucker Steamboat, and the many broncs and bulls, famous or not, who unknowingly built an industry.
Rodeo is a dangerous sport that reveals many westerners as people proudly tolerant of risk and violence, and ready to impose these values on livestock. In Rodeo: An Animal History, Nance pushes past standard histories and the sport’s publicity to show how rodeo was shot through with stubbornness and human failing as much as fortitude and community spirit.
“Nance’s history of rodeo animals reveals more than the lives of horse and cattle athletes. In tracing rodeo animals, Nance expands western historiography to better understand the constant presence of violence toward animals and humans. Rodeo animals reveal the importance of defining a western identity by the end of the nineteenth century. Rodeos served as a proving ground for rural westerners to show their control of the land through controlling animals, to prove their individual strength and endurance through death-defying events, and to prove their distinct identity in opposition to urbanites through their continued support of rodeos.”—Journal of Arizona History
“In Rodeo: An Animal History, Susan Nance explores a side of the rodeo left largely untold, that of the animal participants. While animal rights activists and some scholars in the humanities have examined animal treatment in the rodeo, Nance looks not just at that issue but also aims to tell the life stories of the animals themselves, thus elevating them to the same level of examination that the human rodeo participants have received over the past 100 years…In many ways this book is not just telling the history of rodeo and that of animals in the rodeo, it is also a call for change in how we treat and view animals, their lives, and their value.”—Great Plains Research
“Rodeo: An Animal History, Susan Nance deftly weaves together cultural, political, environmental, and western history with animal studies to re-examine the history of rodeo in the American and Canadian West… this ambitious book is an innovative and important contribution to the scholarship on animal studies and the history of the American West, as well as environmental, cultural, and political history.”—New Mexico Historical Review