Book Review: The Day the Cowboys Quit

Author: Elmer Kelton

Publisher: Texax Christian University Press

Copyright date: 1971

Pages: 239

Format: Western literature

Reason for Reading: I wanted a look at a Western award-winner

Rating: A+

Award Won: Spur Award from the Western Writers of America


Hitch (Hugh Hitchcock) is a wagon boss for one of the self-made ranchers in the Canadian River area of Texas.  Hitch is a single man in his thirties who loves the life of a cowboy. It’s hard work for very little pay but he likes the freedom of the open range and the outdoor life. It’s also a way for a man to build his own herd.

The story takes place in 1883 but it’s important to understand how ranches and cowboy life was prior to this date. For thirty or forty years prior to this time period a cattle business could be started with a small herd, raised on open grass land and built into a larger herd. Ranchers claimed certain areas as their own but the cattle still roamed wherever they wished. Cowboys worked for the ranchers but they were also free to brand the maverick calves as their own and thus build their own herds.

As is normal in all of life, things began to change.  Big money from the East and from Europe invested in big ranchers and it was now all about the money. The cowboy life and the ways he had been used to are about to change abruptly.  Ranchers banded together with new rules for the cowboys which would severely restrict their freedoms. So, the cowboys joined together and did the unthinkable – they went on strike.

My thoughts:

An employee strike may seem like a modern technique, but it really happened. Elmer Kelton based his story on an actual event in Texas in 1883. This little piece of real history was an excellent way to look at the changing life of the cowboys and the frontier.

This honest look at the life of the frontier cowboy was refreshing. In those days cowboy life was not as it has been depicted in so many novels, movies and tv programs. They did not spend their time fighting with Indians. In fact, most of them seldom wore guns. They worked long, long hours for very low wages. The only hope they had was the ability to build their own empires.

The Day the Cowboys Quit was full of numerous twists and turns. The dialogue was natural, and the characters were complicated enough to be believable. In short, it lived up to my A+ expectations. I strongly recommend this novel to anyone interested in a realistic look at the frontier cowboy’s life.

About the author:

First of all, Elmer Kelton was a Texan, born, raised, lived and died there. He was best known for his realistic portrayal of ranching and cowboy life in the West during the 1800s. Kelton was also a journalist and editor for forty-two years. He wrote over forty Western novels, one of which was made into a TV movie. Seven of his novels received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for Best Western Novel. Three of his novels received the Western Heritage Award. Kelton has also received numerous other awards and honorary doctorate degrees. He was greatly appreciated for his contribution to the literary heritage of the West, and in particular, Texas.


About Margot

I'm also known as Joyfully Retired. I love to talk. I love to talk about books I've read, movies I've seen, places I've traveled to, people (especially my children and grandchildren), and Food. On the Quirky Girls Read blog I'm trying to read all the books that have won the major awards and then, of course, talk about them.
This entry was posted in Award Winners, Fiction, Posts by Margot and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Book Review: The Day the Cowboys Quit

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I love that this was based on a real event. The book sounds interesting, but I have to admit that the title doesn’t do much for me.

  2. Margot says:

    I agree the title is a little strange. However, I choose this book to read out of the seven Spur winners of Kelton’s because it was so strange. I figured there must be something of interest behind that title.

    • Bumbles says:

      I don’t think the title is strange at all. I think it tells you exactly where it is coming from and makes this reader want to find out what on Earth would make a cowboy quit.

      I’m curious what the award/board is all about though…

      • Margot says:

        The Western Writers of America is an organization of over 500 published authors who write about the American West. The award is given annually (since 1953) for fiction, history, short stories, paperbacks, children’s, biography and non-fiction. I’ve read several Spur winners and they are exceptionally well written. I really liked this Elmer Kelton book but my favorite so far is Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas. She won that award in 2003. She also won in 2007 for Tallgrass. There are some great writers in this genre. Unfortunately the genre is not very popular today.

  3. I love that you’re really diving into Westerns. They’re not really the genre for me but you may just convince me to try with you enthusiasm.

  4. kaye says:

    what a fun find. I love how you are so willing to try new things. I think I’d enjoy this book too.

  5. jehara says:

    I had no idea that TCU had their own press. This was my first thought when I read the book information.
    I’m going to second what Kaye says. I also think it is awesome how willing you are to try new things.

    • Margot says:

      I thought about all the Quirky Girls who are Texans as I was reading this. Great heritage reading for Texans.

      • izzybella says:

        They do-a lot of the books I bought for a project Faith and I are working on come from TCU presses. There are a few publishing houses out there who specifically publish works highlighting Texas or people/events from Texas history.

  6. The historical background only helps to make this even more of a must-read selection for me. I see it’s only 6.99 on Kindle…adding it to my wish list.

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  10. izzybella says:

    Good call Margot. This looks really good and is going on the list!

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  12. Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your site accidentally,
    and I’m surprised why this accident didn’t came about earlier!
    I bookmarked it.

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