Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ty Phillips, Blacktop Cowboys

Rodeo Week continues at BITS as author Ty Phillips follows a handful of champion steer wrestlers on a year's round of rodeos. In his book he focuses mostly on 23-year-old Luke Branquinho from Los Alamos, California. Branquinho, in 2004, went to the National Finals and finished first, with over $193,000 in overall earnings.

And that is the book in a nutshell. Readers follow along as Luke, his brother Casey, best friend Travis Cadwell, and a colleague Marc Jensen crisscross the West to compete at dozens of rodeos.

The steer wrestling itself and the competition get almost as much attention as the long-distance rig driving, poker playing, carousing, beer drinking, junk food eating, gambling, pot smoking, cell-phone talking, and the idle conversations, story telling, boredom, practical joking, raillery, tomfoolery, and high jinks that fill the time between rodeos and rides.

Luke Branquinho, National Rodeo Finals, 2004
The book is an honest effort to recreate the experience of being on the road with this fraternity of men in their twenties and thirties. Living out dreams of rodeo glory, they pit skill against luck in the arena. Meanwhile they struggle with disappointments and deal with physical ailments that range from colossal hangovers to serious injuries. Theirs is also a story of  building friendships that qualify as a rough-and-ready kind of male bonding.

You won't find much padding – no history of steer wrestling, no side-trips and detours into related subjects, and very little character study or analysis of the sport itself. It's pretty much play-by-play – whether behind the scenes or out in front of the crowd.

The book ends in a 40-page account of the ten-day Finals in Las Vegas. It's a quick read, with a 16-page section of great action photos and thumbnail portraits of the cowboys featured in the book. All told, it fills in those long gaps between those rides into the arena to throw oneself bodily at a four-legged moving target.

Blacktop Cowboys is available at amazon and Abebooks.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Baxter Black, Hey, Cowboy, Wanna Get Lucky?


  1. My small home town of Charleston, Arkansas, population about 1500, raised the State Champion bull rider and I believe he was in the top 10 nationally. We were pretty proud of that.

  2. I occasionally watch the bull riding on TV. The cowboys who do it are a breed unto themselves.

  3. Charles, I believe it. There's something deeply mythic about bull riding.

    Oscar, Friday's post is about the PBR.