The Ranch Meets Reality TV

From the first silent Westerns to the mass appeal of reality television, the true American cowboy has continued to play an important role on TV and in film. Reality shows such as "Dancing with the Stars," "The Last American Cowboy" and "The Amazing Race," have featured the iconic figure of the American Cowboy.

American Cowboy Picture

World Champion All-around Cowboy Ty Murray on "Dancing with the Stars." Photo courtesy of

For as long as Hollywood has been making moves and television shows, the image of the American cowboy has been a central figure. The Great Train Robbery and other silent Westerns of the early 1900s started the phenomenon. Actors such as Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Gene Autry carried it forward, becoming household names in the process. Radio and television series such as “The Lone Ranger” and “Bonanza” had widespread appeal. Feature film classics such as Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford) and more recent movies such as Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, and Maverick have continued the legacy.

Now, the 21st century is ushering in a new era of the American cowboy in mainstream media – that of the reality TV star. Arguably, it all began when Texas’ Ty Murray appeared on Season 8 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” last year, where he was paired with a professional dance partner and competed against other celebrities in a week-by-week dance off watched by millions of viewers. Murray made it to the final four before being shown the door.

More recently, brothers Cord and Jet McCoy, from Oklahoma, appeared on Season 16 of CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” an around-the-world race whose finale aired in May. As reality TV stars, the McCoy brothers – like Murray before them – weren’t just contestants on a show. They were also the poster children for the American West, representing cowboys in mainstream media before a nationwide American audience. It was a role and a responsibility they took seriously.

“We knew, when we left to go on the race, that our conduct and what we did on the race was probably bigger than ourselves,” Jet explains. “We were representing our families, our communities, the Western lifestyle.”

The brothers became known for their honest, fair play, making it to the finale on the merits of their own effort, even as other pairs of competitors took a less honorable win-at-any-cost mentality. “The funny thing about becoming known as fair players,” Jet continues, “was that it came from just being who we are. The principles we tried to adhere to on the race were the same was what we try to do every day. And I like to think that just cowboys in general hold to those same standards.”

In fact, the McCoys credit those standards with getting them to the competition’s finale. “It’s important to remember,” Cord says, “that a lot of what helped us through the race was our drive from the cowboy lifestyle – our hard work ethic; trusting each other. We had to work together. Plenty of times we had the option to give up, but we never backed down from anything, and we’re proud of that.”

But did they regret playing fair, only to lose in the end? Not for a second. “It was disappointing for both of us, sure,” says Jet. “We were in it to win. But it’s funny…on the one hand, we came in second. But on the other hand, we had an opportunity to go on the race, and to be a part of the experience. We came away with so much.” It’s a perspective the brothers gained from rodeo. “A lot of the time, you’ll make your best performance, and still not win first,” Jet continues. “That’s going to happen, whether in The Amazing Race, or rodeo, or life in general.”

Ty Murray, Jet and Cord McCoy, and others like them are showing the American cowboy for who he and she truly is. Honest. Hard-working. Committed. Dedicated to traditional values. Most at home on the ranch among family and horses and cattle. In short, they’re shedding old stereotypes from the movies – the shoot ‘em up gunfights and long-distance cattle drives – and offering an image of the American cowboy that contrasts the modern-day slick rodeo cowboys of the PBR and PRCA.

The American public will get an even more intimate look inside the life of authentic American cowboys with Animal Planet’s upcoming series, “Last American Cowboy,” which debuts June 7 and runs through early August. It follows the real-life stories of three ranching families in Montana. More so than any show that has come before it, “Last American Cowboy” is an honest look at life on the range, warts and all.

“I have a hard time saying we’re cowboys,” says Earline Goettle, who works her father’s Stucky Ranch in western Montana north of Avon. “We’re ranchers mostly. We work with our cattle, and use our horses to get that job accomplished. It’s not an easy life. You have to love it to do it. We’re facing Mother Nature, and she doesn’t always deal you a great hand. We’re working in the elements, no matter if it’s sunny and beautiful, or if it’s a blizzard and twenty below. The cows still have to be fed. People think it’s a wonderful life, but sometimes it’s not.”

The Stucky Ranch raises 1,100 head of cattle on 10,000 acres, and on the show, it’s known as the traditional ranch, one which is fiercely clinging to the “old way” of doing things. Part of that commitment to tradition comes from respecting the history of the land. When Goettle’s parents remodeled the on-property house, they found newspapers used as insulation dating to the year 1888. “They used workhorses instead of tractors. That’s the way they did it here, and we’re still doing it the same way,” Goettle says. “There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to move 100 or 200 cattle with a horse and a couple of dogs. I don’t believe it’s really the hard way. It’s a good way. It worked in the past, and it works for us now.”

It’s a way of life that – if not exactly fading away – is certainly changing in the 21st century. Witness the Galt Ranch, which “Last American Cowboy” positions as the high-tech cowboy lifestyle. Now in its 3rd and 4th generation of ranching, the Galt family manages the immense 100,000-acre Galt Ranch in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, sandwiched between the Big Belt and Little Belt mountains. Unlike the Stucky Ranch, which remains committed to the traditional way of doing things, the Galt Ranch has embraced technology, including a helicopter it uses to manage its herd of cattle.

“We all started out with a horse between our legs as kids,” says Bill Galt. “But someone has to run this ranch, and to do that, we started to mechanize things.”

“There’s no horse in cowboy,” he continues. “Cowboys or cattlemen are first born to take care of cattle, to make money raising them. The horse was a conveyance, and for years, we moved cattle via horseback. But draft horses were replaced by tractors for a reason.”

Galt Ranch doesn’t exactly shy away from horses. They’re still an integral component of ranch life. But the helicopter (and the modern technology it represents) has a place, too. “It takes a balance of each to run a ranch today,” Galt says. “The American cowboy is still here. We still take care of cows and calves.” That much hasn’t changed.

Clearly, though, “Last American Cowboy” – with both its traditional and high-tech ranching families – is a far cry from the earliest silent Westerns. And yet, for all that has changed about the image of the American cowboy in mainstream media over the course of the last century, one thing remains a constant: the cowboy, and the American West, as a constant source of inspiration and admiration.

American Cowboy Picture

Cowboy brothers Jet and Cord McCoy. Photo courtesy of

Mick Goettle. Stucky Ranch. Avon, MT. The Last American Cowboy airs on Animal Planet June 7th. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet / Audrey Hall


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cowboy, and the American West, as a constant source of inspiration and admiration.
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Cowboy Lifestyle

"Honest. Hard-working. Committed. Dedicated to traditional values." These are our values but we don't have a single horse or cow. We love Western clothes and decor. My husband and sons build Western furniture. We live in New Mexico. But that horse and cow thing...does that disqualify us? I hope not. Will I always just be a "wanna be"?

the heart is where it is, and

the heart is where it is, and you are who you are, so be true to that

Last American Cowboy

Even though I didn't get to see all of Last American Cowboy, it showed the real way of life for the cowboy vice what people see from Hollyweird. Since Hollywood reality isn't in touch with reality. Its good to see something with true facts of life.

you can bet your life on that

you can bet your life on that one the truth and real down to earth values

Last night was the final

Last night was the final episode of the best-ever reality show, Last American Cowboy. As I did during each of the prior 6 episodes, I laughed, and I cried, and saw first-hand how closely knit ranching families and communities are "out West" and the hard work, love and commitment to the cattle that bring their once a year paycheck so they can do it all over again. Not only did I learn a whole lot about a subject I never thought of as I stood grilling or cooking all manner of beef, I also found a lifestyle that I truly do envy and one that I would be proud to be part of.

Thank you Animal Planet/Discovery for this amazing series, and thank you to the Stuckeys, Galts and Hughes for allowing cameras into your lives for those many, long months. God Bless you all, each and every one, and I hope Cal continues to get stronger each and every passing day.

its OK to envy a lifestyle

its OK to envy a lifestyle but you shoud be happy with the 1 you got

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OK to Envy Lifestyle

Maybe we envy, or a drawn to a lifestyle because that's what we were meant to do.

I agree

This has been my favorite show to watch on TV as well. I can not wait to move back to my hometown of Dillon, Mt from Virginia. In my opinion, there is no greater life than the country/western way of life. I miss the majestic mountains, and the friendliness of the folks back home.

Cal and his wife sang at my best friend's wedding years ago. They truly are a wonderful family. Thank you for your post, and may God continue to bless you and your family.

Your brother in Christ,


The last Great American Cowboy

This is by far one of the best shows I have ever seen on TV. I am currently in Iraq, but my wife DVRed it for me and I watched it when I was home for r and r and could not leave the TV until I watched every episode. It showed the reality of running a ranch and of how difficult it can be as well as the trials and tribulations as well as hard work and the love of the land and community. I absolutely thank each ranch family and owner for allowing a TV crew to come into there home and show the ups and downs of owning and running a ranch. It is definently a 24 hour 7 days a week thing. It is also a life where you would truely have to love and appreciate in order for it to be successful. I surely hope it will air again next season. P.S. It also showed the beautiful and often harsh weather of absolutely gorgeous Montana. Thanks again for a great show. Steven Lohman

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