Still riding the edge
by Linda M. Hasselstrom
Riding the Edge of an Era: Growing Up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail
Diana Allen Kouris
254 pages, softcover: $17.95.
High Plains Press, 2009.
© High Country News
Diana Allen Kouris grew up on a ranch, riding horseback with her siblings in untamed country surrounded by the ghosts of Indians, mountain men and outlaws. "It could have been a hard way of life," she says, but her mother's enthusiasm for it was contagious. In this brightly written, down-to-earth book, Kouris relives the stories hidden behind dozens of family photographs, letting readers experience a way of life that most have never had the chance to know.
Her story abounds with good things: homegrown food, family shenanigans, the sweat of honest labor. Ranch kids become responsible adults by learning that they, the land they live on and the animals they share it with -- both wild and domestic -- are interconnected, all dependent on one another. A sense of duty breeds respect and love.
But this is no nostalgic cowboy ballad. The setting is the historic Brown's Park Livestock Ranch where Utah, Colorado and Wyoming interlock, in country that attracted increased attention from the government and the public as the economy expanded after World War II. Flaming Gorge Dam was completed in 1964 to provide water storage, power generation, flood control and recreation. No one realized how it would transform ecosystems. The federal government then moved to acquire more land -- including the ranch itself.
Writes Kouris, "Our ranch was sold outright -- for a modest price determined by the government -- to the federal Fish and Wildlife." The buildings were bulldozed and burned, groves of ancient cedars destroyed by bulldozers, "artifacts fractured and crumbled as the remains of primitive Native American encampments were quickly destroyed." An apple orchard, alfalfa and grain fields, "a jewel of green ... turned to weeds and the color of straw -- and supported almost no wildlife."
Yet Kouris concludes that "although it was a horrible ordeal, the government didn't destroy our bond." The family that conserved that land for generations loves it still.
"There, along the old Outlaw Trail," writes Kouris, "we searched for and found the best of ourselves." In Riding the Edge of an Era, she shares that discovery with us all.