The first thing I noticed when I got to Laramie was the importance of cowboys. Walking around the University of Wyoming campus, you see cowboy statues everywhere, which makes sense given that the school’s mascot is a cowboy. Even beyond the campus though, the silhouette of a cowboy on his horse is emblazoned across the city, including on the sign for the Albany County courthouse.
It feels cheesy to write about cowboys when describing culture in the American West, but cowboy culture is part of the fabric of Wyoming in ways I don’t think I appreciated before. In a state of roaming cattle, cowboys are an essential part of ranching and animal husbandry. At a ranch rodeo, professional cowboys and cowgirls teamed up to showcase skills they use daily on ranches: loading cows into a trailer, milking them, and even administering vaccines. I had never seen cows lassoed before, so the rodeo was an initially jarring experience. As it progressed, though, I gained more respect for how the cowboys and cowgirls worked as teams to handle the cows without injuring them, and I realized that even though their handling of the cows looked violent, it was but a short moment in a life spent grazing in open prairies and picturesque forests. In my home state, most animal agriculture is done on high density feedlots. There, agriculture influences politics and culture, but large-scale farmers don’t seem as invested in animal welfare as Wyoming ranchers and cowboys do. The mostly solitary days spent roaming the prairie on horseback, tending to herds of cattle, make human-animal relationships more important to cattle ranchers here than in areas focused solely on maximum output and profit.
The Laramie River Valley is a completely different environment than what I’m used to. As such, it has different industries and different relationships between humans and the land and all its creatures. I’ve found that the best way to adjust to all of these differences is to accept that the people who live here have adapted to the area and its demands better than I ever could in a short six weeks. When I see something that brings me out of my comfort zone, like the ranch rodeo, I try to sit back and observe outside of my own lived experiences. I draw on my limited knowledge of the Laramie River Valley to try to reason how people have adapted to the area the way they have and how their culture has developed. I hope that at the end of these six weeks I will be more used to the culture here, but even if I’m not, I know I will be deeply appreciative of the opportunity to experience life in a part of the country I would’ve never seen otherwise.
All the best,