Larry McMurtry on the Power of the Plains, Myth, Lost Cowboys, and the Sky


“The plains are a very powerful landscape. They’re not dramatic in the same way as the Rockies, or the California coastline, but they’re forceful.” -Larry McMurtry



Life under the omniscient, infinite West Texas sky will shape your perceptions. Whatever your point of view, wherever you’re from, everyone seems to have to acknowledge the power of the sky. It’s unfathomable, it’s all you see when looking out at the landscape other than a tiny strip of land at the bottom of your view, and it brings the most omnipotent force to be reckoned with in daily life on the Plains: the weather. The sky pretty much decides your actions for your daily life. Indeed, the plains are very forceful.  People learn to fear the sky…sometimes even more than they fear God.  In the following conversation, Larry McMurtry, originally from Archer City, talks about how his upbringing on the Plains has helped shape his view of life and his work.

“How has the sparseness of the plains affected you? 

I still feel sky-deprived when in the forested places. Many, many people born to the skies of the plains feel that way. The ranch house where I was born, and lived for the first six years of my life, was on the exact end of the south plains. Drop below us one mile and you’re into timbered country, which is very different. But I was aware that there was a very long plain, stretching away, way up into Canada from where I grew up.

The plains are a very powerful landscape. They’re not dramatic in the same way as the Rockies, or the California coastline, but they’re forceful.

Even long after they’re gone, the myth of the cowboy persists today in movies and popular culture. What gives the myth its endurance?

The cowboy has the imagery: the racing horseman. My county’s been the oil patch for more than 100 years, but the oil business has no heroic imagery. The oil business is successful and the cattle business failed by 1895.

Cowboying was an attractive life, for a few people, for a few years. Read Teddy Blue. It was also a destructive life. My entire family was invested in that sort of life. My father knew it was hollow, but he kept that to himself. However attractive, it just didn’t pay enough. Too slow, and impossible without money. The reason he knew it was hollow was because he was in debt for 55 years straight.” —Conversation with Kenan Christiansen, NYTimes






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