Frontier Cattle Ranching in the Land and Times of Charlie Russell


247 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2703-6
DDC 971.2'02





Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history and Canadian Studies Program
supervisor at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the co-author
of Lectures in Canadian Labour and Working-Class History.


Now the recognized authority on cattle ranching on the northern Great
Plains, University of Calgary history professor Warren Elofson takes his
earlier work one step further into a comparative study of the cattle
industry on both sides of the 49th parallel. After all is said and done,
he concludes that there were only minimal differences between the two

Since both areas have similar terrain and weather, the motive for
Europeans and North Americans attracted by the romantic image of the
cowboy to profit from the free-ranging of cattle with minimal care was
the same. The only difference was that American ranches took over as
much land as they could effectively control, while in Canada large
tracts of land were leased by the government. Predators, the weather,
and poor practices in breeding and continual care resulted in widespread
losses and the rationalization of the industry away from massive
holdings and toward smaller operations that were more diversified in
their approach. Yet, despite the differing origins of the ranching
populations, there was considerable cultural cross-fertilization, making
communities in Canada and the United States almost identical.

Since both were equally male-dominated, isolated, and prone to seasonal
idleness, lawlessness was common to both communities, with rustling,
substance abuse, frequenting of brothels, and gambling widespread. The
only difference was the reduced level of racial violence north of the
border. Similarly, cowboy entertainment was universal, with
storytelling, singing, and competition based on industrial skills to
while away long periods of inactivity. Strangely, because of the
relative absence of women in ranching society, “nice” ladies and
“sporting” girls were held in much higher regard than those in more
“civilized” societies.

While Frontier Cattle Ranching is a scholarly study written to
de-emphasize the Canadian–American border as a formative influence, it
is a highly readable work that casts light on a number of facets of
western North American life.


Elofson, W.M., “Frontier Cattle Ranching in the Land and Times of Charlie Russell,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 4, 2023,