Montana Cowboy Culture Remains Alive and Kicking

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Everywhere you look in Montana there are plenty of glimpses back to the origins of this great state, which rose on the back of a pioneering spirit with miners and prospectors, before agriculture and ranching became the staple of the local economy. From the latter and amidst some of America’s largest tracts of wilderness and wide open spaces, blossomed a culture of rural life, complete with ranchers, horses and, of course, cowboys.

There’s also plenty of good reasons why Montana has earned some of its unofficial nicknames. Whether it’s the “Big Sky Country” of seemingly endless rolling plains in the east, or the “Land of the Shining Mountains” for the snow-capped peaks of the towering ranges in the west. Amidst this landscape, crystal clear rivers and creeks vie for attention with lakes surrounded by wonderous natural beauty.

That cowboy culture remains firmly intact to this very day is certainly due in no small part to the landscape, both in terms of day to day rural life in the sprawling state of Montana, or the nostalgia evoked by historic settlements that still feature iconic buildings, harking back to a bygone age.

Montana in the Movies

Given that much of the wilderness landscape remains practically untouched and preserved, just as it was during the Wild West frontier days of golden age of cowboys, it’s hardly surprising that Montana has regularly provided both the setting and scenery for some of the most iconic movies and TV shows in recent decades.

A River Runs Through It achieved a great deal of acclaim for director and veteran Hollywood icon Robert Redford, including an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1993 for the story based in Missoula and authored by Norman Maclean. After that, he returned to Montana in 1998 to direct and star in The Horse Whisperer. This time, he told the inspiring tale of a talented horse trainer with a gift for understanding the majestic steeds, who goes on to help an injured teenager and her horse back to health after an accident.

Embracing the cowboy and rancher lifestyle in Unbranded, the epic 2015 documentary follows four young friends as they take on sixteen wild mustangs as their mounts, journeying 300 miles from Mexico to Canada and through Montana. The film expertly highlighted the relationship between man and horse, along with real issues of managing wild horse populations and free-range cattle grazing by ranchers.

While many of the most iconic cowboy movies of the sixties and seventies were actually shot in southern Spain, which visually doubled for various American locations, looking at the Montana Film Office would suggest that, in the 21st century, movie makers are flocking to Montana and making the most of the state’s spectacular natural splendor.

Cowboys in the digital age

One video game hitting the headlines of late is the 2018 release of Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games, famed for their open-world Grand Theft Auto series. Turning back the clock to focus on the American Old West once again, with the third game in the popular Western franchise, the studio has traded cars and modern vehicles for horses and stagecoaches in their cowboy-themed adventure.

Although location names featured in the game are fictional, developers were clearly inspired by the Montana landscape when building their expansive digital world. Locations in Canton, Melville and Chelsea were settings for a trailer filmed in 2017, according to reports in the Great Falls Tribune, with the surrounding areas also motivating digital representations of Montana scenery in the game itself. There’s even a sequence in which players can find and don their very own “Montana Hat” in the game, reminiscent of those still worn by modern cowboys to this very day.

The Wild West also plays their part in other recent releases, such as isometric role-playing game Hard West via gog.com and brutal shooter Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, harking back to the days of dusty saloons, bar fights and poker games with that cowboy who always had an ace up their sleeve. Meanwhile, available on both desktop and mobile devices, there are slots like Dead or Alive at Betway’s online casino, wich follows the theme of tough-as-nails cowboys playing for high stakes, aiming to win big by catching wanted bandits.

Keeping cowboy culture alive

So, we’ve admired cowboys in movies and pretended to be them in video games; but how about looking for the real deal? Well, if you’re really keen to experience the authentic grit and grime of what a rancher does in everyday life, enrolling at the Montana Cowboy College might be a good start, even though the genuine daily work might not be quite as glamorous as depicted in movies and TV shows.