Courage, humor -- alive and well on the ranch; The Ranchers: A Book of Generations, by San Steiner. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

For author Stan Steiner the ranchers of the American West embody all the best national virtues. They have grit, courage, humor, persistence, reserve, and modesty. Tested by adversity, they have endured by "making do" with what they have at hand.

He also sees their way of life as doomed. He calls "The Ranchers" "a reqiuem and a celebration, an invocation of [their] spirit." If that sounds a bit high-falutin', it accurately describes what Mr. Steiner has tried to do in presenting readers with the opinions of some 20 ranching families mainly from Montana, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Perhaps freshest and most interesting are the accounts by women ranchers of their experiences in running cattle, preserving their land, and realizing their womanhood in an occupation generally associated with men.

Ellen Cotton, once married to a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, tells of pushing coal speculators off her spread in eastern Montana. Rita Hill recounts her efforts, ultimately vain, to prevent one of her best pastures from being turned into a highway interchange near Lordsburg, N. M. Madlyn Cauhape, who inherited her husband's ranch, talks about being the only woman president of the New Mexico Wool Growers Association. These women speak for their 133,000 sisters who were operating American ranches and farms in 1978.

A chapter on rancher reactions to government regulation (coyote preservation efforts raise particular hackles) suggests that smallscale ranching may indeed be doomed. If that is the case, it would be useful to have the serious sociological study Mr. Steiner chose not to write.

As for quibbles, this volume seems occasionally to contain gratiutous rusticity. And while a number of the author's informants warn against inclinations to romanticize ranching, Mr. Steiner is an inveterate offender.

In addition, this reviewer, who has done only a little reading in the subject area, has previously met Wally MacRae, Ellen Cotton, and Anne and Boyd Charter, to whom this book is dedicated. Unquestionably, they are feel that a truly energetic reporter would have given us interviews with a roster of ranchers we do not alr eady know from other books and articles.

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