The boys of Bryce: A study of the relations between southern Utah's cowboys and the federal government and their role in the formation of the contemporary southern Utah cowboy identity

Date of Completion

January 2005


American Studies|Anthropology, Cultural|History, United States




For over one hundred and fifty years, much of southern Utah's population has been at odds with the federal government. Based on study data, the reasons for this discord generally fall into two broad categories: cultural/social and economic/political. Factors contributing to the cultural/social contention include the presence and the power of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in southern Utah and the federal government's extensive testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s. Factors contributing to the economic/political contention include local people's and the federal government's conflicting stances on the use of public lands and local belief that the government has forsaken their best interests for those of special interest groups. This discord and all of the associated factors contribute greatly to the formation of the contemporary southern Utah identity, especially the southern Utah cowboy identity. The contemporary southern Utah cowboy identity centers around feelings of discrimination, a vilification of "outsiders" - particularly the federal government and "environmentalists," and an idealization of the "southern Utah cowboy lifestyle." ^ This research project documents and analyzes the causal factors of this long-lived contentiousness from the perspective of southern Utah's cowboys, the beliefs and perceptions adopted by them as a result of their situation, and how this all contributes to the formation of their contemporary identity. In order to meet this objective, anthropological, historical, religious, and legal literature was reviewed and several ethnographic data collection techniques were employed. ^ In order to place this study in a larger scholarly context, the relationship between southern Utah's cowboys and the federal government was examined utilizing a principle from Extended Case Methodology which states that a researcher should constantly build and rebuild his or her theoretical perspectives through dialogues with participants and other researchers. Theories relating to social capital and social identity were combined resulting in a new framework and perspective that addresses conflict in the rural American West. ^