The Old Broke Montana Rancher On Cowboys and Hippies

Old Broke Rancher Masthead
cowboys vs hippies

I got a theory about how things are here in Montana: we're all part cowboy and part hippie.  Now bear with me as I try to explain this to you, and I'll try to keep it simple.

Granted, I might foster that viewpoint because of my vantage on life: I graduated from high school in 1969. There isn't all that much that separates 1969 from 2020. But a few of those things are my aches and pains, another my bifocals. Of course, my arms are now too short to hold things far enough out to be able to focus on them. By the time I can focus, it is too far away to see. All you older people know what I'm talking about. Yes, it is funny, and no, it's not! 

The summer of 1967 was known as the "summer of love," and at a music festival that took place in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, the press coined the word "hippies" for the attendees. Some folks mistakenly think 1969 was the summer of love because of all the music festivals of that year; most famous of course, was Woodstock. Anyway, it took a couple of years for the trends to percolate into Montana's culture, and there was plenty of "love" to go around Montana in 1969.

By that final year of the sixties, the "hippies" and the "cowboys" were at odds on the MSU campus, polarized if you will. You see, there really is nothing new under the sun.

That was the culture I found myself immersed in when I entered my Freshman year at MSU: nobody much liked Vietnam, bras were not popular on campus (with either the boys or the girls as far as I could tell), and there was a hell of a lot of good music.  At the same time, the radio was still occasionally playing "The Ballad of the Green Berets," so both sides were amply represented.  


U of M, (the Harvard of the Rockies) was a liberal arts college. The U of M already had a reputation of attracting the liberal thinkers, aka hippies. MSU attracted more cowboys at that time, as without a doubt, the biggest college at the university at that time was the College of Agriculture. I myself, being attracted to the sciences, had no choice of which university to attend since the College of Letters and Science was at MSU. You may be able to tell I am a Bobcat fan, even though the Grizzlies generally kick ass. 

The hippies were by nature a little more laid back than the cowboys, and generally didn't fight much, unlike Billy Jack (if you're old enough to remember Billy Jack, well, you're old enough). Boiled down, the cowboy was famous for saying, "hold my beer, watch this," while the hippie was more likely to say, "wow, man, far out."

Now, as far as hippies and cowboys, it turns out that there are those that are AC/DC and can go either way. Being a great fence-sitter myself, I had many friends that could be placed in either camp. Some were hippies, and some were cowboys.  

 I had a hippie friend (a cohort from the College of Letters and Sciences) who was big enough to burn diesel. He could have whipped the whole cow camp single-handedly, and by single-handedly, I mean to say with one arm tied behind his back. He was a big, strong old boy, but as gentle as a bear. Teddy bear, that is, not grizzly bear. Intending to live his life by some kind of Eastern philosophy apparently derived from his close spiritual reading of the Beatles (jai guru deva!), he had more or less cast aside any vanity whatsoever, except for a great love for his fringed jacket and long hair. I suppose if he were to go back in time a mite, he may have borne a passing resemblance to George Armstrong Custer. In a few years, he would probably look like he was playing backup for Lynrd Skynrd.  

Hippy guy

So this friend of mine was going on one of those country drives you hear about so much in popular music and literature; wind blowing through his luxurious hair, freedom of the road, etc. When he passed through Ennis, he thought he might just get himself a slice of pie at a local diner, a diner which, as it turns out, was frequented by cowboys. He got the slice, and when I asked him later how it was, he admitted it was tasty. But after the slice he gets thirsty, and not for coffee, so he goes into the bar next door and sits down at the bar. He orders himself a Michelob - a curious choice for Montana. Did I mention that in addition to his fringed jacket he had on a pair of moccasins? So my buddy, looking like nothing so much as a seven foot tall Indian-lite hippy, sipping on his Michelob, attracts the attention of yet more cowboys. 

Well, long story short he finds himself behind the bar, surrounded by the cowboys, who are laughing and hollering, having a great time. One of them was brandishing a pair of clippers. My buddy's amusement turned to irritation when one of the cowboys succeeded in taking a stripe of his glorious hair, a disfiguring patch missing from his temple - and my buddy's hippy-dippy, live and let live attitude got switched out for sheer, gorilla rage. He clocked that cowboy so hard he was probably seeing double for a week, and the offending cowpoke landed, hard, right on his wrangler-enrobed tuckus. So much for peace and love.

The other cowboys decided they'd had enough. If I had to guess, they'd learned an object lesson in the reserves of strength which some hippies had hidden under their patchouli and bell-bottoms.

Maybe that's the peculiar charm of Montana - we're a mix of cowboys and hippies. The best of both, if you ask me. 


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