“Cattle Kingdom is the best all-around study of the American Cowboy ever written. Every page crackles with keen analysis and vivid prose about the Old West. A must read!”  – Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America and The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

“Christopher Knowlton has applied his lifelong passion for Western history in writing the best one-volume history of the legendary era of the cowboy and cattle empires in 30 years. Cattle Kingdom redefines our understanding of the era beyond the traditional boundaries of the West….Knowlton’s flowing prose style is enjoyable to read….Knowlton has added a superb volume to the agricultural, cultural, economic and environmental historiography of cattle ranching and cowboy history in the American West.”—Stuart Rosebrook, TRUE WEST MAGAZINE

"Christopher Knowlton tells a fascinating story that's as much about ledger sheets as longhorns....a lucid and enterprising guide to a time, place and culture that most—at least those of us who got our education watching oaters—understand none too well....Cattle Kingdom is the smartly told account of rampant capitalism making its home on the range....offers ample conflict delivered with a fresh and winning perspective. —Doug J. Swanson, DALLAS MORNING NEWS

“This is one heck of a good book, so full of interesting historical facts and vignettes that you will be driving everyone around you crazy as you read by calling out repeatedly, “Listen to THIS!”…. I can’t begin to tell you all the fascinating things you will learn in this book. It’s a book I never thought would interest me, and yet it is one of the most absorbing and even exciting books on history I have ever encountered. I can’t sing its praises enough.” –Rhapsody in Books Weblog

"A fresh look at the U.S. cattle industry...this vastly informative volume will be of interest to general readers and a welcome addition for all library collections." – Library Journal

"Quality book...Knowlton’s absorbing work demonstrates that the years of lucrative cattle driving may have been short, but meatpacking and transportation innovations and the rugged individualist ideology of the West maintain their place of importance in American life. – Publishers Weekly

"An informative and well-written examination of a key area." – Booklist

“Cattle Kingdom accomplishes the rare feat of capturing the worlds of cattlemen and cowboys in all their color, while also covering well the global economic and environmental tides that made the cattle kingdom rise and fall."  – Stephen Aron, 2017 President of the Western History Association and Robert N. Burr Department Chair, UCLA Department of History

"A pleasing contribution to the history of the post-Civil War frontier." – Kirkus Reviews

The New York Times Book Review: Editors’ Choice / Staff Picks From the Book Review, CATTLE KINGDOM: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, by Christopher Knowlton. (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.) The 20-year grand era of cowboys and cattle barons is a story of boom and bust. Knowlton’s deft narrative is filled with sharp observations about cowboys and fortune-hunters.

Wall Street Journal Review: 

Mr. Knowlton writes well about all the fun stuff: trail drives, rambunctious cow towns, gunfights and range wars. What makes it a “hidden history” is the way it enlists all of these tropes in support to an intriguing thesis: that the romance of the Old West arose upon the swelling surface of a giant economic bubble…Cattle Kingdom is The Great Plains by way of The Big Short….His book coasts along just fine on the strength of his curiosity and storytelling ease.  And his empathy.”—Stephen Harrigan, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Interview on NPR's ON POINT:

Interview with Imus in the Morning:


Ranchcast interview with Lem Lewis, episode 10:


7/26/2017 • :

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, by Christopher Knowlton, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017, $29

The open-range era helped define what most Americans—not to mention people from around the globe—think of the Old West. Yet it was also big business. New York native turned Wyoming resident Christopher Knowlton uses his business and financial background (in stints on Wall Street and working for Fortune magazine) to provide true insight in the first major history of the cattle era published in more than four decades.

But don’t expect Cattle Kingdom to read like a business journal. Knowlton’s narrative style should appeal to scholars, history buffs and casual readers alike—and his take is utterly fascinating. Of course he covers the basics and staples, from cowboy Teddy Blue Abbott to rancher Theodore Roosevelt and cow towns such as Abilene, Kan., and Cheyenne, Wyo. But he also discusses how Gilded Age innovations and technological improvements touched the cattle industry, and how European influences drove the market.

Knowlton chronicles more than business. He vividly describes the terrible back-to-back winters in the mid-1880s—aka the Big Die-Up—that wiped out many ranches and changed the industry. He then moves on to the violence in Wyoming of the late 1880s and early ’90s. Not every historian is likely to buy into his interpretation of the source of rustling during that time, but there’s no denying his original thinking makes for an intriguing idea. As is his assessment of the Johnson County War, which, he writes, “illustrates how easily, even in a democracy, those in power can doctor the truth.” In short, Cattle Kingdom offers a fresh take on an old subject. —Johnny D. Boggs



I have read extensively about the history of the American West. It’s a book like Cattle Kingdom that excites me about the fact that the myths that oftentimes inhabit our historical understanding  – can and will be displaced – and rewritten – when exquisitely talented authors like Christopher Knowlton take the reins.

The depth and breadth of the research that this work contains supports the authors thesis – confirming that history is subject to unearthing new and yet unrevealed discoveries – that can provide the sinew for a new understanding. Knowlton unequivocally demonstrates this unique  journalistic talent. Knowlton’s prose and storytelling ability are hypnotic and mesmerizing.

This is distinctly not a story that requires a preference for tales about the American West. The manner in which Knowlton weaves his story – and brings life to the characters and context – will draw readers who simply desire a really, really good book.

I must admit I had some reluctance deciding whether or not to purchase this volume. I overcame that and am really glad I did.

Many aspects of this book will bring tears to your eyes, ripping your heart apart. You’ll get angry and disgusted. The drama that Knowlton brings to life is addictive…it’s a page turning pleasure. The decimation of the Bison herds had me smelling the carnage that Knowlton described.

For those with an affinity for garnering a better understanding of the American cowboy, the influences in the development of the American West, the cattle industry, the origins of the nature of land ownership in the Western U.S. psyche, the influence of capital in the development of the American West, the beef industry, conservation, wildlife management – and – again – those who desire to be immersed in a truly fascinating true tale – well – this book is for you.

I honestly can’t imagine anyone selecting this book to devour and not coming away completely satisfied about their decision.

Frankly, I urge you to select Christopher Knowlton as your guide to the hidden history of the cowboy West. You’ll be delighted you did. Trust me…believe me…A PHENOMENAL BOOK!!!