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S4:E4 The Johnson County War

S4:E4 The Johnson County War

How a group of wealthy cattle barons murdered with impunity and the help of a sitting president.

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The myth of the American cowboy features a lone man who makes his fortune on the open plains. He doesn’t need the government, and he doesn’t need some big corporation telling him what to do. But that myth is far from the reality in the west. Many cowboys worked for large corporate cattle operations. And when those operations were in danger, he relied on the government for help.

The Johnson County War started when the Homestead Act of 1862 brought new people to central Wyoming. The area just west of the Big Horn Mountains had been free-range grassland where anyone could let their cattle run free. The large cattle operations loved this setup because it saved them an immense amount of money and infrastructure. The new homesteads threatened their empires because they divided up the land and restricted their access. So the Wyoming Stock Growers Association banded together to send a message: get off our land. They send a murder squad to Johnson County, Wyoming to scare the people of Buffalo with a series of brutal murders.

What followed was one of the darkest chapters in Wyoming history. Where big businesses murdered with impunity, aided by the governor and sitting president.

Helpful links:

Discussion Questions:

  • What role did the Homestead Act play in stirring up trouble in central Wyoming?
  • Is there a character in the story that you identify with?
  • Is there any part of you that sympathizes with the WSGA?
  • How does this story challenge your concept of the American cowboy?
  • What role does the government have in protecting an industry?
  • How do you feel about the government’s failure to punish the invaders?
S4:E3 Jesus and John Wayne

S4:E3 Jesus and John Wayne

How the myth of the cowboy encouraged Christians to vote for Donald Trump and changed Christian masculinity

What do you think of when you picture a cowboy? A rugged, handsome individual? A lover? Someone who doesn’t need the government’s help? Evangelicalism has long pushed this as the ideal model for the Christian man. What is the impact of that set of ideas?

John Wayne and Ronald Reagan have both become popular figures in American men’s ministries. Their names come up often, they both played cowboys in Hollywood. But they are unlikely heroes. Both men were divorced. Wayne wasn’t an evangelical, and Reagan had once been a democrat. But both men were instrumental in whipping up anti-communist sentiment in the US, building credibility with a religion focused on individualism.

You can draw a line from them straight to former president Donald J. Trump. All three had questionable public morals but were seen as strong, uncompromising figures. They are seen in many men’s books as the epitome of masculinity. That idea, though, comes in contrast with Jesus’ own words about turning the other cheek, forgiving our enemies, and loving our enemies.

In this episode, Chris talks with Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of “Jesus and John Wayne: How Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation“.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of when you picture a cowboy?
  • How have you heard cowboys, soldiers, and fighters discussed in evangelical circles?
  • What books have you read that stressed the importance of tough men?
  • What do you picture when you think of a Christian man? How has that been shaped?
  • What do you picture when you think of a Christian woman? How has that been shaped?
  • What is your idea of Jesus like? Is He a warrior, a gentle savior, or both?
  • Can you see the link between the cowboy image and Donald Trump?