The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnThe Cowboy ReservationrnAt the kickofFof fall semester last year, thernUniversity of Wyoming hosted a conferencernattended by James Watt, Pete Simpsonrn(the brother of former Senator AlanrnSimpson), and Kathy Karpan (an unsuccessfulrncandidate for both governor andrnU.S. senator), among other notables andrncelebrities, to discuss the state’s supposedlyrndismal economic and social future.rnFiaving five tons of hay from ElkrnMoimtain to offload and stack in WestrnLaramie, I failed to attend, while observingrna skinhead in a pinstripe suit and paisleyrntie who looked suspiciously like formerrnindicted Cabinet Secretary Wattrnwaiting on the corner of Grand Avenuernand Thirteenth Street (if bureaucratsrnwere distinctive, easily recognizable individuals,rnthey wouldn’t be bureaucrats).rnHowever, David Broder flew all the wayrnfrom Washington, D.C., to be presentrnand write up his impressions of the meeting,rnto which he devoted the column Irnread next morning in the Denver Post.rnAs conveyed by Broder, at least, thernmood of the meeting was one of frustratedrnoptimism on the surface and pessimisticrnfrustration beneath: a string ofrndissonant notes sounding as outmoded asrnthe 12-tone scale, as jarring in the era ofrnthe Clinton Prosperity as a razzing editorialrnbv Mencken during the Coolidgernone. W’oming in 1999 is not (in certainrnways) the Wyoming of 1979 when I arrivedrnat the height of the energy boomrnand went to work in the oil patch, surernenough. Fwenty years ago, the populationrnhad risen to 575,000 from 240,000rnonly a decade or so before; today, it isrnsomewhere between 460,000 andrn480,000. The boom has been over for 15rnyears, though energy extraction by the bigrninternational corporations proceedsrnapace, and towns that had —or thoughtrnthey had—an easy shot at the Big Timernlong ago lowered their sights and resignedrnthemselves to Main Street. Beefrnprices are down, wool is lower than thernPresident’s pants, ranchers are goingrnbroke and selling out to fabulouslyrnwealthy non-Westerners who don’t knowrnone end of a cov’ from the other and expectrnroosters to lay eggs, while in Jackson,rnSheridan, and Saratoga, people showrnthemselves in public in Land’s End, L.L.rnBean, Patagonia, and Izod without arntrace of shame. About half of graduatingrnseniors, high school and college, leavernthe state to find work, for the reason (thernconference assumed) that there are nornjobs in Wyoming for young people whorndo not wish to be miners or oilfieldrnroughnecks and who were not born on arnranch. Often, they migrate no fartherrnthan adjacent Colorado or Utah, both ofrnwhich have booming economies, whilernothers move as far away as Arizona andrnCalifornia. (Montana, a haven for moviernstars and militiamen, isn’t seen as muchrnof an improvement.)rnTo judge from Broder’s account, thernuniversity’ meeting was sourly preoccupiedrnby the economic success of Wyoming’srnneighbors, especially in comparisonrnwith the flatness of its own economy.rnTo account for this differential, speakersrnadvanced several explanations, amongrnthem the relative ineffectuality ofrnWyoming’s state politicians and its congressionalrndelegation, the superiority ofrnUtah’s and Colorado’s educational systems,rnand the hostility of the state’s businessrnestablishment to new industry andrnthe penetration of outside economic influence.rnWyoming’s nickname (“ThernCowboy State”) and its official logo, thernbronc rider emblazoned on Wyoming licensernplates and elsewhere, received specialrnattention for allegedly reinforcingrn”stereotypes” of the state as the land ofrnrednecks, horses’ asses, and homophobia.rn(Matthew Shepard loomed large in thernuniversity’s collective consciousness lastrnfall, as the anniversary of the killing inrnLaramie approached.) If anyone thoughtrnto mention inhospitable climate as arnhandicap in the competition for industry,rnjobs, and population, Broder didn’t reportrnthe fact. It’s a peculiar omission,rnWyoming being more notorious even forrnits weather than for its armed beefeaters,rnits lack of economic “infrastructure,” andrnits restricted pool of docile industrialrnslaves. For 150 years, beginning with thernopening of the Oregon Trail, peoplernhave been coming into Wyoming on onernside of the territory or state, and exiting itrnat the other. The reason for this is basic,rnand it has nothing to do with the caliberrnof Wyoming’s political establishment.rnWhen people, whether residents orrnnonresidents of the state, talk aboutrnbringing Wyoming into the More AbundantrnLife surrounding it through “economicrndevelopment” and “building infrastructure,”rnwhat they really have inrnmind is replacing rural Western values,rnhabits, and experience with urban, postindustrialrnones. At the bottom of the day,rnthe end of the line is that pep ralliesrncheering for a more dynamic and prosperousrnWyoming amount to calls for a sociallyrnreconstructed one where peoplernlike Matthew Shepard are cosseted andrnadmired as they are in Manhattan andrnL.A. and which does not embarrass absenteernnative sons like James Watt andrnKathy Karpan (recently hostess with thernmostest at a Washington dinner honoringrnlesbian and homosexual employeesrnof the federal bureaucracy) when they getrnpistol-whipped with .357 Magnums instead.rnThe campaign, though, isn’t gettingrnanywhere —not so far, at least—rnwhich is why this particular conference,rnlike so many preceding ones, reeked ofrnthat pessimistic frustration characteristicrnof the Brahinin class whenever it finds itselfrnstonewalled by the Untouchables,rnwhose unappetizing existence is redeemablernonly to the extent that it is willingrnto Accept Change without back talkrnor stakhanovite resistance.rnMy return to Kemmerer after an absencernof two years and one month was tornattend the funeral of my godfather, WilliamrnPeternal, caught by his baling machinernwhile haying on the Hamsfork andrnpulled into the receiver. Outvs’ardly, therntown hadn’t changed much — if an’thingrnit was spiffier than when I left, more flow-rnJANUARY 2000/49rnrnrn