THE LAST COWBOY

Cowboys in America

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10/26/05
C J Wicks
Edmond, Oklahoma

Thanks for all the years of dedicated effort to film the year to year life of the American cowboy. I was raised on a ranch and am one of the kids who moved to the city. One farms or ranches because it is the love of their life not because it will make them rich one day. When I think about Vern and the many ranchers and farmers I know, they stay with it because it is in their blood and truth be told, whether it makes them a lot of money or remains a struggle, they do it because they are doing what they love. And like Vern, it is always difficult to seperate who you are from what you do when love is involved. Personally, I think men like Vern are to be envied.
10/26/05
Scot Palmer
Seminole, FL.

Firstly, I'd like to offer my respect to Jon Alpert. This endeavor was an extraordinary piece of American pie. Watching the life and trials of Vern Sager was very nearly a snapshot of my own young life growing older and wiser on a ranch in western Tennessee. Is Vern a cowboy? You bet he is...and a real one. There is a romance between a cowboy, his land and his life on that land. When a man shakes the "firm" hand of the president of the United States of America and then suggests to his partner that he, "...could help me castrate calfs", brother,...you got yourself a real cowboy.

The very thought of working and working hard is so foriegn to so many anymore that there is sort of a knightly sadness to Vern's catalogue of life. There is almost a hollowness to his desire to, "...ride off into the sunset." We all want him to, yet suspect he won't. I heard my parent's sentiments echoed in much of what Vern had to say. I was able to partly understand my father a bit better after seeing this film. Are we all destined to labor and work hard and never realize our life's dreams? Maybe. So many people need to be humbled by this work and Vern's work. So many.

Favorite cowboy movie? Nah, don't have one. I remember lying in bed in that tiny western Tennessee town somewhere near 1974 and listening to the Grand Ole Opry live on my $3 transister radio until the batteries went dead. Tuning that radio in the dark through the crackle and pop of the AM band listening intently to the stations from so far away it seemed like I was searching for the meaning of life in the ether of western music and the bible belt's soul savers. Then I'd wake up at 5am to collect the eggs the chickens had left for us and then get on with life...farm life...Vern's life.

Thanks for the ride. And express to Vern from me that I hope he feels better after the calf kick and that if I could afford his ranch...I'd damn near buy it.
10/26/05
Sondra Davis
Friendswood, TEXAS

Saw Vern's story last night 10/25/05. It was done very well. Hope by now he and his wife are back under the same roof. I trust his son and family have their Bed & Breakfast on the Prairie up and running by now. What is the update on Howard? {He was the Champion Cowboy who did the tango with a horse and it danced on his head} I was brought up on a ranch in La.& would like to return to the land.
10/26/05
Michael W. McKinnon
Warren, Ohio

The Last Cowboy was a heartbreaking look into reality for me and my wife. Vern Sager reminds me of the old farmers that I grew up around and that I miss so much. Three things are dissappearing from this country: The farmer, good old fashioned Christianity, and real American Pride. I have seen farmers leave their farms as an inheritance to their sons. And I have seen their sons sell it all off and waste it all away, so that they can have fun/ look rich. I wish I had a farm, not to get rich (cause their isn't wealth in farming, you barely get by) but just to keep that way of life alive. I think that Jon Alpert did a awsome thing by making this film over 20 years. My hope and my Prayer is that someone would pick up where Vern Sager is leaving off! God Bless.
10/26/05
Sue

I think the film was a celebration of a life style so few of us could image. I am so sad Vern & his wife are no longer sharing each others company daily. I pray they can get back to watching a few more sunsets together before one or the other go off into the sunset forever. You can see how much he loves his family! They all show strength & courage as they jounrney along in a life with the so many ups & downs.
10/26/05
Gordon Patton
Ponca City, OK

I caught the program on PBS last evening and was absolutely enthralled. Fantastic program! True "reality TV".
10/26/05
Angela
ND

I watched this film last night, and could not stop watching. I grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota and it reminded me so much of my grandpa (who passed away almost 4 years ago) and my dad. This way of life is such a wonderful way to live and grow up. I thank God I was able to grow up on a farm, but this way of life is also dying. I have a son and I only hope I can get home enough times so he can remember the farm, riding the tractor, helping with chores, etc. because those are such wonderful memories I have to look back on. Thank you for sharing your story!
10/26/05
Erin Brackel
Northville, MI

I loved the documentary about Mr. Sager. His matter of fact, realistic life is what made this country what it is tody. I found his suttle humor wonderful. His work ethic reminded me of my dad. What a great American.
10/26/05
Thomas Gould
Hendersonville, TN

Like Jon I too always wanted to be a cowboy.

I was so taken by the film and want to thank the Sagers and the filmakers for giving me this close up look at being a cowboy.

I hope to keep track of the Sagers.

Favorite Western film?

Difficult to pick just one...

High Noon, Shane, Bad Day At Black Rock, Unforgiven, to name a few.
10/26/05
Manny. S
Kansas

In my book if you look up the word tough you would see the word Vern Sager. The man really captures what the old west must have been like. with the ease in which he handled the below zero weather to the fatherly way in which he helped birth the calves. It seemed that he he was a wild west MacGuyver from nursing a cow that coudn't piss, to mending the fence with bailing wire, to getting the water out of the gas line in the old pick up. And like most cowboys there is only room for one love in his life and that is his ranch.
10/26/05
scott moore
edgemoor, s.c.

I REALY INJOYED YOUR PROGRAM. I GUESS YOU COULD KIND OF SAY IT MOVED ME.THOSE MEN ARE THE SOME OF THE BEST.HE SHOW'S HOW EVEN HARD WORK CAN BE FUN IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT.HE ALSO SHOW'S THAT IT'S A LIFE LONG THING,NOT JUST MONDAY THRU FRIDAY.HIS SON WILL MOST LIKELY KEEP UP WHAT HIS FATHER HAS TOUGHT HIM. I HOPE ANY WAY.

IF WE DON'T START HELPING OUR FARMERS, WE WONT HAVE ANY.WE NEED TO STOP BUYING FOOD FROM OTHER COUNTRY'S, KEEP THE FARMS HERE.

I THINK HE IS THE LAST OF HIS GENERATION,BUT NOT OF HIS KIND.THIS OLD COUNTRY STILL HAS A LOT OF HEART LEFT IN IT.BELIEVE IT OR NOT ,SOUTH CAROLINA STILL HAS SOME COWBOY'S AND INDIANS LEFT TO. WE JUST HAVE SMALLER FARMS.

I'VE BEEN AROUND FARMS IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER ALL MY LIFE. FARMING IN GENERAL IS HAS THE SAME HOURS IF YOU ASK ME. ALL OF THEM HAVE MY RESPECT.

NO REAL FAVORITE'S. BUT I DO LIKE ANYTHING WITH THE "DUKE" OR "CLINT".

I WAS RAISED ON THEM.
10/26/05
Jeff Greis
Pittsburgh, PA

So very much enjoyed this film on PBS las night.
10/26/05
Patsy Howell
San Angelo, TX

I Loved the show! It took me back to my cattle raising, horse riding, middle of the night babies being born. THANKS!
10/26/05
kansas

Did the film not mention the problems smaller ranchers--family farms also--have because ranch and farm land is being bought up by 1. people who want tax write offs 2. huge corporations not sensitive to local community quality of life 3. foreign investers? What is the impact of policy on the family ranch and farm? What is the cost to the country when production of food is owned by a few corporations or by foreign investers? Who votes for big and foreign ownership? What is the impact on integrity and independence in the country if big corporations own food production and survival is no longer in the hands of individuals with links to local communities? And maybe most important, why do independent family farmers in states like South Dakota vote Republican over and over when that's actually the party that tends to favor big business? How have these voters been sold...in that sense? Thanks for making this film and please, take us to the next level and shine a light on the issues above, soon? thanks.
10/26/05

After reading "Fast Food Nation" American agriculture is becoming a monopoly of ag employers who view the cowboy or farmer as a hired hand who works for the large corporation, like ADM. Farmers have little choice when trying to sell their goods but to succomb to the giant ag companies.

Just as Stud Terkel's Book, "The Good War" derailed the romantic view of not just World War II, but any war, so has "The Last Cowboy" shown the public the real nitty-gritty business of running a ranch or farm. Independent Lens caught the true life of making a living the hard way, and also the unintended consequences of the work Mr. Sager does.

"The Magnificent Seven", "The Seven Samurai", and "Man from Snowy River" are my favorite westerns because of the interaction between the cowboys and other characters in the stories, i.e. the villagers and swordsmen in "The Seven Samurai."
10/26/05
Rich Carnevale
Aurora, Ohio

Watched your film on the Sager family and I appreciated all that I saw. I have fished and hunted on several Indian reservations and I always leave with a renewed understanding of the way of life and poverty of these residents. Vernon Sager, although he is a dying breed, represents what I feel made up the backbone of this once proud country. His life as others before him was built on, hard work, honesty, simplicity and a love of what God has given you and the ability to enjoy the fight for survival without the want of having more than your neighbor. I trust Vernon Sager and although I've never met him I know him very well. We all should have a friend like him. He could teach us alot about truly being content with our lives and our purpose.....Thank you for this film. Please let him know that to me he is the "Richest" man I know. Thanks again
10/26/05
San Jose, CA

My husband and I really enjoyed this film. We want to know more about the outcome of Vern and his family. Have you had any viewers voice interest in purchasing his farm or helping publicize the sale? I recently heard of a North Dakata farm being sold on EBay...

Thanks so much for showing this important story about Americans who aren't living the 'typical' lifestyle.
10/26/05
Randy Martin
Creston, Washington

I hope the film conveys to all Americans that there is no profit in ranching/farming and that is why we are a vanishing "breed". Everyone wants to/a farm in a Norman Rockwell sense, and do recognize it is hard work[although much easier than our anscestors had]but can't fathom the economic realities. I'm often asked, "Why/How do you do it?" It's a hard question to answer. Economically, you can't and are "crazy" to stay. But when you're born to the farm, are fifty-something, and you can't take the land with you and move, you hang in there, pay what bills you can, and hope for a better year "next year". Life boils down to "food, shelter, and clothing". These derive from natural resources, via the farmer, and yet we don't get a return for our investment. It's a shame the idyllic American life is "broke" and vanishing. What is in America's future without farmers? Perhaps the hand-writing is on the wall. The 2000 federal cenus did not even recognize "farmer" as an occupation---there were too few to count. In the meantime, just let me survive until I can retire, if ever. We've gone from unsettled to homesteaded to getting electricity. Now, the homesteads are gone, the lines are gone[some never even got electricity] and the farmer is like dust "blowin' in the wind." Yes, I'm that FARMER!
10/26/05
Perry Peterson

I was born on a farm 2 miles northeast of Farmer, South Dakota during the Great Depression.

Farmers in that part of South Dakota had to farm more land each decade to make it financially. Farmers who didnít buy or lease more land had to give up and move to town.

I donít mean to belittle the hard work required on eastern South Dakota farms but the work required on cattle ranches was more strenuous and required more time out in harsh weather -- especially in the winter.

Did I stay on the farm? No. I am a retired auditor and tax accountant.

I immensely enjoyed the film ěThe Last Cowboy and would recommend it to anyone.
10/26/05
Mark Kern
Salcha, Alaska

I absolutely loved your film. Vern is a true american hero. I would love to go help out Vernon on his ranch to make life a little easier for him. I also have always wanted to be a cowboy. I grew up as a farmer in Iowa where we grazed calves from the west on summer pastures and then fed them out on Iowa corn. I did that until I joined the military. I have just retired from the military and now have some free time.

I always knew farming and ranching is hard thankless work and your film got the word out to some that had not tried it.

My favorite film is the Outlaw Josie Wales or Trinity with Terance Hill. They don't make those type westerns anymore.
10/26/05
Jeana Bo Wells

I was up late thinkin about the cows and happened on this film. Its very true to life. My Dads an old cowboy and threw the years have witnessed similar. Hope the Sager family the very best. To a real cowboy from a cowboys daughter and a cowboys wife.
10/26/05
CJ
SURPRISE, AZ

I loved the film. I wish Vernon all the best. I'd be out there just like him if it were possible. I'm a country girl at heart and I truly admire anyone as courageous as Vernon, especially at his age. I hope his family gets in there to help out so he can live out his days sitting back enjoying those sunsets.
10/26/05

I was moved by your documentary on this family, I have seen over the years here in Arizona,the hard life it is on farming and being a true cowboy. I wish Vern Sager and his family much luck in keeping it together, I am a native Arizonan and have seen my family operations change over the generations... Take care, Vern.
10/26/05
krs

WONDERFUL! The true country/farminglife; having been there myself for awhile I felt like I could walk right onto that ranch and pick up the life I was forced to relinquish for several reasons. Good luck to the Sager's and especially Vern and hope he can make it!
10/26/05
dean & marian worden
alturas, ca

we thoroughly enjoyed the last cowboy about Vern Sager and his family and the location where they live and work; a reminder of how I (Marian Gager) was raised in the San Joaquin Valley in the 40s, 50s, and 60s! I hope you can have more programs like that.
10/26/05
Conny

It was a joy to watch this well thought-out documentary. It really gave me the feeling of being alongside this man and his family. It was an enriching experience to see what life is like on a ranch. It's definitely hard work and I really respect these hard working people for accepting such no-nonsense existence. The sometimes harsh, but always beautiful land offers a connection to the spiritual which 99% of people in urban areas have no awareness of! It would explain why most of these country people seem to be more content with (their) life than city dwellers, or at least take it more in stride!

I do fear that ranching as well as farming will someday entirely disappear due to urban sprawl, cultural and economic influences and in case of farming also the loss of top spoil. Most people have blinders on and are entirely oblivious to negative environmental and cultural influences which ultimately in the long run will affect all of us! Your movie surely have opened more eyes. Thanks for making and showing it!

I am not much of a western movie fan, but did like Dances with Wolves, Open Range and the Horse Whisperer because all showed the beauty of America's heartland.
10/26/05
jama antol
Knoxville, TN

Thoroughly enjoyed meeting Vern Sager this evening in THE LAST COWBOY. Also, am impressed with the dedication to tell his story over 24 years. Interesting to watch as his humerous side grows over time. Or maybe this is a result of his increasing familularity with the fimmaker. A great film and story. I am sure that I will wonder about Vern and his family from time to time.
10/26/05
BUMPASS , VIRGINIA

we need more film like the last cowboy.
Extend that to the last fisherman etc.
10/26/05

I thought that your film was an excellent portrayal of a dying way of life in the US and maybe an indication of what might be ahead for the rest of us regardless of our own occupations. As for me I like and respect the way you have shown Vern and the rest of his family and wish I were a lot more like him especially his work ethic. I also think that there is more to learn from him and his way of life. I could only hope that you would do a follow up if you find the time. This film and many others are the reason that I watch PBS and other independent film channels. I would also like to comment on the length of time in the making of this film. Your patience in putting this together is unbelievable and I would like to applaud the time you put into this endeavor. Many more successes tell Vern and family I said hello and wish them well.
10/26/05
Liam Rooney
Fort Collins, CO

I really appreciated the no-frills nature of The Last Cowboy. It's a gritty film without being overly sentimental. I also appreciated the inclusion of Mark Sager's friend, Howard Hunter. I first met Hunter at a rodeo in Wickenburg AZ in 1971 -- we were both entered in the bronc riding. I was a rank amateur, but Howard showed exceptional talent. He went on to become one of the best saddle bronc riders on the professional circuit as well as on the Indian rodeo circuit. It's a sad irony that he would be crippled so severely at a sport he was so adept at. Another interesting irony regarding Hunter was that his grandmother survived the Wounded Knee massacre as an infant.

I hope that things work out for all of the Sagers. They're beautiful people doing their best in a harsh yet beautiful part of our country.
10/26/05
Bill Kunerth
Belle Fourche, S.D.

This is one of the most honest, impressive docuementaries I've ever seen on television--especially as it portrays the day-in-day-out chores and environment of ranching--at least as I knew it--many years ago--

and as it is still practiced by many non big-time ranchers--the beat-up pick-up, the never-ending job of fence fixing, cutting, branding, and pulling calves, the muddy corrals, the frozen-over water tank, et al.

However, many ranchers today own brand-new, extended cab pick-ups, ulta modern haying equipment, beautiful ranch-style homes, use artificial insemination, and play the futures market.

The story didn't portray the positive impact that high cattle prices have had for several years.--but, in terms of the grunt work involved in ranching, it was on mark.

Sager is so typical of those of his generation--tough, philosophical, observant, multi-talented, with a highly "relevant" sense of humor.

One question I would appreciate having answered: In the update piece, you say he is asking so much for his ranch that no one will buy it. How much is he asking for how many acres? He must have a real estate brochure.

We have a small (1,000) acre hard-times homestad ranch (that I left for the army and never came back to, except during our three-month summer vacations) west of Belle Fourche, just over the Wyoming border.

However, it's full of white tail and mule deer, hundreds of turkeys, antelope (mostly on the neighbors). amd recently a herd of 25 or so elk began moving in and out.

My acros-the-road neighbor just put up his 1,600 acre-pasture (lots of pines and deep canyons) for $2.6 million.

At any rate, the 20-plus years over which the film was shot were worth every minute of it. Congratulations on a landnark piece, at least in my mind.
10/26/05
Jeanne

I couldn't believe that Mrs. Sager wanted to move to town. I have always had a dream of living out in the open country and ranching. I'm 62 years of age and raised three sons and I know that life gets more difficult with age but raising animals and having lots of room beats putting up with the actions of mankind and living crowded. It seems that on this earth few people get to do what they really enjoy and Mr. Sager is one. Hurray for him.
10/26/05
Janis Griffin
Carrizo Springs, Texas

Before I talk about Vern... I will tell you that I loved the movie "Lonesome Dove" I think becuase it reminds me of home and the way I would have love to lived here ..back then... in the day. I always wanted to be a Texas Ranger ..a female ranger was my dream.

As I watched Vern I became a part of his life. I live on a ranch in South Texas where drought and Mesquite is expected, but some how preserves the spirit and soul of a cowboy. My father died this past June at the age of 88. He worked up to the day he went to the hospital. Never missed a day of work in his cowboy life. He and Vern would have been close friends. I saw in Vern the same determination as my father. Same confidence that he would someday get to rest, but yet not really wanting to ever stop. The driven man is a cowboy. I think Vern like my father is a hard driven man. The eye for their cattle and the love of the land and the cattlemans ways has not changed that much to the real cowboys. The world may change but the heart that beats inside those old bodies beat for one reason. The way of the west is their heart. As I write this I know in my heart the cowboy is fading from view. You must look far beyon the brush,hills or wal marts to see him. You might think his life is a struggle but you must remember without the struggle there are no reasons to try. Yes the cowboy ways are slipping from our planet. Now I watch my Mother struggle to run this ranch at the age of 81. She is as determined as my Dad was, but she knows the last sunset is just beyon the south Texas brush and her beloved Mesquite. Her sturggle as a catlewoman now is what I live. Not like Vern's wife my Mother is very lonely for her cowboy and to stave off her lonelyness she seeks out the cattle early in the cool mornings and they are the last things her blue eyes see at sunset as she feeds her pure bred Charloais bulls and heifers. Our ranch has one advantage over Verns ranch and that is the fact we never have harsh winters with snow. We have very mild winters and very harsh summers with no rain and scorching tempertures.So it all evens out in the long run no matter where a man or woman ranches. It is always a good run. Taking chances is what cow people do. I think it is the spirit they are born with. I call it the pioneer spirit.

I loved the flim and I hope and pray Vern is doing well and his wife is happy. I hope his son purchased some teeth. He was a handsome man with teeth. As for the son he probably would have been better off financially if he had taken over the ranch for his Dad. I dont think he was doing very well on Rodeo pay. Dont get me wrong my children rodeoed too. I love rodeo but unless you are in the big time you will either stay broke or get busted up. I feel the son should have helped Vern and tried to preserve what his father and Mother worked so hard to keep all those years. Maybe the ranch and the last cowboy would have been with us a little longer. WITH MUCH PAIN I LEAVE THESE WORDS.... "COWBOY" Vanishing breed indeed!
10/26/05
Betty Houseweart
Hotchkiss, CO

Very interesting. You did a great job. Vern's a typical person in ag today. You really need an outside income to stay on your land. My husband is a Vet, our oldest son a blacksmith, our youngest son just went to work in the coal mine. Our home place has been in the family for 100 years, & we hope our grandchildren can continue to live here.
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