To my eye, Elemer Kelton never seemed fully comfortable with the traditional Western. His work is always deeply enmeshed in the complex and contradictory history of Texas. Kelton never tries to deconstruct the Western in the post-modern sense, but he never lets go of an often-deflating realism.
So, perhaps it should be no surprise that one of Kelton’s best Westerns ever is set in the 1950s. Charlie Flagg is an old-style cattleman who finds times changing too fast for him. Government regulations are encroaching, not only on illegal immigrants from Mexico and their employers, but more insidiously in the form of handouts and price supports. Relations between Anglos and Latinos are changing, for the better in some ways, but often painfully for all. Most painful for Flagg, his son is more interested in rodeo (and rodeo-bunnies), an ersatz dime-store version of the West, to take much interest in the work-a-day world of actual livestock raising. Above all an unending drought is killing land and livestock and driving the inhabitants to the wall.
Charlie Flagg stands through it all, perhaps the most heroic of Kelton’s characters, unyielding in his belief in right and wrong. This is no shoot-‘em-up, black-hat/white-hat Western. Rather it is the portrait of the closing of one era of the West and opening of another by a writer who knows the people, their times and their land intimately.