The Modern West

By Wyoming Public Media

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 Jun 8, 2022
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Exploring the evolving identity of the American West. Produced by Wyoming Public Media and PRX, The Modern West takes you on a sound-rich journey into some of America's most iconic landscapes. Guided by host Melodie Edwards' personal connection to the region, it's an unflinching look at the American West--its problematic history, its modern-day struggles and resilience, and how its present and future are being shaped.

Episode Date
Bonus: Out There

If Out There isn’t already on your radar, it should be. It’s an award-winning show that uses stories about the outdoors to help you make sense of your life and your world. Just like the Modern West, Out There gets up close and personal, but at the same time, each of its episodes invites you to think big, exploring deeper questions that matter to all of us. In this episode, Out There explores something on a lot of our minds this time of year: wildfires.

Becky Jensen had given herself the perfect present for her 50th birthday: a two-week solo backpacking trip. But when she emerged from the trail, she learned that a wildfire had started near her home in northern Colorado. Her house might already be gone.

Becky takes us from the tranquility of the San Juan mountains to a cramped basement where she waited out her evacuation, and explores the difficult process of finding a sense of peace, when a natural disaster threatens everything you’ve built.

Aug 11, 2022
A Promise Never To Plow: The Great Individualist Part 7

A few years ago, the May family set off on a trailblazing path to protect their land, and the carbon it stores, by selling carbon credits on the global market.  By promising to never plow the land, the Mays store carbon and protect native wildlife. But with diminishing margins and the looming threat of fire, the road hasn’t been easy.

Aug 04, 2022
Only One Bite: The Great Individualist Part 6

The Rardins are father and son cowboys watching climate change threaten their way of life. They've given up on the old idea of "get big or get out" and joined the regenerative ranching movement. Inspired by how bison improve the land, they raise cattle to protect grasses and reduce emissions. But for many, it's still a financial risk.

Jul 21, 2022
Big Is Fragile: The Great Individualist Part 5

We follow the cow's journey from the mountain pasture to the feedlot and eventually the slaughterhouse. Along the way, we hear from animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin and cattle handlers who all want a fairer, more humane market – and one not so monopolized by large corporations.

Jul 06, 2022
Bonus: Middle of Everywhere

The Modern West brings you heartfelt stories about poignant issues happening today in the rural west. A lot of these issues are also felt in other rural communities, across the country. Today we take you to the foothills of the lush Appalachian Mountains in East Tennessee. There you’ll meet people who lost their way of life when a federal agency decided to take their land and flood their rich river valley, burying beneath the water much of our country’s early history, including many sacred Cherokee sites, and threatening an endangered species. This was all done in the name of progress.

From our good friends at the award-winning podcast Middle of Everywhere, with WKMS in Kentucky, this is The Story of Tanasi, the first of a five-part series following a decades-long battle that took the river’s people all the way to the Supreme Court as they tried to save their way of life in the Little Tennessee River Valley. In this first part, called The Birth of a River, you’ll hear a history of the river valley, and learn about the cultural significance and importance of the river to the Cherokee Nation.

Jun 29, 2022
Nothing Heals: The Great Individualist Part 4

This time, we head to Wyoming's Red Desert - and hear the history of the 19th-century range wars. They led to laws requiring grazing fees and regular land health check-ups. But over a century later, some say these regulations haven't done enough to protect our wild spaces. Not to mention our climate.

Jun 22, 2022
Cows = Civilization: The Great Individualist Part 3

The history of how we brought the pastoral cow to live on the arid lands of the West is a violent one. Jim Elliot grew up in the shadow of that history and his stories are quintessential cowboy, full of guns, death and hard winters. But even Jim recognized the tragedy of the attempted annihilation of Indigenous culture and bison to make way for cows. But now, there's growing hope among tribes as bison make a comeback.

Jun 08, 2022
Se Benefician De Ella: The Great Individualist Part 2

The Abeyta family has been driving sheep down from the mountains of southern Colorado for generations. But it hasn't been easy to keep that tradition alive – they've had to fight for it. Through their eyes, we trace back the beginnings of the cowboy to the Mexican vaquero and find out how those adventurous roots are still very much alive in the American southwest.

May 25, 2022
The Rolling Stone: The Great Individualist Part 1

For the Elliot family, there isn't just one kind of cowboy. There are guys like Jake who chase the idea of the rodeo star, never sinking roots, a rolling stone. And then there's Jim, the hardworking and intimidating rancher. In this episode, we bust some myths about what it means to be a "real" cowboy and whether ranching ever measures up to our American ideals.

May 11, 2022
The Great Individualist Trailer

The cowboy roaming horseback across the American West is nearly inextricable from what it means to be American. But in reality, most beef is raised out East where there's more grass, and only a tiny fraction of the economy in the West comes from cattle. Now a new generation of ranchers is working to reinvent this iconic way of life to fit a modern world.

Apr 27, 2022
Heavy To One, Light To Many: Cowboy Up Part 3

Fifteen-year-old Kate just lost her mom. On top of that, her learning disabilities are making it hard to go to school. She's missed so much that the school says she might get sent away to a residential treatment center hundreds of miles away. But her grandparents are fighting hard for their right to keep her home.

Feb 02, 2022
Caught In The Current: Cowboy Up Part 2

In Rock Springs, Wyoming, we follow the treacherous paths of two young women. Larissa endures one trauma after another and soon finds herself unable to escape a cycle of probation and incarceration. Another kid, Jess, endures racism and bullying and seems headed down the same road. The system fails them both, but Jess's story takes a turn when she lucks out with a new teacher. But Mr. Baker says kids shouldn't have to rely on good luck.

Jan 19, 2022
Stranger On The Side Of The Road: Cowboy Up Part 1

In 1892, Wyoming hosts its first execution and it's a teenage boy named Kansas Charley. His trial causes a big national debate: is Charley a hardened criminal or a neglected child? It's a question we still haven't answered in the American West, where children are incarcerated in greater numbers than anywhere else. We also hear from a modern-day Kansas Charley who's living out his days in Wyoming's prisons who says, growing up, no one ever asked him the simple question: do you need help?

Jan 05, 2022
Cowboy Up Trailer

Everyone likes to say that there's no better place to grow up than in the Rocky Mountains. Building snow forts, riding your bike everywhere, learning how to find your way out of the woods when you're lost. But for kids having a hard time, no one's handing them a map and compass. In Wyoming, kids are incarcerated and dying of suicide at higher rates than anywhere else. Longtime education reporter Tennessee Watson started to wonder if all this had to do with the "cowboy up" attitude we take toward child-rearing in the American West. A three-part series coming January 5th.

Dec 15, 2021
We're Still Here: Shall Furnish Medicine Part 3

When COVID-19 arrives on reservation borders, tribes aren't sure if their newly minted health care programs can hold up against the onslaught. The fear is that this is history happening all over again. But the two tribes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming decide early to roll up their sleeves–literally–in a fight for the very survival of their tribal identity.

Nov 10, 2021
Enough Is Enough: Shall Furnish Medicine Part 2

It's the late 1800s. With no government help in sight, Omaha citizen Dr. Susan LaFlesche is determined to bring health care to her tribe. Decades later, the U.S. still hasn't gotten around to fulfilling its treaty promise to furnish medicine. So, tribes find a way to take over their health care system, and a quiet social movement is born.

Oct 13, 2021
The Great Dying: Shall Furnish Medicine Part 1

For Native Americans, the story of pandemics started the moment European colonizers stepped foot off their ships. Savannah Maher's tribe the Mashpee Wampanoag experienced that first Great Dying. Arapaho and Shoshone descendant Taylar Stagner tells the history of how those diseases came West as a form of biological warfare.

Sep 29, 2021
Shall Furnish Medicine Trailer

Reservations have been some of the hardest-hit communities in the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, for Native Americans, this all feels awfully familiar...the arrival of a terrible illness that kills elders while the federal government does little to stop it. But this time, tribes know what to do. Coming September 29, we'll bring you a three-part series we're calling Shall Furnish Medicine, tracing that devastating history from its beginnings. 

Sep 15, 2021
Bonus: Reframing Rural

If you loved our Ghost Town(ing) series, check out Reframing Rural. Host Megan Torgerson takes you to her Montana homeland and introduces us to all sorts of people we usually don’t hear from. Like in this episode, where high school history teacher and Chippewa descendent Eddie Hentges talks about the challenges of teaching in a small town.

May 26, 2021
Bonus: Carbon Valley Part 1

We're hard at work on our next season but, while you're waiting, we wanted to share Carbon Valley, another podcast from Wyoming Public Media that follows the race to develop an unlikely climate solution.

May 07, 2021
Bonus: Reversing Ghost Town(ing)

In the process of reporting on rural decline, we discovered an underground movement of people thinking hard about how to help small towns revitalize. We partnered with the Rural America Chamber of Commerce to host a live virtual event, bringing some of these problem-solvers together. The result was an inspiring and clear-eyed conversation. In this episode, we bring you the highlights.

Apr 21, 2021
My Modern West: From Surviving To Thriving

From the nurse who moved back to Walden, to the foreign diplomat who grew up in Nebraska, from the ranch kid who's seen the wealthy moving in, to the Asian-American daughter remembering her father's migration to the great American West. Listeners react to Ghost Town(ing) with their stories.

Mar 26, 2021
The Fine Art Of Coexisting: Ghost Town(ing) Part 12

In the final chapter of Ghost Town(ing), host Melodie Edwards revisits her parents' decision about whether to move away from Walden. Her mom has been trying to lure her dad away with all sorts of stratagems. But there's a lot about the craziness of 2020 that entrenched him even deeper.

Mar 12, 2021
Small Town Democracy: Ghost Town(ing) Part 11

Small town politics has a lot to teach us about how fragile democracy is right now. In Walden, we sit in on a beautification committee meeting and see how hard it is to make change happen--and how rural struggles are reflected in American democracy writ large.

Feb 26, 2021
Mountains In The Rearview Mirror: Ghost Town(ing) Part 10

The out-migration of rural youth is one of America’s great migrations--even the history books are calling it that. Younger generations leave because they have a need to feel connected to the great, big world out there. And as that world becomes more connected through the internet, small towns like Walden feel even more isolated. But would they come home if there was more equality in rural broadband?

Feb 10, 2021
Immigrations, Interrupted: Ghost Town(ing) Part 9

Right now, the West is struggling to diversify its economy. But would our economy have already been diversified if a greater diversity of people had been allowed to make their homes here? How the history of racial erasure has hurt small towns, and how welcoming newcomers could turn that around.

Jan 27, 2021
A Tale Of Two Towns: Ghost Town(ing) Part 8

Some former Southern enslaved people and their descendants followed the American dream westward, where they created towns to homestead together. This is a tale of two of those towns—on either side of the Wyoming-Colorado border—and what today's small towns now can learn from their stories.

Jan 13, 2021
Bonus: Stranger In A Strange Land

We're on a short holiday break, so here's the first part of a podcast called Grouse, a show about the most controversial bird in the West and what it can teach us about hope, compromise and life in rural America.

Dec 30, 2020
The Garden On The Prairie: Ghost Town(ing) Part 7

Many places in the American West are becoming food deserts, where it's hard to get healthy food. Sometimes that's because people can't afford it or because it means driving long distances. And for really isolated places, sometimes it's because of both. Now, a group of ladies in Wyoming's struggling coal country are working on a plan to solve hunger there.

Dec 16, 2020
The Doctor In The Screen: Ghost Town(ing) Part 6

Living in a pandemic doesn't have many plus sides to it. But there is one bright side for rural America. Telehealth is finally getting to flex its muscles. But adjusting to technology isn't easy for older patients, and that's one thing small towns have lots of: senior citizens. So, we take a trip to Sheridan, Wyoming to see how well telehealth is working for veteran Ron Loporto.

Dec 02, 2020
Gabby's Story: Ghost Town(ing) Part 5

The rural West has been seeing a steeper and steeper decline into despair, especially among white men. But when a Vietnam vet's mental breakdown threatens the safety of Walden, the small town has a response that neighborhoods everywhere could learn from.

Nov 18, 2020
The Environmental Billionaire: Ghost Town(ing) Part 4

2020 feels apocalyptic. It's not just the pandemic; there's also drought, mega-fires, melting glaciers. Meanwhile, the ultra-wealthy are stockpiling land, buying up small family ranches across the Mountain West. It makes you wonder, is it really a good idea to put that much environmental control in the hands of so few?

Nov 04, 2020
Meet Your Neighbor: A Conversation About The Rural West And The 2020 Election

Part 4 of our Ghost Town(ing) series is in the works, coming out next week. But while you’re waiting, here's a way that you can get your voice in on the conversation about the state of the rural West.

Oct 28, 2020
A Stranger Comes To Town: Ghost Town(ing) Part 3

The West has long been a haven for the ultra-wealthy. Sometimes, they move into small towns with the aim of revitalizing them. But in Walden, Colorado, one wealthy businessman’s plans went awry, with dire consequences for the community.

Oct 14, 2020
Bust Town: Ghost Town(ing) Part 2

Why are we so fascinated by old ghost towns? And what can they teach us? We go looking for the ghosts of an old silver mining community called Teller City to see if they have any lessons for how the nearby town of Walden, Colorado can keep from falling into the same cycles of boom and bust.

Sep 30, 2020
"You Can’t Eat The View": Ghost Town(ing) Part 1

Years ago, small towns like Walden, Colorado were vibrant. Street dances, a health food store, a movie theatre, the works. At least, that's how host Melodie Edwards remembers it from her childhood. Now it's shrinking, part of the "ghost towning" of the American West. But can communities like Walden find a way to survive? Or will Melodie's parents be forced to move away, like so many others?

Sep 16, 2020
Season 2: Ghost Town(ing) Trailer

They say those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So what can Old West ghost towns teach us about today's shrinking rural towns? Starting September 16, we'll take you to the windswept prairie where towns once stood and to new ghost towns in the making. We're exploring rural decline and resilience, and asking, why does it matter if America's small towns disappear?

Sep 09, 2020
The Small-Town Drag Queen

It wasn’t easy growing up queer in small-town Wyoming. And when Taylar went to college in Laramie, an assault left her in pieces…until she found community with Giselle and the Dragonettes. Follow them as they head to the big city for a David Bowie drag competition.

Jul 22, 2020
A Walk Across The Prairie

When Emily Chen-Newton moved to Nebraska, she was worried she’d miss her Kentucky mountains. But then she walked a long section of the new Great Plains Trail and realized her new home was a more magical place than she gave it credit for. And not so flat either.

Jul 01, 2020
The Rancher And The Wild

Albert Sommers is a rancher who thought he'd seen it all. When he found a mysteriously dead calf, he started wondering: how wild should our wild places be?

Jun 17, 2020
Coming Soon To A Feed Near You...

A preview of our summer mini-season: three episodes that take you deep into the real West to meet people thinking hard about the future of this place. Predators, prairie, and pots of glitter.

Jun 03, 2020
Episode 10: The Widower

Bob was devastated when his wife died of cancer. He’d been her main caregiver, and afterward, he realized that now he had to face his old age alone. No kids, no family nearby. And living in the West, he started worrying about how inaccessible senior care could be. That’s when his gallows humor took over. (more…)

Dec 20, 2019
Episode 9: What You’re Missing About Coal Country

Once upon a time, coal miners took pride in the hard work they did. But these days the coal industry is sluggish and miners are feeling left behind—even disrespected—by the world. What they want most now is to just figure out how to hold on to the strong community that coal once gave them. (more…)

Dec 05, 2019
Episode 8: The Man From Lodge Grass

Quincy Dabney loved growing up in Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation in Montana. But then, just like him, it started falling apart. Now Quincy is working to save the hometown that saved him. (more…)

Nov 20, 2019
Episode 7: Bringing The Buffalo Home

It’s been over a century since the U.S. government exterminated bison from the Great Plains as a way to win the war against the Native American tribes there. But now reservations across the West are working to bring them back. (more…)

Nov 13, 2019
Episode 6: The Next Yellowstone

Imagine Congress agreeing to create national forests and wildlife refuges these days. Probably wouldn’t happen. So when a billionaire realized a large swath of the Great Plains needed special protections he decided to do it himself, without the government’s help. His dream is for a new kind of privately-owned national park–one as expansive as Yellowstone.


Nov 06, 2019
Episode 5: Belonging

Young people from Gen Z are moving to cities around the West. But in doing so, they’re also out-migrating from rural hometowns in places like Wyoming and New Mexico. Conversations between young people about why they leave and why they stay. (more…)

Oct 23, 2019
Episode 4: The Midwife

Most births are uncomplicated. So in rural areas where hospitals are shutting down, women want to give birth at home. Now, states across the country are legalizing and regulating midwifery so they can. This is the story of one rural state, one midwife, and one brand-new mama. (more…)

Oct 09, 2019
Episode 3: Adult-Onset Hunting

The number of Americans hunting and fishing is declining, but women are bucking the trend. Host Melodie Edwards finds a sisterhood at an all-women hunting camp—and catches her first fish with her dad. (more…)

Oct 01, 2019
Episode 2: Both/Neither

The U.S. government only allows Native Americans to register with one tribe. But what happens when two tribes share one reservation for over a century? Two women grapple with how that affected their identity growing up. (more…)

Sep 24, 2019
Episode 1: Carpetbagger

You ask around, and people can’t agree on a quintessential Wyoming writer. And if you can’t identify the literature of a place, you can’t define the place. Authors including CJ Box and Craig Johnson weigh in. (more…)

Sep 17, 2019
Season 1 Preview

The Modern West is getting a reboot! New host, new theme music, and brand-new stories just for this podcast. Season 1 starts September 17. (more…)

Aug 21, 2019