Alpine journalist saddles up new book

Barney Nelson’s new book. 

The cowboy culture is alive and well in Far West Texas, and it has been thoroughly documented by local historians, authors, and cowboy culture enthusiasts.

Taking a closer look at this symbol of the American West, however, requires an accurate portrayal of true-life stories from an author who has lived and worked on local ranches. Alpine resident Barney Nelson, a retired Sul Ross State University English professor, has set out to do just that in her new nonfiction book, “Making Circles - The Memoir of a Cowboy Journalist.”  This is Nelson’s eighth book, and it details memories of her career as a cowboy journalist. The book features real-life stories that occurred on the Kokernot o6 Ranch, a place Nelson called home for 13 years.

The introductory chapters are set in Alpine and Marfa coffee shops, and Nelson was able to interview Don Coleman who owns Coleman’s Well Service in Alpine, along with other local ranchers.

“My real purpose for writing the book is because I feel so much of today’s journalism is based on a real negative view of the world,” Nelson explained. “Today’s young journalists are taught to dig up the dirt, and the gossip, and the bad stuff. It’s a critique of today’s negative journalism. I think it’s ruining our country, and I wrapped it in this package of great stories from the cowboy world to make people read it.”

Many readers may already be familiar with Nelson’s previous works, a Big Bend photography book titled, “Voices and Visions of the American West,” and “The Last Campfire: The Life Story of Ted Gray, a West Texas Rancher,” which also details life on the o6 Ranch.

For Nelson, accurately portraying the cowboy life makes a difference as opposed to someone who just writes based on pure interests.

“I consider myself a journalist, not an author or a novelist,” said Nelson. “I was an immersion journalist, but the immersion I was in was my world, my life. I wrote about my home and my friends and the kind of work we did, so I got to know my subject deeply as opposed to somebody who comes out here from New York, spends a week, then tries to write about that world.”

Nelson was not shy about challenging the status quo, and she covers issues such as grazing and wild horses, and other environmental concerns.

Nelson offers the best of both worlds, combining her lifelong career and passion with writing. “What I had to do was show how to look for answers to problems and look at different perspectives, and try to explain the two sides, “Nelson stated. “If somebody works hard to explain one side or the other and vice versa, then maybe we can solve some of these things instead of making them worse.”

Nelson’s memoir and book is available for purchase at Big Bend Saddlery and Front Street Books in Alpine, and on She will autograph copies upon request.

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