Cowboys are not often seen in these parts, so it was probably to be expected that heads turned one day recently when Cecil Garland, the peacenik cowboy from Utah, took a stroll through the canyons of Manhattan.
Same thing happened in Moscow, he said.
He'd be strolling along the streets or out at the Bolshoi ballet with the other ranchers, wearing what he's wearing now--his Tony Lama boots, his Stetson hat, the tie around his neck like the one Roy Rogers wears--and even those Russians who could not speak English would point at him, and sometimes come up and speak in English that one magnificent word which is the western world's glory:
"Cowboy," they would say.
Garland, who had studied up a little for this trip, countered then with the two words he knew in Russian.
"Mira Mira," he said.
Which means "World Peace."
Garland spent the greater part of December in the Soviet Union with four other ranchers who called themselves "Ranchers for Peace," there to campaign informally for a freeze on nuclear weapons. Stories that the trip was funded by the KGB, as Garland says was reported in an article in Reader's Digest, wound him. A World War II veteran, he is also a fellow who rose from a 35-cents-a-day farm worker to owning his ranch, which could happen only under the free enterprise system here, he says.
Funding for the trip, according to Garland and the War Resisters' League, which is helping with the publicity, came from a cross-country fund-raising campaign by three Wyoming men last summer.
"I just take people on face value," he said in an easy, unhurried accent that is part his native North Carolina, part the far West. "If some man wants to stand up against war and for peace, why, that's good enough for me."
He says this on a visit to a midtown Manhattan office, where he is, as they say in the westerns, just passing through.
Folks in Manhattan are fond of cowboy fashions and wear the sort of boots Garland does, but it is a testament to that ineffable whatsis called authenticity that when Garland passes through they take note. In a neighborhood of urban cowboys, he is the real McCoy.
His gray hair is cut like a Marine's, and there's a bushy gray mustache. He wears a cowboy shirt, pale from washing, that closes with little snaps. In a modern chrome chair, which seems large enough for other visitors, he shifts continuously, as if constrained.
Compared with home, he probably is.
Home lies about 120 miles southwest of Salt Lake City as the crow flies, nearly 100 miles of which is old Pony Express dirt trail. It is on the south end of the Wendover Air Force Base bombing range near the Nevada line. Home has no telephones, no television. The mail is delivered, via pickup, twice a week.
It's no great mystery that he met his wife back home: he and she were the only single people within 100 miles. He figured home was just about as far away from the problems of the world as you can get until, he says, "they wanted to build the MX race track system in my back yard."
No good, that system, he says. The desert is a fragile environment, and the cost and the plan are crazy, he says. He went on the road, helped defeat plans for the MX in the West, then came back to the ranch. He was settled back into ranching nicely when the pickup dropped off a letter asking him to go to the Soviet Union.
"Oh, hell, I don't want to go to Russia," he said, but his wife, who was a Mormon and strongly anti-nuclear, had other ideas.
"You call them up the next time you go into town," she said, "and you tell them you'll go."
In mid-December, with ranchers from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota, and a professor from Brigham Young University to translate, Garland arrived in the U.S.S.R. He brought along a stack of little black-and-white photos of himself, the American cowboy, which he signed in Russian, with the word "peace." He also had a little business card bearing likenesses of a bear and an eagle that said, "Cecil Gardner, Rancher for Peace."
He met with official representatives of the Soviet Peace Committee, he met with people in the street. The Peace Committee gave the ranchers a little speech about American foreign policy and the wrongs involved.
Then he made his speech. The problem with the peace process, he said, was that people had made peace a contest, setting up impossible sets of demands. His idea was that no demands of the other side be made, but that the United States, which had first begun nuclear war, stopped building and testing for awhile.
People liked that, he says. It showed them that there was somebody in the United States who genuinely did believe in peace, and when he made his speech it made people smile.
And if reporters back home now tell him that's all very nice, but it isn't like he accomplished anything because, after all, he hasn't any power, it makes him smile as well.
"Eisenhower said in his farewell speech that he thought in the long run people were going to do more for peace than the government . . . that finally, the government would have to get out of the way," he says. "I think that's pretty good, if what we did on this trip was force the government to get out of the way a little."