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A rancher is the owner of a ranch, a spread of land where animals are raised. In The Western, usually this is cattle, but sheep, chicken and (in the modern day) ostriches are all potential ranches.

The Rancher employs the Cowboy, Camp Cook and other ranch workers. He (or sometimes she) is the equivalent of a business owner in a more urban setting. They generally will dress a little better than their employees, but not too much—most ranchers are hands-on to some degree, and need to be able to do anything an ordinary cowboy could. Indeed, many a cowboy has the ambition of gaining a ranch of his very own.

In fiction, the larger the ranch is, the more likely the rancher is to be the bad guy of the story. This is not a hard and fast rule (the Cartwrights of Bonanza have an immense spread, but are salt of the earth types), but that's the way to bet. If the rancher owns several ranches, or one big enough to count as its own feudal country, they become a Cattle Baron.

"Saving the ranch" is a common plotline for Westerns, especially in B-movies, as a couple of bad years could put a small rancher on the verge of bankruptcy.


  • 'Ole Devil' Hardin in the Western novels of J.T. Edson.
    • Also John Slaughter.
  • The Sci-Fi novel Malevil has an interesting example. Before World War III, the main character is a rural French rancher who expands his property to include an old castle. He keeps the usual livestock and grazing land but also stables some his animals in a cave under the keep. He also runs a vineyard, produces wine, and had plans to reopen the castle to tourists.
  • Luke Fletcher in Shane is an example of the Big Bad Rancher.

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Western Animation

Railroad BaronWestern CharactersDetermined Homesteader
Railroad IndexImageSource/PhotographyRated M for Money

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