The Modern West

Wyoming Public Media

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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May 7

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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

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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

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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.

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Mar 12

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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

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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?

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Feb 10

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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

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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

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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.

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Sep 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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.

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Jul 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2020

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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. (more…)

Nov 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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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 2019

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