Shoot-Out in Marlboro Country


[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article origianlly appeared in the January 1979 issue of Mother Jones. It has not been textually altered in any way…thus, some of the facts and statements are now outdated.]

A gathering storm darkens the desert sky. Heroic movie music. The TV screen shows the stark, barren mountains of northern New Mexico, and in their shadow, a lone cowboy slowly herding his cattle home. We first see him riding in distance behind the ambling herd. Then closer; his head is bowed beneath a sweaty, broad-brimmed oversized hat. The scene could be straight out of one of the old Marlboro commercials…until the cowboy comes close enough for us to see the oxygen tank strapped to his saddle. Tubes from it run up his nostrils. “New Mexico rancher John Holmes has emphysema,” the crisp British voice of the narrator informs us, “brought on by years of heavy smoking.”

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  • Adam Hochschild, the author of eight books, is a cofounder and current board member of Mother Jones and an instructor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkeley.