Cowboys & Cowgirls
Here in the West the dominant myth-of course-is the cowboy. Our love for cowboys, in the strict definition of the word, has little to do with reality. So few Americans want the lonely job of herding cattle or sheep at $800 a month, plus room and board, that foreign workers are hired to fill the shortage. When the term cowboy, however, is extended to include ranchers and the support system of ranchers-men and women who own feed stores, shoe horses, sell agricultural equipment, truck animals, own a steer or two, and "cowboy" on the weekend-then it embraces a lifestyle quite real in the small towns and countryside's of half the United States. Cowboys are the icon of the rural West. They have much to do with how all Americans think about the West. They have much to do with our cultural dreams of freedom and solitude, of riding a horse across golden fields as thunderclouds roil across the sky, of sleeping peacefully under the arc of the Milky Way, of waking alone to the bitter light of dawn. In these dreams, we test ourselves on the anvil of self-sufficiency. In these dreams, we know the grandeur of an untrammeled continent. We are intimate with animals. We are intimate with the earth.
Sherman Apt Russell
Kill the Cowboy
"The American cinema's earliest subject matter to capture the popular imagination-the "cowboy"-was a Jesuit contribution as well. Eusebio Kino, whose statue is one of two representing Arizona in the U.S. Capitol building, was Jesuit professor from Ingolstadt College in Bavaria. Between 1687 and 1711 Kino introduced cattle and their management to southern Arizona. For this he is grateful remembered as "Father of the cattle Business." Pondering the works of Kircher and Kino, we come to a rather astonishing awareness: Kino's cowboys, as projected through Kircher's magic lantern, indoctrinated America's earliest movie audiences with the underlying message of Jesuit theater and Roman Catholic theology-that knowing and obeying Scripture is not necessary in comprehending the ways of good and evil, or in doing justice under natural law."
F. Tupper Saussy
Rulers of Evil
"I do not know anything about the Bible. I have no use for preachers. No man ever came to me hungry and went 'away unfed , or naked and departed unclad. All my life I have tried to live at peace with my fellow man and be a brother to him. The rest I leave with the Great Spirit who placed me here and whom I trust to do all things well. "
"I'm not a hairdresser or a fucking scullery maid; I'm a cowgirl. And there ' s gonna be cowgirls riding this range or there ain't gonna be any range to ride. "
Even Cowgirls get the Blues
"It is a profession that engendered pride. They were laborers of a kind, it is true, but they regarded themselves as artists, and they were artists. Years of experience, of practice in deftness, and of study in animal psychology were necessary to perfect a top hand. No genuine cowboy ever suffered from an inferiority complex or ranked himself in the laboring class along with 'clod-hoppers' and ditch diggers. He considered himself a cavalier In the full sense of the word-a gentleman on horseback, privileged to come it proud over all nesters, Kansas Jay-hawkers, and other such earth clinging creatures-he was the aristocrat of all wage earners. "
"He worked hard riding the night herd as faithfully on those cold, wet, stormy nights as he would when all the sky was calm. He faced blowing sand and the winter Sting of sleet But he never faced the other way when his boss needed him. he tasted the ice in freezing rain and the salt and grime of his own sweat. But the cowboy did not complain. "
"Let me be easy on the man that 's down,
And make me square and generous with all;
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in town,
But never let them say I' m mean or small ,
Make Me as wide and open as the plains,
As honest as the horse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze. "
from Cowboy ' s Prayer
Chas. Badger Clark, Jr.
"In closing this sketch I wish to bear joyous testimony to the . fact that in all my associations with men of various vocations, I have found no friends more noble , true and generous to the limit than the cowmen of yesterday and today. Some are especially blessed with this world's goods, dear companions and many true friends , yet without the companionship of Jesus, the truest friend; the desolate winds of sorrow and loneliness will sweep over your soul and for this reason, now and then, despite all the happy experiences that may come to you through the companionship of earthly friends, there will sometimes be indescribable longing in your soul that earthly friends can- not satisfy. You need the companionship of Christ."
The Trail Drivers of Texas
"anyone who has spent much time with cowboys will have observed that cowboys are a good deal more comfortable with one another than they ever are with women, but I think it would be facile to assume from this that most cowboys are repressed Homosexuals. The tradition of the shy cowboy who as more comfortable with his horse or with his comrades than with his women is certainly not bogus. Cowboys express themselves most naturally , and indeed most beautifully, thought heir work; when horseback they perform many extraordinarily difficult acts with ease and precision and grace. As the years pass they form very deep bonds with the men (and the horses) they work with, but I think the reason these friendships (mateships, the Australians call them) are so relaxed and so lasting is because they are nonsexual and offer a relief from the sexual tensions of the household. The cowboy' s work is at once his escape and his fulfillment, as what he often seeks to escape from is the mysterious female principle, a force at once frightening and attractive. The basic difficulty, I think, is that the cowboy lacks a style that would put him at ease with women and women at ease with him. His code has not prepared him to think of women not as they are , nor even as they were, but in terms of a vague nineteenth century idealization to which not even the most proper plains women could really conform. The discrepancy between what the cowboy expected of women and what they needed of him accounts for a lot of those long rides into the sunset, as the drifting cowboy drifts away not so, much from what he might want as from what he is not sure how to get. Women shook his confidence because it was and even the West isn't entirely a man's world anymore."
In a Narrow Grave
"There were few women in the West, and the cowboy worshipped, idolized, and respected those few with an almost religious fervor. As Luthor Lawhon, a trail driver, said, ' Each and every Cowboy was the Champion defender of Womanhood' . He might curse every cow, horse, man and tumbleweed that crossed his path, but he would have died before uttering any form of profanity in the presence of a lady."
The American Cowboy
"The West had simple rules. When a man was hungry, he was fed. When he was looking for work, he was given a chance. When a man needed shelter he was welcomed to the warmth of the bunk- house. When he robbed the cowman who had helped him, he was hanged. "
"The average cowboy is an excellent judge of horseflesh, only a fair judge of men, and a terrible judge of women, particularly ' good women ' . "
"The cowboy realized himself on a horse, and a man might be broke , impotent and a poor shot and could still hold up his head if he could ride. " "
"Once More I ought repeat what cannot be stressed too often: the master symbol for handling the cowboy is the symbol of the horseman. The cowboy ' s contempt of the farmer was not unmixed with pity. The farmer walked in the dust all his life, a hard and ignominious fate . Cowboys could perform terrible labors and endure bone-grinding hardships and yet consider themselves the chosen of the earth; and the grace that redeemed it all in their own estimation was the fact that they had gone a-horseback. "
"To be a cowboy meant, first of all , all be a horseman. Frank Dobie was quite right when he pointed out that the seat of the cowboy' s manhood is the saddle. I imagine, too, that he understood the consequences of that fact for most cowboys and their women , but if so he was too kindly a man to spell out the consequences in his books. I would not wish to make the point crudely , but I do find it possible to doubt that I have ever known a cowboy who liked women as well as he liked horses , and I know that I have never known a cowboy who was' as comfortable in the company of women as he was in the company of his fellow cowboys. I pointed out that I did not believe this was the result of repressed homosexuality, but of a commitment to a heroic concept of life that simply takes little account of women. Certainly the myth of the cowboy is a very efficacious myth, one based first of all upon a deep response to nature. Riding Out at sunup with a group of cowboys , I have often felt the power of that myth myself. The horses pick their way delicately through the dewy country, the brightness of sunrise has not yet fallen from the air, the sky is blue and all covering, and the cowboys are full of jokes and morning ribaldries.
"I was born in Alabama in September, 1844. my first experience as trail driver was in the fall of 1856, at the age of twelve years. I was put in charge of a small herd of breeding cattle in Caldwell County, Texas, by my father and we started west. We drove through San Antonio, down Main Street and out South Flores Street. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, we had quite a nice little herd of gentle breeding cattle, as well as a good bunch of horse stack that I had caught from the mustangs or wild horses that were plentiful on the range on the Frio and Nueces Rivers at that time; but when the war closed, or broke up , and I got out of the army in the spring of 1865, our stock of cattle and horses were all stolen In the meantime I had met the finest little girl in the world, and felt that the game of life would not be worth the candle without her, and when I mentioned the subject to her, to my surprise she told me that there would be no trouble about it, as I was in good standing with her papa, and when I told her I was ' broke ' , she merely laughed and said 'everybody was broke , ' and that she would help me , so we married and she is still helping me to this good hour-over a period of fifty-five years. After we were married in the spring of 1865, the In- County, in August, 1865, so my mother, four sisters and one little brother were left for us to care for. During the reconstruction times we had all kinds of trouble on the border with the Indians, Mexicans, thieves and outlaws, too bad to write about, and would not be believed anyway (ask my friend, Ed English, if it was a Sunday School picnic) , so better be it forgotten. By hard work and close economy I had got together fifteen hundred head of good mixed cattle by the spring of 1872, and started up the trail in March for my first trip. I was herd boss, had a yoke of oxen, mess cart, one Negro and eight Mexicans with me on that trip, but of the crowd only myself and the Negro , Jack Hopkins , are now living to tell the tale. , As a boy I had always wanted a best rifle, and as a married man I was anxious to have $10,000 in money in the clear. When I returned home in the fall I had $15,000 in cash and $10,000 life insurance in favor of my wife and babies , and felt that I was ' some ' financier, as that was the first real money I had ever had, and it was all our own. I started my herd from the San Miguel in Atascosa county, and as I traveled the well-defined trail, nothing of interest happened until I got to Red River Station on the Red River. There I found the river big swimming, and as another herd was close behind me, I could not turn back, so I asked my men if they would follow the herd across, and they said they would, so I spurred 'Old Dun' into the river and swam across with my lead cattle following close behind, and all landed in safety, but I did not want any more of it, as the river was wide , muddy and swift. I had carried three herds across the Rio Grande before that successfully, but is was the worst ever. We moved along slowly through the territory trying to fatten our stock on the fine range, but we had so many thunderstorms , hard rains and stampedes we did not make much progress. Ask Bob Ragsdale about it. When we got within eighty or one hundred miles of Caldwell , on the Kansas line, we butted into the Osage tribe, who demanded a good beef out of each and every herd passing their camp. About fifty of their ugliest bucks came to my camp where we were making dinner and took time to eat up everything the cook had and then made their wants known , and I said certainly I had one for them and asked the chief spokesman to please pick it out, as I was in a hurry, and at the same time told my men to 'hook up ' and move out , and they were ready to go. So the chief picked out a high-grade steer, very fat, about a fifteen hundred pounder, and was about to shoot him, when I tried to explain that he was a favorite of mine , but it was no use, as they thought that that would make no difference. I think a dozen of them shot him at once and killed him before I could say ' scat' . In less than ten minutes they left their camp. My friend, Mr. John Redus , with whom I had been traveling and who was camped close by , seeing what they were doing to me , had thrown his herd on the trail and was pushing them along pretty lively, when my men got my herd straightened out on the trail four or five hundred yards behind Redus ' herd. By that time the Indians were coming like blackbirds. I think they were one hundred strong, all well mounted and well armed with guns, pistols, Sows and arrows. They were exceptionally friendly with me, and uncomfortably sociable, showing a great deal of the bulldog familiarity which I could not enjoy. They told me all about their many squaws and babies, but I took their word for that. When they called on my friend, Redus , for a beef they disagreed with him when he offered them a crippled steer, but a good one in fair flesh, so they all bunched up between our herd for a council of war and in a few minutes I saw them load their guns , string their bows and a hundred of them ran full drive into his herd, shooting and yelling the regular war-whoop, scattering his herd of about one thousand good beeves to the winds, killing a hundred or more right there on the prairie in sight. When the smoke and dust cleared away all he had left was his men and horses and about two hundred and fifty head of beeves that ran into my herd, where the Indians did not follow them. Mr. Redus brought suit against the government for the beeves ; lost it, and I was a witness for him for some twenty years. We hurried up from Kansas River. I think Redus ' claim was finally paid, but not in full. I handled cattle up the trail several years after that and delivered twenty-five hundred head to Messrs. Hackney and Dowling up at Chugwater, above Cheyenne, Wyoming. Always made a little money, but never bossed another herd through from start to finish after 1872. I know the game, and I know if a man made good at it he had two or three months of strenuous life.
The Texas pioneers and old trail drivers are fast passing away and will soon be only a memory, but that memory is dear to my heart, and when they are gone the world will never know another bunch like them, for the milk of human kindness is drying up, and the latchstring is being pulled inside.
George F. Hindes
The Trail Drivers of Texas
Nashville, Tenn 1885
"If he was unhappy, he simply saddled up and rode away in the silence of his own thoughts. He left only when times had cleared of trouble. He told no one if he was sick Or tired or in pain. Those were the burdens the cowboy bore upon his own shoulders."
"He was, perhaps, the most sympathetic" breed of man who ever lived, but he had no use for pity. He neither sought it nor gave it. And he forever lost respect for any man who did. "
"The American cowboy is a durable creature who has survived dime novels, dramatic productions, movies, television, rampant commercialization, and even scholarly investigation. He was and is a real man. He did corral longhorns and drive them up the Chisholm Trail. He did celebrate in Abilene, Dodge, or any other cattle towns spread from Texas to Montana. And he did become a cornerstone of America's concept of itself."
"It is a fine action, compelling in itself and suggestive beyond itself of other centuries and other horsemen who have ridden the earth Unfortunately, the social structure of which that action is a part began to collapse almost a hundred years ago, and the day of the cowboy is now well into its evening. Commitment to the myth today carries with it a terrible emotional price-very often the cowboy becomes a victim of his own ritual. His women, too, are victims , though for the most part acquiescent victims. They usually buy the myth of cowboying and the ideal of manhood it involves , even though both exclude them. A few even buy it to the point of attempting to' assimilate the all-valuable masculine qualities to themselves, producing that awful phenomenon , the cowgirl . "
"He made me some presents among them a ring
The return that I made him was a far better thing
a heart I would have you all know,
'Twas a young maiden' s heart I would have you all know,
He won it by riding his bucking bronco.
Now listen young maidens where e're you reside, don't
list to the cowboy who swings the rawhide.
Heí ll court you and pet you and leave you and go
up the trail in the spring on his bucking bronco. "
NY 1963 p. 60 .
"I'm not a hairdresser or a fucking scullery maid; I'm a cowgirl. And there ' s gonna be cowgirls riding this range or there ain' t gonna be any range to ride. "
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
"She is lying on the family sofa in flannel pajamas. There is Kansas City mud on the tips and heel of her boots, boots that have yet to savor real manure. Fourteen, she knows She ought to remove her boots , yet she refuses. A 'Maverick ' rerun is on TV; she is eating beef jerky, occasionally slurping. On her upper Stomach, where her pajama top has ridden up, is a small deep scar. She tells everyone, including her school nurse , that it was made by a silver bullet. "
Even Cowgirls get the blues
'The wall weeps
most of all, it weeps
for the cowgirls who think like cowboys . "
Book: "Annie Oakley Of The Wild West" by Walter Havighurst
"There are people in our society who seem to believe that heroes and heroism are things of the past, or that heroism never really existed in the first place. In recent years they have turned their guns on the cowboy and have tried to do a job on him. But the heroism of the working cowboy isnít a joke. It isnít a put-on. It isnít something that has been cooked up by an advertising agency, and it isnít something that cheap minds will ever understand. Cowboys are heroic because they exercise human courage on a daily basis. They live with danger. They take chances. They sweat, they bleed , they burn in the summer and freeze in the winter. They find out how much a mere human can do, and then they do a little more. They reach beyond themselves."
John R. Erickson
"Those of us who value public lands and the wildlife they sustain tend, therefore, to maintain vigilance against the most ĎWesterní symbol of all: the cowboy. In so doing, however, we must seek to base our caution upon a background of truth. This has not always been the case where issues concerning predators have been concerned."
Harley G. Shaw
"The American cinema's earliest subject matter to capture the popular imagination-the "cowboy"-was a Jesuit contribution as well. Eusebio Kino, whose statue is one of two representing Arizona in the U.S. Capitol building, was a Jesuit professor from Ingolstadt College in Bavaria. Between 1687 and 1711 Kino introduced cattle and their management to southern Arizona. For this he is gratefully remembered as "Father of the Cattle Business." Pondering the works of Kircher and Kino, we come to a rather astonishing awareness: Kino's cowboys, as projected through Kircher's magic lantern, indoctrinated America's earliest movie audiences with the underlying message of Jesuit theater and Roman Catholic theology-that knowing and obeying Scripture is not necessary in comprehending the ways of good and evil, or in doing justice under natural law."
F. Tupper Saussy
Rulers of Evil
To an Old Mate
by Henry Lawson
Old Mate! In the gusty old weather,
When our hopes and our troubles were new,
In the years spent in wearing out leather,
I found you unselfish and true-
I have gathered these verses together
For the sake of our friendship and you.
You may think for awhile, and with reason,
Though still with a kindly regret,
That I've left it full late in the season
To prove I remember you yet;
But you'll never judge me by their treason
Who profit by friends-and forget.
I remember, Old Man, I remember-
The tracks that we followed are clear-
The jovial last nights of December,
The solemn first days of the year,
Long tramps through the clearings and timber,
Short partings on platform and pier.
I can still feel the spirit that bore us,
And often the old stars will shine-
I remember the last spree in chorus
For the sake of that other Lang Syne
When the tracks lay divided before us,
Your path through the future and mine.
Through the frost-wind that cut like whip-lashes,
Through the ever-blind haze of the drought-
And in fancy at times by the flashes
Of light in the darkness of doubt-
I have followed the tent-poles and ashes
Of camps that we moved farther out.
You will find in these pages a trace of
That side of our past which was bright,
And recognize sometimes the face of
A friend who has dropped out of sight-
I send them along in the place of
The letters I promised to write.
"There are those who would argue that we need the cowboy now more than ever. We need every man, woman, and child who has found a way to slip into the land that rolls past our car windows. As our last frontier urbanizes, we need the psychic ballast of people who make their livelihood directly from soil, grass, and water. We need people who understand, rather more than the rest of us, that our society-our houses, VCRs, cereal boxes-depends on a base of natural resources. We need cultural diversity. We need dreams. Thirty years ago, that might have been a concluding sentence. Today there is much more to say about the cowboy. Dreams, as we discover again and again are half seduction. And the cowboy, the seductive cowboy, has a dark side."
Sharman Apt Russell
Kill the Cowboy
Book: "The New Encyclopedia of the American West" ed Howard Lamar
Book: "The Story of the West: A History of the American West and Its People" Ed. by Robert Utley
Book: "Black hats and White Hats: Heroes and Villains of the West.". by Harold Rabinowitz
Book: "Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show" by Louis S. Warren
Book: "King Of The Cowboys" by Ty Murray with S. Eubanks
Book: "Cowboys: A Vanishing World" photos by Jon Nicholson
Book: "The Secret Life of Cowboys" by Tom Groweneberg
Book: "Cowboy: The Legend and the Legacy" text by B.A. Payton, Photos by G. Fiegehen
Book: "The American West: A New Interpretive History" by R.V. Hine & J.M. Faragher
Book: "Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy" by Jonathan Maslow
Book: "The Great West: A Treasury of Firsthand Accounts." Ed. by Charles Neider
Book: "Fine Art of the West" by B. Byron Price
Book: "Cowboys of the Old West" by W.H. Forbis
Book: "The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days." by Andy Adams
Book: "How The West Was Worn: A History of Western Wear" by Holly George-Warren and Michelle Freedman
Book: "The Wicked West: Boozers, Cruisers, Gamblers, and More" by Sherry Monahan
Book: "The Secret Life of Cowboys" by Tom Groneberg
Book: "Cowboy Dreams: Cowboy Nostalgia" Ed. by Richard Collins
Book: "The Greatest Cowboy Stories Ever Told: incredible Tales of the Western Frontier" Ed. by Stephen Brennan
Book: "On Treacherous Ground: Secret Stories of the West" by Earl Murray
Book: "WHAT THEY DIDN'T TEACH YOU ABOUT THE WILD WEST' by Mike Wright
Book: "Cowboys and the Wild West: A-Z Guide from the Chisholm Trail to the Silver Screen" by Don Cusic
Book: "Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen and Vigilantes" by John Bossenecker
Book: The Real Wild West: the 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West" by Michael Wallis
Book: "Cowgirl Pin-Ups: Artist Archives" by Max Allan Collins
Book: "Annie Oakley: Legends of the West" by Courtney Ryley Cooper
Book: "Buffalo Girls" by Larry McMurtry
Book: "The Story of the West: A History of the American West and its People" by Robert M. Utley
Book: "Cowboy: How Hollywood Invented the Wild West" by Holly George-Warren
Book: "Rodeo Queens and the American Dream" by Joan Burbick
Book: "Cowgirls: Contemporary Portraits of the American West" Ed. by Ronnie Farley
Book: "The Cowboy: His Characteristics, His Equipment and His Part in the Development of the West" by Phillip Ashton Rollins
Back to Chrestomathy Next Page