Let There Be Cowboys-Introduction
Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove
Cowboys heed the call
In the mid-1800's, the railroads came to Kansas. If a rancher could get his cattle there, a train would transport them to other parts of the nation that had once been deprived of beef. Most diets had been mostly pork, chicken, grains, and vegetables, so the railroads proved a valuable commodity. Ranchers needed men to safely transport their cattle to Kansas, and they hired the cowboys for the task. Two times a year, the cowboys rode over open ranges, rivers, and dusty trails, such as the Chisolm Trail.
The demands on cattlemen were rigorous, demanding time away from their families - if they had one. They drove cattle from dawn to dusk, and even with a cloth covering their noses, dust still seeped into their mouths and parched their throats. They were sore from riding a horse all day, and in the bitter cold of day and night, with a cold wind blowing or snowflakes whirling overhead, they had worn hides, a saddle or rock for a pillow, and a campfire for “comfort”.
Hollywood's fascination with cowboys produced stars like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Yule Brenner, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood. If one were to believe that cowboys were always the good guys and that good always overcame evil, then Hollywood did its job. Recent years have brought about a more realistic image of cowboys, starting with my favorite, Larry McMurtry. Granted, his two main protagonists were actually ex-Texas Rangers, but they became two fine cattlemen and leaders, herding and transporting cattle. Augustus McCray and Woodrow Call were tough, but they had their vulnerabilities and were prone to failures. Essentially, they were someone we could relate to and empathize with.
Cowboys get a bad rap here, but they're really pretty cool guys.
Cowboys did not become cowboys hoping that one day they would be stars on the silver screen. They were cowboys because it was their way of life, and for some, it was the only way to make a living. The latter 1800's saw a demise in the demand for cowboys, but they, like miners, loggers, frontiersmen, railroad workers, even the outlaws, forged paths that would echo through the halls of history for generations to come.
Indeed, our new generations still have cowboys. They don't have to drive cattle for thousands of miles, but they still work on ranches and drive cattle. They compete in professional rodeo circuits, participate in annual cowboy poetry contests, still pick guitars and sing, and are still a Hollywood favorite. Centuries have proven there is always a place for the guys in boots and spurs. Their place in history is set, their presence is still useful today, and their culture seems well to continue captivating into the future. So mamas, don't worry. It's okay if your babies grow up to be cowboys!
Because there are so many aspects of the cowboy culture, I would like to make a series that will cover cowboys from other countries as well as the American cowboy, (including Native American and African-American), cowgirls, rodeos, rodeo clowns, cowboy poetry, art, songs, and films.
Later, I will write a segment on a cowboy I had met a few years back at his small museum in California. He had traveled the rodeo circuit, had been a champion calf roper, opened his own museum, and rubbed shoulders with Presidents. In 1980, he was “Marshal of the Working Western” in the Pasadena (California) Rose parade, and had ridden two more times, in 1978 and 1979.
Do you think that the cattle industry would have thrived as well as it did without the work of the cowboys?
Documentary: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys with Waylon Jennings.
Sources and Recommended Reading:
"Cowboy: An album", Linda Granfield, Ticknor & Fields, New York. 1994.