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What Cowboys and Dinosaurs Have in Common

Updated on July 23, 2011

I don't know any cowboys. They're as rare as Dinosaurs. I don't know if I ever knew anyone who called himself a cowboy. But part of the reason I don't recognize cowboys is that even though there are plenty of guys who run around town in starched jeans, western shirts and cowboy hats, my measure of a cowboy is John Wayne and Audie Murphy, Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper. And if a cowboy-wannabe doesn't fit that image, then he must not be a real cowboy. (And does that imply that cowboy is somehow synonymous with “honorable man”?)

I grew up with a dad who loved westerns. Have Gun will Travel and Gunsmoke and Bonanza and The Rifleman were some of my favorites. I had no way ofknowing if the life portrayed on film was based on an actual way of life that people lived, or just existed in some script writer’s imagination. If there were tough talking guys who rode a horse and carried a rifle, they were real cowboys and whatever situation they faced was a real western drama.

Kids in westerns always called their parents ma and pa; they respected them and did as they were told. Any backtalk was dealt with quickly and offspring were set on the straight and narrow once more. Criminals were never allowed to flourish, and usually were shot dead by the end of the show, even if it was a 30 minute episode. There was no overcrowding of jails, dragging down law abiding citizens and tax payers with daily incarceration of thousands of outlaws and gunslingers.

People respected one another’s property, too. Except for cattle rustlers, who were always caught at some point during the episode (see the above paragraph). People still made a decent effort to go out of their way to help their neighbors and do right by others. This reminds me that westerns always had their own language, too. A sort of slang, I guess. Words like varmint and yeller-bellied (which always sounded just right when they were strung together: "Why, that no-good yeller-bellied varmint!....."

At what point did people start thinking it was cool to disrespect others, to take whatever they wanted and to not care about what happened to their neighbors? Society started going downhill when cowboys started becoming scarce. Or did fewer guys want to be cowboys when they started hearing that good guys finish last and society was going downhill?

I wouldn’t mind a few more real fake cowboys if they tipped their hats and opened doors for the ladies. Nothing wrong with using terms like ma’am and sir, either. Kinda makes a body feel secure. And in return, I could bake a few pies and give a curtsy. That would be such a small price to pay, really. And how can we get back to that place where we felt safe walking down the street and leaving our doors unlocked at night? Or, has that kind of security gone the way of the Western tv dramas and dinosaurs?


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