American Cowboys Have you ever wondered who the cowboys were; how they lived; or what they did? The American Cowboy?s way of life was interesting and unique, and they contributed more to society than one might think. Besides looking after stock and driving cattle, they had to round up huge numbers of cattle for ranchers. This paper will examine the American cowboy?s character, what they wore, the everyday things they did like driving cattle and branding calves and the lawlessness of the old west. The job wasn?t just for anyone. Certain character traits and physical characteristics were required if someone wanted to be a good cowboy. Considering the distances that they covered, traveling was rough. "? the cowboy needed great strength, endurance, and often ingenuity to complete the treks" ("Cowboy"). People came from everywhere to become cowboys. Some came from eastern American states, others from the Midwest, and the rest came from states in the South. They came to work on ranches and drive cattle on the trail. "Many were ex-rebel soldiers who maintained that attitude on the trail. There was also a flood of renegades from both north and south that went to Texas. This is how Texas got a reputation for lawlessness and violence" (The Cowboys). Being a cowboy, for some, had a special status. Cowboys in the Western Plains called themselves cow punchers and thought of themselves as more important than others. "The man himself, the clothes he wore, and the horse he rode were all outgrowths of life on the range. The long days in the open, and riding alone with the cattle gave him self-reliance. The danger of stampeding cattle, of undependable horses, of hostile Indians and of bitter winter blizzards demanded endurance and courage. The whole job of driving, roping, and handling cattle required expert horsemanship" ("Cowboys"). Cowboys worked very hard and also fought hard, but never with their fists. In a fight, a cowboy would always use his gun (The Cowboys). The reason cowboys used their guns was because of the fact of the West being lawless. There were two reasons for the west being lawless, one is the social conditions there during that period and the second because the law there didn?t apply well to the conditions and wasn?t obeyed. It was also do to the vast distances between populated areas, which made it easy for a cowboy to move to another area and get caught for something he did. Sometimes one had to take the law into their own hands, that?s why cowboy needed to be physically strong, able to use a gun and brave (Frantz and Choate 84). The attire a cowboy chose was very important to his job. Most things he wore had a definite purpose and suited the job well. "Their usual gear consisted of a bridle, saddle, rawhide lariat, spurs, boots, heavy leather chaps, hat, tarp, buffalo robe, and blankets" (The Cowboys). He also had a woolen or cotton shirt, tight woolen pants and handkerchief. All of the clothing accessories were chosen for their usefulness. For example, "A high-crowned, broad-brimmed felt hat, the sombrero, shielded him from the sun and rain. His soft-legged boots had high heels set far under the instep to hold his ankle clear of the heavy stirrup" ("Cowboy"). His handkerchief protected his face by shielding it from the sun and preventing dust from entering his mouth. The tight pants were worn for a reason; they protected his legs from brush and insects ("Cowboys"). The things a cowboy wore were essential to life and they always used these things. A cowboy?s job mainly involved the rounding up of cattle and driving the cattle to the destinations designated by the ranch owner. The first drives were short; they went over safe routes to locations in Texas and Louisiana (Java Script). Before moving the cattle, cowboys had to make sure that they were moving the right cattle from the herd. Cattle were branded to tell them apart from the others. The branding was done by having an expert roper catch the cattle by the legs with rope, loop the rope around the legs, and then drag the animal to where the branding irons were being heated. The adult cattle were thrown on their sides and the red-hot branding irons were pressed into the hides of the animals. Calves were stamped with the same mark as its mother. Earmarks that were cut into their ears also identified cattle ("Cowboy"). After the cattle were branded, the drive began. "The first week on the trail was the crucial one. Cattle were strongly attached to their home range and did not like to leave it. If the herd could be properly broken to the road they would be much easier to drive the rest of the way. There would be less danger of the hazard that cowboys dreaded most, the stampede or the run" (Seidman 66). Not just any cowboy was taken on the trail. "Usually only the ablest and most experienced men were taken along on the trail. An average trail crew consisted of a trail boss, a cook, a horse wrangler and eight to eighteen cowboys, depending on the size of the herd (Seidman 67). With the completion of the round-up of the correctly identified cattle, the cattle began their journey to the shipping point for the stock. The drive was headed by a trail boss to ensure the success of the drive. "A good trail boss could make or break the success of the Drive. He must have experience with cattle, horses, and men, plus know the country, the rivers, and the weather" (The Cowboys). The trail boss was very important to a successful drive. There was a certain pattern that he always followed. He rode ahead of the rest, surveying the area and checking for dangers. After carefully checking the area, the trail boss signaled the other men where the path was and the direction for them to go (Seidman 67). A trail boss also had to check on the surroundings ahead of the herd to make sure there was a safe place to stop for the night and look for a source of water for the herd to drink from along the way. They had to check on how many horses there was along the way too. They had to know how to get cows across rivers or many of the cows may drown (The Cowboys). The Red River was the most hazardous because upstream storms frequently caused floods that wiped out herds and men" (The Cowboys). One of the worst things that could happen was for the herd to stampede. Storms, wild animals, and hostile Indians easily startled the herds. A stampede created complete chaos and danger for all the cowboys and cattle. The herd often ran for many miles before settling down and then needed to be rounded up again ("Cowboy"). Usually at the end of the drive, the cattle was processed and then brought aboard ships for transport. The problem with these routes is that they were quickly overworked and the amount of cattle being shipped soon exceeded the demand for it (Java Script). After the backbreaking work on the trail and off it, American cowboys did take the time to relax and have fun. Driving cattle and branding calves wasn?t the only thing they did, cowboys loved to go to town and live it up. They most often danced, drank, gambled and like to buy women. A cowboy worked very hard for his money but didn?t care about it because he could spend three to four months pay in just a few nights of fun out on the town. American cowboys knew how to live it up. Just as I said before, cowboys were always ready to fight, in the hint of someone taking advantage of them, robbing or cheating them there was a fight. Bar-room brawls were a common thing back in the Old West, they happened often and when the fighters took their guns out it usually resulted in two dead cowboys (Speidman 90-94). As I have shown you, the life of a cowboy was very hard at times, with the chance everyday that you could die or lose everything you had. Even though they have good times, American Cowboys deserve a good amount of credit for the things they did for society. As stated in the thesis, the American cowboy was unique and interesting and contributed in many different ways to our society. Through hard work and the ability to endure harsh working conditions, cowboys historically have been seen as examples of American workers with strong work ethics. Economically, the American cowboy contributed greatly to the cattle movement industry during the opening of the western part of the United States. The various backgrounds of the early American cowboys brought different attitudes and behaviors that resulted in the need for a legal system to the early West. Cowboys were important to American society.
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Huff, Madilene and Dick. "Java Script" 10 Nov. 1999 http://www.net.westhost.com/trail2.htm