Cowboys, forever in our hearts thanks to Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks’ voice in Toy Story), are a unique breed of men.
Manly men. Rugged jeans with a plaid button-down shirt. Leather chaps for horse-riding and a large hat for some shade in the scorching sun of the desert. Bandanas, protection from dust or a mask for outlaws. Facial hair. A deep southern accent that fits perfectly for “howdy ma’am” and a knack for getting into bar fights. Yes, these men exist. They played a large role in American history and the expansion to the west, and they even exist today. Hollywood has played a large role in turning these blue-collar, hard working men into heroes, as their myth will live long after they are gone.
So where did the legend of cowboys begin?
While cattle-raising has been part of society since ancient times, the cattle-herding cowboys’ roots can be found in the heart of Texas, during the expansion of the newly-formed United States into the untamed, wild west. In the early and mid-18th century, while rails and tracks were slowly being laid from east to west, the horse-back riding cowboy led the trail into the unknown. As the east coast steadily lost its terrain to urbanization and modernization of the industrial revolution, it was up to the cowboys of the vast plains of the west to supply the fast-growing country with meat and other cattle byproducts. And while we may imagine cowboys as sheriffs and outlaws, pistol duels and tumbleweed rolling along the empty streets before battle, the truth is that most cowboys were, and still are, regular men doing regular jobs. Farming the land, tending to the cattle and providing essential produce for the entire country.
Being an American folk hero, however, is an honor well deserved. The life of a cowboy is not an easy one, as leading a herd of a thousand through treacherous terrain, filled with violent weather, thieves and outlaws, rival cowboys and just the great unknown is a difficult life to live. Yet they do so with pride. And it is this danger, hard work and excitement that captivates our hearts and imaginations. And surely enough, our imaginations have run wild.
Cowboys played a large and important role in the expansion of America and the discovery and evolution of the wild west. And to this very day, men want to be them, women want to be with them and the legend of the cowboy lives on….