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Cowboy Facts That Will Interest & Inspire You To Learn More

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The 'Wild West', the western U.S. in its frontier period, is known for its adventures and roughness as well as for its lawlessness.

The American Frontier and modern American history started to evolve with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia by the English in 1607. Most of the initial settlements by Europeans were along the Atlantic coast.

The settlement and expansion patterns of English, French, Dutch, and Spanish were different and unique.

America witnessed an era of migration and settlement which were encouraged by politicians and the governments, giving rise to an expansionist political culture and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny started in the country. Many settlers traveled from east to westward along the Oregon Trail until the city of Oregon in the west and the westward expansion completed with the settlement at present-day California.

In the 16th century, the land explorers and settlers from Spain and Portugal introduced their cattle-raising methods to Americans. The traditions of these settlers, especially of Spanish, influenced the land and people of America. They brought their domesticated cattle and horses with them. Horses had been extinct from America during that period. Thus started the tradition of American cowboys.

From the 1850s to the 1920s, the major economic activity of the American West was cattle drives between Texas and Kansas.

Role of Cowboys

Cowboys are basically animal herders. Their primary role was tending cattle on foot in the older periods. Later on, they started herding on horseback and became experts in horse riding. The North American cowboys who work in ranches perform many other ranch chores in addition to tending the cattle on horseback. Wranglers, a subtype of cowboys, were specifically assigned to tending to the horses used in the ranches.

In the 19th and early 20th century, western North America used cowboys as mustang runners who caught and broke wild, free-roaming horses of Spanish origin and drove them to the then Spanish markets, present Texas, California, North, and New Mexico.

The cowboys engaged in the roundups to find young calves for branding needed special skills. The cowboys who were specially trained in horse training also performed the process of horse breaking. The informal competition started among cowboys in these horse training skills the rodeo as a sport and the rodeo cowboys emerged.

Working cowboys in a ranch are responsible for livestock feeding, earmarking, and branding the cattle and horses. They also tend to the needs of animals, including animal injuries. A working cowboy will be given the responsibility of a string of horses, and he should also patrol the entire rangeland to check and attend to fence damages, animal fights, water problems, or any other issues relating to the ranch or the rangeland. Working cowboys also herd the cattle to pasture locations, corrals, and load them into trucks. The tasks of the working cowboy vary depending on the size, terrain, livestock to be tendered. They also managed large cattle drives.

Initially, there were no differences between a working cowboy and a rodeo cowboy. The differentiation started around the '50s. The professional rodeos started to perform their skills with the horse in front of an audience and helped cowboys to earn a living from it. Barrel racing, Bronc riding, bull riding, are some of the competitive events in which the rodeo cowboys participate to showcase their skills.

In the history of Wild West, cowboys were also engaged in cattle theft. Outlaw cowboys in the late 19th century were engaged in smuggling livestock, cattle, tobacco, alcohol, between the U.S. and Mexico. In Australia and the British Isles, the word cowboy refers to a shoddy tradesman with questionable value.

History & Origin Of Cowboys

The Iberian Peninsula, falling between Spain and Portuguese, was a dry area with scarce grass. The old vaquero tradition addressed this scarcity of grass to feed the large herds by covering a vast land area. This style of ranching the cattle using horses was thus started in Spain and later imported to America by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century who brought with them domesticated cattle and horses. During the westward expansion of the American frontier, the encounters of traders with vaquero tradition transformed the language, lifestyle, and other cultural aspects of vaqueros. This transformation merged with English tradition created the 'cowboy' as is now known in American culture.

The open range concept increased the requirement of cowboys as it was they who calved the free-roaming cattle, herded between grazing lands, and driven them to market. Ranchers expanded to the northwest for the additional open range, which resulted in the roundup tradition. The cowboys moved from mustang running to roundups.

Texas and California areas have considerably contributed to the evolution of the American cowboy culture by taking the better elements from each of these regional traditions. The increased demand for beef created by the American Civil War and the establishment of railroads forced the old cowboy tradition to change to meet the requirement of driving the cattle from the ranches to the nearest railheads hundreds of miles away.

With the expansion of the cattle and livestock industry and the opening of a meatpacking factory in Chicago in 1867, ranchers in Texas started to drive their cattle to the nearby railroads. Almost two months were required for these drives to reach the nearest railroad from a home ranch. Around ten cowboys with three horses per person, a cook, and a wrangler were employed to herd a drive comprising 3000 cattle heads. It is believed that 27 million cattle were driven to stockyards in Louisiana and points east, resulting in the establishment of railheads and cow towns across the frontier.

Overgrazing of the range stressed them and killed cattle due to starvation during winter. The innovation of barbed wire in 1867 resulted in the confinement of cattle to designated areas preventing the overgrazing of the range. The insufficient forage during the winter of 1886 and 1887 collapsed the cattle industry and by 1890, barbed wire fencing became standard in ranches of northern plains. Expansion of railroads to reaching almost all areas and creation of meatpacking plants close to the ranching regions wiped out the open range and large cattle drives. However, until the introduction of modern trucks, short-distance cattle drives continued. The increase in ranches ensured employment to cowboys and helped them settle down.

During the 1820s and 1830s, cowboys started testing their skills against each other and the first rodeo competition was held at Deer Trail in 1869. The competition held at Prescott in 1888 with admission fees and award trophies became the first professional rodeo. It developed as a public entertainment between 1890 and 1910, combined with Wild West Shows featuring famous artists.

Importance Of Cowboys

Cowboys have played an important role in American history, the Old West, and the expansion of the country towards the west. Ranching was the main activity of the cattle industry and each ranch depended mainly on the cowboys it employed. Ranches were practically run by cowboys by tending and herding the cattle and horses, repairing the building and fences, and managing the cattle.

Inspired by the life and culture of Cowboys, play writers and moviemakers gave them heroic images by dramatizing and romanticizing the stories.

The clothes, boots, hats and the general attire adopted by the cowboys to adjust to the rough, dangerous and adventurous life they led has found a place of its own in the fashion industry worldwide.

The cowboys represent America's best with their hard work, courage, and optimism. The fourth Saturday of July was declared as the National Day of the American cowboy by the U.S. Senate in 2005.

Cowboys have played an important role in American history

Cowboy Culture

Cowboy culture has originated from their life in the agricultural terrain across the world, including ancient Persia. Like any other culture, it has gone through a series of changes to adapt to the need of the time and situations and evolved in its present state.

Having varied ethnic origins they belonged to lower social classes and led their life with meager pay. The American cowboy populations included former soldiers, African-American freedmen, Mexican and American Indians.

With time, Old West cowboys developed their own cowboy culture, blending frontier and Victorian values with self-dependence and individualism. The two main traditions developed in the U.S. were Texas and Californian traditions.

Singing was an essential part of Cowboy culture as they sang to soothe the cattle during the night.


Where did cowboys sleep?

A: During the cattle drive, cowboys sleep in the cattle camp, and at the home ranch, they sleep in a bunkhouse.

What did cowboys own?

A: Cowboys mostly owned a rifle.

What was the average age of a cowboy?

A: Cowboys often start at the age of 12 or 13 and may continue it for their lifetime.

Where do cowboys originally come from?

A: Cowboys originally came from Spain.

Who was the first cowboy?

A: The name of the first cowboy is not known. However, historians believe that they originated from Spanish cattlemen who worked in the ranches known as 'vaqueros' were the first cowboys in the West.

What are cowboys known for?

A: Cowboys are generally known for their horse-riding skills and chivalry.

What is an interesting fact about cowboys?

A: An interesting fact about cowboys is that while on the trail, they were even prohibited from cursing and fined if anyone did so.

Written By
Sridevi Tolety

<p>With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.</p>

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