85 Unbelievable Wild West Cowboy Facts For You To Know

Abhijeet Modi
Oct 19, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Jan 19, 2022
Wild west cowboy facts talk about the Gold Rush of California.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 15.3 Min

The wild west is alluring to people all around the world.

One of the coolest sensations among people has been watching westerns. There was actually a time and a period when wild west cowboys were the favorite of girls and boys who wanted to be a part of their culture.

Be it Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' book series or films like 'Django Unchained', the love for these western cowboys is still steeping among the youth. However, most people don't know many facts about wild west cowboys except their love for horses and parlors.

So, we thought about compiling some interesting things about these big and tough personalities that have heavily influenced our films and popular culture.

So, do keep reading if you want to know what went on in the lives of these cowboys.

Personality Traits Of Wild West Cowboys

What do you remember when you imagine wild west cowboys? Often, they are thought to have a strong personality with an approach of always being able to fight. So, let's see some of the personality traits that are typically a part of cowboys.

  • When it comes to describing the wild west, many people will use the words inquisitive, restless, inventive, and dominant. The wild west cowboy personality is typically tied to the idea of upholding the law enforcement and in-town sheriff or other governing positions.
  • One of the strangest facts about the modern cowboy phenomenon is that a lot of the personality traits are actually derived from Mexican cowboys known as vaqueros. This includes their attire and even the typical western vocabulary associated with them. The trend is said to have emerged during the 19th century.
  • The word cowboy is attached to the earliest idea of these horse riding men who used to tend cattle like cows or buffaloes. As you may know, even American cowboys are typically associated with large ranches.
  • The reality of cowboys was quite different when it came to the wild west. It's said that the actual cowboys were men who were always looking for a job. The average salary might have been $25-40 based on the chores they used to do.
  • Even though you may think of the average wild west cowboys as gunslingers, that was not the case. Most were everyday young men or even old men, and anyone who used to work hard to earn a living.
  • Typically, cowboys that worked around the ranch or tended to cattle didn't have much sleep. They would often have to wake up just at the crack of dawn to resume their work.
  • Yes, there were fights among cowboys, and it could often get heated, especially when the men didn't get along with each other. It's said that rather than being a cohesive group, cowboys came from all walks of life. Some may have been veterans, outlaws, bandits, or retired lawmen.
  • Groups of cowboys typically had a trail boss who had the job of keeping things grounded and making sure no lives were lost.
  • When on a cattle drive or at constant work, cowboys seldom got time to change their clothes. One of the reasons you saw them wearing hats and bandanas was due to the hot sun as well as the amount of dust present on the trails.
  • The personality of cowboys was directly linked to the work they used to do. The men needed to be strong as they had to control the big animals and even stop stampedes caused by a sudden incoming herd.
  • Even though there has been a trend to show wild west cowboys as dumb or unintelligent people, in reality, these guys had to be quite intelligent and sharp to do their work. Cowboys also needed to mix and meet a lot of new people as they went around the country.
  • Another common personality trait of cowboys was that they were seldom lazy. Most even couldn't afford to oversleep, as it would have caused them to be targeted by their peers.
  • Being in the routine and adhering to orders mattered a lot to the cowboys. They are often known for holding kangaroo courts that would decide on the fate of those who failed to respect the everyday decorum followed by the other cowboys.
  • Cowboys shared a strong relationship with their horses and were quite attached to the animal. Similarly, cowboys were also pretty adept at dealing with cattle. It helped them to assess the needs of these animals that they had to spend time with, sometimes for months.
  • The personality of cowboys is often attached to carrying guns. But, contrary to popular portrayals in Hollywood, guns were actually used for protecting the animals. When fighting among themselves, men would have certainly entered more into physical fights.
  • One of the most interesting things about the personality of cowboys has to be their love for music. Many cowboys could play musical instruments like fiddles and harmonicas.
  • While stopping at a place for the night, playing and joking among the group as a way to entertain themselves on the long journeys. The cowboys were also known for making up interesting songs, often on the spot. Hence, they weren't definitely as stone-cold as portrayed in some Hollywood films.
  • A thing to remember about cowboys is that they had a culture of their own. Due to their hard life and a mix of different ethnicities and backgrounds, cowboys developed a culture that's described as a mix of frontier and Victorian values.
  • Chivalry was a thing that mattered to cowboys a lot, and most of them were proponents of honesty.
  • We may say that clashes were common among cowboys because the harsh environment made them have a self-dependent and individualistic personality.
  • As you may already know, the cowboys of the wild west typically lived in an environment dominated by men. So, they didn't really have the perspective of women that today's men or other men during that time might have had.
  • Often in westerns, we are made to see that cowboys don't like Native Americans. Yet that's not at all true, as cowboys came from different ethnic backgrounds. At the same time, the lingo of cowboys also has many Native American influences.

Weapons Used By Wild West Cowboys

One of the most fascinating things about cowboys has to be their weapons. Most people have been made to think that cowboys were rifle-carrying men who were always on the lookout for a fight. But, that might not have been true. So, here are some facts about the arms used by wild west cowboys.

  • The rifle was, in fact, the common firearm carried by cowboys. It helped them to protect the animals from predators. But, most cowboys may not have preferred to carry a rifle when on horseback.
  • The Winchester rifle of 1873 was one of the hot favorites among cowboys. Another common rifle used during the time was the Mississippi Rifle or the US Model 1841 rifle. Buffalo Bill is said to have carried this gun.
  • As you might have noticed, cowboys often preferred to carry guns that were used in the military or by those in the government.
  • The rifles owned by cowboys were also used for marked hunting during the offseason.
  • A pistol was the firearm of choice when on a horse.
  • The Colt Single Action Army revolver is another gun that's attached to the image of the wild west. It was used by people from all walks of life, including criminals and cowboys.
  • Another popular Colt pistol was the Dragoon pistol, a revolving horse pistol. Around 21,000 pieces were sold between 1848-1860 due to their popularity.
  • If we had to name one pistol that had revolutionized the idea of carrying guns in the west, then it has to be the Henry Deringer pocket pistol. It was also the unfortunate pistol variant used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate the beloved President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Apart from the various models of guns, we cannot stress the fact that many cowboys actually preferred to carry other weapons.
  • One of the most popular choices was knives, especially small pocket variants, as they can be used to attack people easily.
  • Some knives carried by cowboys had a special blade called sheepsfoot.
  • Did you know that the rope or lasso carried by cowboys can also be used as a weapon? Yes, also known as a lariat, this tightly twisted rope was often made from rawhide. The rope even has a small loop at the end called Hondo, and when the other end is passed through it, the bigger loop is created. With the right skills, the rope can quickly become a weapon for the cowboy and can be used to protect the animals from predators or also to control a herd.
  • Even though not common, some wild west cowboys carried lances or bows according to their location.
  • To date, cowboys are associated with double barrel shotguns. Yes, those were indeed economic firearms that could be owned by anyone. But, needless to say, the shotguns were most often used in hunting or for removing predators coming near cattle.
Know about American history through Wild West facts.

Wild West Facts

Till now, we have learned a lot about cowboys, so it's time to know about the wild west itself.

  • What we mean when we say wild west is the American frontier, and it's also known as the old west or just as the wild west.
  • The wild west suggests how America expanded towards the west after the initial European settlements started. That's why the wild west is often associated with something mysterious or unknown.
  • The wild west was seen as a part of the 'Manifest Destiny' attitude where it was believed that the sole motto of the American settlers should be to expand into the west.
  • The wild west period is thought to have existed from the end of the American Civil War in 1865 until the frontier was closed by the Census Bureau in 1890.
  • As you may have seen, the romanticized thought of expanding into the west gave rise to innumerable media content focusing on the west. This included TV shows, comics, video games, and even costumes.
  • Similarly, the California Gold Rush is taken to be a good point of time in history to trace the fascination about the wild west. Phenomenons like the California Gold Rush instilled the fantasy of the west as a place of prosperity that's still to be discovered, giving rise to American Frontier expansion policies.
  • Some people described the wild west as the land beyond the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
  • During the time of the old wild west, millions of buffalos were usually shot by the United States Army and people commissioned by them. It was a way to curb the ability of Native Americans as their main food source was buffalo meat.
  • A man who went by the name of 'Buffalo' Bill Cody managed to kill around 4,000 bison in just two years.
  • When it comes to the wild west, another iconic aspect is the different shows. The Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has to be the most renowned of them all.
  • The first Wild West Show was held by Buffalo Bill in the fairgrounds of Omaha.
  • Rather than being an accurate and true representation of the wild west, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was a spectacle created to make a profit of the interest of people regarding the frontier. He even went on to do shows in England.
  • One of the biggest outlaws of the wild west was William H. Bonney or Billy the Kid, who was later shot down by Sheriff Pat Garrett at the age of 21. Billy the Kid was famously known for committing murders, but he also participated in the Lincoln County War. It's said that Billy the Kid killed eight men before he was shot dead.
  • There was a time when the feral camel species could be found in the west, especially the southwest, due to an experiment by the US army.
  • One of the well-known gunfights that happened in the wild west was between the three Earp brothers, Billy Claiborne or Billy Claireborne, Doc Holliday, and the two McLaury brothers, as well as the two Clanton brothers. However, the fight only lasted for about 30 seconds. It happened at the place which is now the intersection of Third Street and Fremont Street situated in Tombstone, Arizona, and not at O.K. Corral as it's believed to have been.
  • Another famous outlaw is said to have been Jesse James, and he was also the leader of the James–Younger Gang. He ran the gang with his brother Frank.
  • Jesse James is also attributed to have been a robber, and his group is said to have stolen around $200,000. The gang of Jesse James was known for being ruthless and would have killed anyone that got in front of them.
  • Jesse James is said to have been killed by his own gang member, Bob Ford, who had eyes on the bounty. However, the folk tales around Jesse James still live among the people fascinated with the west. Interestingly, a man called J. Frank Dalton came ahead at the age of 101, saying that he was the real Jesse James, but DNA tests done at a later time proved otherwise.
  • Wild Bill Hickok is regarded as another folk hero of the American wild west. A multi-faceted man, Wild Bill Hickok is said to have been involved as a soldier, lawman, scout, gambler, showman, and even an actor.
  • The decade of the 1800s was haunted by a man named Butch Cassidy, whose actual name was Robert LeRoy Parker. Along with his partner-in-crime, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid), they robbed trains, banks and led a team of criminals known as the Wild Bunch. The story of these outlaws inspired the western film 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', directed by George Roy Hill.
  • John Wesley Hardin is definitely the worst killer that existed during the wild west era, and he has been said to have killed more than 25-40 people making him the person who killed the most.
  • People who liked westerns have always been fascinated with the culture and might have seen the TV show 'Gunsmoke'. In that show, you can get acquainted with a saloon called the Miss Kitty's Long Branch Saloon located at Dodge City, Kansas. And, the best part is that the saloon really does exist in Dodge City, Kansas, and you can visit it till now.
  • Any civilized society needs to have mail service for efficient communication. And, hence the Pony Express was launched to deliver mail across the west. The Express required continuous horse-and-rider relays between places like St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, as well as journeys from Sacramento to San Francisco, California. However, this arrangement was a disaster.
  • Famous riders such as William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody and Robert 'Pony Bob' Haslam were part of the Pony Express venture.
  • The route of Pony Express mail service consisted of 2,000 mi (3,200 km) and had 190 stops.

Facts About Wild West Cowboys

Here are some facts that you would love to know about the wild west cowboys.

  • Poker games and other forms of gambling were popular among cowboys.
  • As we have said already, cowboys used to manage large herds of cattle, and there used to be around a dozen cowboys for 3,000 animals.
  • Elmer McCurdy was a gunman, and a robber, shot down during a shoot-out by police. However, he became quickly famous when he became a traveling corpse and came to be one of the modern mummies to be present in the USA. His corpse was assumed to be a wax figure, was made to tour in museums and haunted houses extensively before the discovery.
  • We can't say who was the best cowboy, but Buffalo Bill does tick most of the boxes of being a popular and renowned figure in the west. He even used to work as an army scout during the California Gold Rush.
  • Compared to popular belief, the cowboys were a diverse group. The different groups contained people from African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican communities as well as European settlers.
  • Cowboys often held a culture based on egalitarianism.
  • Even after a grueling day of work, cowboys didn't really get any exciting food. On top of that, most ate only twice a day to save the food for the whole journey. The usual menu included beef, bacon, bread, beans, and coffee.
  • Though cowboys wore hats, they didn't prefer the 10-gallon hats as portrayed in Hollywood films.
  • However, the flat-brimmed Stetson hat was quite popular among cowboys as it was cheap, waterproof, and lasted for a long.
  • If you thought gun control was a modern phenomenon, then that would be wrong. When visiting towns like Deadwood, Abilene, or Tombstone, cowboys were checked for guns, as there was a no-gun policy followed among the people.
  • Cowboys of areas in and around Arizona were thought to be vile criminals and outlaws.
  • Even though less common, cowgirls did exist during the wild west era. Women also worked in the ranches during the 19th and 20th centuries. But, the idea of cowgirls really became popular through wild west shows.
  • Cowboys were not exclusive to the wild west of Mexico. The tradition has come down from Spain.
  • In South America, there were cowboys by the name of the gaucho in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil.
  • Llanero cowboys were from Venezuela, and the huaso existed in Chile.
  • The boots were an integral part of a cowboy's dress. Apart from helping them walk on the uneven terrain, the boots had spurs at their back. These sharp spurs helped a cowboy to control and steer their horse quickly. The boots also had high heels so that the feet firmly remained on the stirrup.
  • While jeans today have become a popular fashion attire, it wasn't so during the 1870s. The invention of jeans meant that cowboys or ranch workers had strong clothing that wouldn't tear easily. The tight jeans or other thick trousers also helped the cowboys to ride.
  • Cowboys used to sit on a specially designed saddle known as the western saddle that helped them to ride along with livestock.
  • Cowboys also wore leather chaps which were pants designed to save them from getting injured by thorny bushes.
  • Tenderfoot, pilgrim, and greenhorn were words used by cowboys to denote someone who was new.
  • Harmonica was a popular instrument as it was small and easier to carry.
  • Some popular cowboy songs to come out of the cowboy era are 'Old Dan Tucker', 'Nearer My God To Thee', 'In the Sweet By and By', and 'The Texas Lullaby'.
  • In the beginning, rodeos used to be friendly competitions between cowboys.
  • 'The Virginian' by Owen Wister was a book that was published in 1902, and it was one of the first novels to perpetuate the idea of an ideal west and cowboys.

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

Abhijeet Modi picture

Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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