No vision of the American West is complete without the cowboy. The imagery is quintessentially American, but many myths cloud the truth about what life was like on the long drive.
No, we didn't really invent cattle raising. We learned it all from the Vaqueros, or the Mexican cowboys. Teaching us the tricks of the trade in Texas who thought about making a great profit at the time, their cattle was wild as heck! There were five million of them by the end of the civil war. It was then that we entered this golden age of open rage and cattle ranges in 1866 to 1886.
Unlike what you've heard, we weren't really good marksmen, our lariats ( not our riffles ) are what we used to discipline our cattle. Some of us cowboys were African Americans and Mexican. We were fairly small men. We had to be small so our body weights would not strain our horses.
We may have our hats and chaps, but boy, we're not all that heroic. Although some of us wished to be, we had difficult job and had less leisure time than we outta had. Today people see us as rough and tumble ruffians who were always so angry that we couldn't see straight. We had little family, and we were young and trying to make a living somehow from the cattle we raised. Work usually lasted about 15 hours, more or less what time was spent on the saddle.
The West was a dangerous place at the time. There were many of our own creations that tried to kill us ( both physically and mentally! ) Barbed wire, rail roads through the Great Plains, and reinforcement of land laws for our cattle. We were also ambushed by Indians and many of us were killed by them daily. There was that dastardly dry summer in 1886, to the terrible winter 1886 to 1887 that destroyed what remained of our original industry. We were reduced to riding hay mows, mending fences, and getting our sick cattle medicine. But out of all the fears we had, there was always those stampedes. Many poor workers or dead cattle were always trampled during the stampedes. Usually we had to tire the cattle out by herding them up with our horses and running them around in a circle.
Soon the cattle get sold out in Abilene, and we were finally getting let loose. The saloons were always open to our riders after a long drive, and then we rested until dawn. That's how Cowboys truly lived their days out in the West.
This clip is from the spaghetti western ( A western movie filmed in Italy )
Once upon a Time in the West