How they started
Cattle ranchers began to move out onto the Great Plains in the mid 1800’s In the late 1800’s cowboys became popular in the cattle industry. The American cowboys owe their knowledge of how to tame the cattle to vaquerars (the Mexican cowboys). The animals originally were from the ranches in southern Texas formerly operated by Spaniards and Mexicans. The cowboys often called the wild cattle longhorns, which were the huge herds of wild cattle. About one- third of the cowboys were free black men who had moved west after the Civil War.
Each year Texas ranches would collect huge herds of cattle and start them northward on what was called the long drive. The cowboys would take the herds of cattle along the railroads to get them to urban markets for the nations growing cities.
The American cowboy wore a wide brimmed hat that provided shade, to protect him from the sun and the rain. He wore pointed toe boots which slipped easily into the stirrups of his saddle, and the boots had high heels to keep them from slipping. They wrapped leather chaperreras or chaps around their legs to protect them from thorny chaparrel bushes. They carried with them at all times revolver, lasso, whip, and spurs.
The cowboys lived in wagons called chuck wagons. The chuck wagons included food, sleeping blankets tools and other things to help them along with their journeys. They would sleep on the ground with their blankets. Sometimes they would make a fire. These chuck wagons were not strong or sturdy. Many times while the horse was pulling it an axel would break and the cowboys would have to stop to fix it. This would be a set back for the day. On large ranches the cowboys slept in bunkhouses near the ranch owners house. These house had many discomforts, there were bunks piled on top of each other. The houses were small and dingy. There were pegs on the wall to hang the clothes that the cowboys wore. Most cowboys went to sleep early due to the exhaustion from the days work.
The cowboys diet included potatoes, beans, bacon, dried fruit, corn meal, coffee and canned food. Most cowboys often woke up at four o’clock in the morning and worked till dusk, they never had much time for eating. The Chuck Wagon carries food, cooking utensils, and drinking water during the trail drive. After the cattle settled down for the night, the cowboys gathered around the wagon to eat. Most of the food would go bad if it was not properly packaged, or if it was old.
The cowboys job was to protect the cattle from Indians and wild animals. It was also to keep the cattle from straying away. At roundups the young cattle were branded with the marks of their owners. The steers, belonging to various ranchers were then sorted out. The cowboys also, had to repair bridles, harnesses, and other equipment for their horses, wagons and bunk hoses. All these activities meant hard work but a free and happy life for the cowboy.
Vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) often sang songs and played the guitar in the evenings on the open trail after a days work. The American cowboys adopted this custom and created their own songs, many of which are still popular today. Between 1883-1938 Wild West Shows were very popular. These shows were similar to circuses; they reenacted an Indian attack and of course at the last minute a rescue by the American cowboy saving the people. Some of the other featured events included Bronco-Busting, Rough-Riding, Roping, Indian ceremonials, and Sharp shooting
In 1850 the life expectancy of a white male living in the U.S was thirty-eight years old. A Cowboy’s prime time in his life was about twenty-four. Many cowboys lasted well into there thirties but due to the hard work and many activities the men were tired and were owed a rest.
Davidson/Lytle Prentice Hall: The United States,
A History of the Republic, page 411, 1990
Davidson/Lytle Prentice Hall; The
American Nation. Page449-52, 1989
Todd/Curti Triumph of the American Nation
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, page 496-500 ,1986.
Wilder, Ludlum, Brown. This is America’s Story.
Houghton Mifflin Fifth Edition, page 470-74, 1983
Word Count: 668