|Prospecting on the San Bernardino National Forest
The Lure of Prospecting
Anyone who pans for gold hopes to be rewarded by the glitter
of colors in the fine material collected in the bottom of the pan. Although
the exercise and outdoor activity experienced in prospecting are rewarding,
there are few thrills comparable to finding gold. Even an assay report
showing an appreciable content of gold in a sample obtained from a lode
deposit is exciting. The would-be prospector hoping for financial gain,
however, should carefully consider all the pertinent facts before deciding
on a prospecting venture.
History and Background of Prospecting
In recent times, only a few prospectors among the many
thousands who searched the western part of the United States ever found
a valuable deposit. Most of the gold mining districts in the West were
located by pioneers, many of whom were experienced gold miners from the
southern Appalachian region, but even in colonial times only a small proportion
of the gold seekers were successful. Over the past several centuries the
country has been thoroughly searched by prospectors. During the depression
of the 1930's, prospectors searched the better known gold-producing areas
throughout the Nation, especially in the West, and the little-known areas
as well. The results of their activities have never been fully documented,
but incomplete records indicate that an extremely small percentage of the
total number of active prospectors supported themselves by gold mining.
Of the few significant discoveries reported, nearly all were made by prospectors
of long experience who were familiar with the regions in which they were
Many believe that it is possible to make wages or better
by panning gold in the streams of the West, particularly in regions where
placer mining formerly flourished. However, most placer deposits have been
thoroughly reworked at least twice--first by Chinese laborers, who arrived
soon after the initial boom periods and recovered gold from the lower grade
deposits and tailings left by the first miners, and later by itinerant
miners during the 1930's. Geologists and engineers who systematically investigate
remote parts of the country find small placer diggings and old prospect
pits whose number and wide distribution imply few, if any, recognizable
surface indications of metal-bearing deposits were overlooked by the earlier
miners and prospectors.
Prospecting History in Big Bear
The Big Bear Back Country Place is known for its colorful
mining history, prehistoric habitations and scenic character. From 1860
until the early 1900s, Holcomb Valley was the location of southern California's
largest gold rush and the mining towns of Belleville, Clapboard Town and
Union Town were located here. Extractions of gold, silver and copper continued
here over a longer period of time than anywhere else in California. The
last mining operation of any size concluded in 1958. Holcomb Valley is
a California Historic District, noted for its abundant historic and prehistoric
sites. Other historic mining areas are present in Lone Valley and Rattlesnake
Canyon. Rose Mine, which housed a mountain community at the turn of the
century is now a National Historical Site.
A placer deposit is a concentration of a natural material
that has accumulated in unconsolidated sediments of a stream bed, beach,
or residual deposit. Gold derived by weathering or other process from lode
deposits is likely to accumulate in placer deposits because of its weight
and resistance to corrosion. In addition, its characteristically sun-yellow
color makes it easily and quickly recognizable even in very small quantities.
The gold pan or miner's pan is a shallow sheet-iron vessel with sloping
sides and flat bottom used to wash gold-bearing gravel or other material
containing heavy minerals. The process of washing material in a pan, referred
to as "panning," is the simplest and most commonly used and least expensive
method for a prospector to separate gold from the silt, sand, and gravel
of the stream deposits. It is a tedious, back-breaking job and only with
practice does one become proficient in the operation.
Many placer districts in California have been mined on
a large scale as recently as the mid-1950's. Streams draining the rich
Mother Lode region--the Feather, Mokelumne, American, Cosumnes, Calaveras,
and Yuba Rivers--and the Trinity River in northern California have concentrated
considerable quantities of gold in gravels. In addition, placers associated
with gravels that are stream remnants from an older erosion cycle occur
in the same general area.
In addition to these localities, placer gold occurs along
many of the intermittent and ephemeral streams of arid regions in Nevada,
Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. In many of these places a
large reserve of low-grade placer gold may exist, but the lack of a permanent
water supply for conventional placer mining operations requires the use
of expensive dry or semidry concentrating methods to recover the gold.
Modern Day Prospecting
Today's prospector must determine where prospecting is
permitted and be aware of the regulations under which he is allowed to
search for gold and other metals. Permission to enter upon privately owned
land must be obtained from the land owner. Determination of land ownership
and location and contact with the owner can be a time-consuming chore but
one which has to be done before prospecting can begin.
Determination of the location and extent of public lands
open to mineral entry for prospecting and mining purposes also is a time
consuming but necessary requirement. National parks, for example, are closed
to prospecting. Certain lands under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management may be entered for prospecting, but sets
of rules and regulations govern entry. The following statement from a pamphlet
issued in 1978 by the U.S. Department of the Interior and entitled "Staking
a mining claim on Federal Lands" responds to the question "Where May I
There are still areas where you may prospect, and if a
discovery of a valuable, locatable mineral is made, you may stake a claim.
These areas are mainly in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado,
Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New
Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Such areas are mainly unreserved, unappropriated Federal public lands administered
by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior
and in national forests administered by the Forest Service of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Public land records in the proper BLM State
Office will show you which lands are closed to mineral entry under the
mining laws. These offices keep up-to-date land status plats that are available
to the public for inspection. BLM is publishing a series of surface and
mineral ownership maps that depict the general ownership pattern of public
lands. These maps may be purchased at most BLM Offices. For a specific
tract of land, it is advisable to check the official land records at the
proper BLM State Office.
What are the rules for prospecting for gold and staking
claims in the National Forest?
* Prospecting, mining and claim staking
activities are permitted on National Forest system unappropriated land.
Claimants have an express and implied right to access their claims when
permitted under Forest Service surface use regulations (36 CFR;228). Check
with the Bureau of Land Management Office for land status pertaining to
mining claims and the Ranger Station for land appropriation status.
* An Administrative Pass is a temporary
authorization issued at no charge for prospectors and miners who have a
statutory right to enter and prospect on public lands sanctioned under
the General Mining Act of 1872, as amended.
* Other visitors using the forest for
recreation are required to purchase an Adventure Pass for a fee, which
is required to park their vehicles while recreating in 'High Impact Recreation
* An Administrative pass may be issued
for a 14 day period for members of a mining club and other prospectors
at no charge. If they require a longer period, we request them to submit
a Notice of Intent for the District Ranger's review to determine if the
proposed activity causes a significant surface disturbance. If the proposed
activity does not cause a significant surface disturbance, then the District
Ranger may issue an Administrative Pass for up to one year at no cost.
* The Notice of Intent requires your
name, address, telephone number, a claim map or the approximate location
of the proposed activity, the number of samples, the depth of the sample
site, the beneficiation method and need for water.
* If the District Ranger determines
that if the proposed activity may cause a significant surface disturbance,
the claimant, prospector and the mining clubs will be required to submit
a Plan of Operation. This will require substantive information about the
mining, beneficiation, reclamation methods and a substantial reclamation
performance bond will be required.
* Prospecting does not require a mining
claim or an exact location of the activity, an approximate location will
* A Notice of Intent is required
if the proposed activity is located in an environmentally sensitive area
(1-e, Holcomb Valley, Lytle Creek, Horse Thief Canyon, Cactus Flats, Santa
Ana wash and Rose Mine). This includes panning for gold, dry washing, high
banking, metal detecting and suction dredging. Call the Ranger Station
if you are not sure about the sensitivity of the area involving the proposed
activity. Members of mining clubs are encouraged to follow this procedure.
* There are several hundred abandoned
mines on the forest. The public is prohibited from entering any of these
openings. If any of these of openings are causing a clear and present danger
to the public, report the location to the local Ranger Station for signing
* To stake a mining claim, you need
to follow Bureau of Land Management guidelines as they are the lead agency
for minerals management. The Forest Service administers the surface use
regulations in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36,
* Mining claimants are not allowed
to drive off National Forest Designated Routes to access their claims.
They are required to have an approved Plan of Operation from the District
Ranger for access.
For the Use of Metal Detectors on the National Forest
The allowable use of metal detectors on National Forest
system lands takes a number of different forms. Detectors are used in searching
for treasure trove, locating historical and pre historical artifacts and
prospecting for minerals, and searching for recent coins and lost metal
objects. Of these four types of uses for metal detectors, the first three
are covered by existing regulations that require special authorization,
i.e. special use permits, notice of intent, or plan of operation.
The search for treasure trove, which is defined as money,
un mounted gems, or precious metals in the form of coin, plate, or bullion
that has been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovering it later,
is an activity which is regulated by the Forest Service. Searching for
treasure trove has the potential of causing considerable disturbance and
damage to resources and thus requires a Special Use Permit from the US
Forest Service. Methods utilized in searching for treasure trove must be
specified in the permits issued. Permits may not be granted in each and
every case, but applications will be reviewed with attention being paid
to the justification given and guarantees for the restoration of any damage
that might occur to other resources. The use of metal detectors in searching
for treasure trove is permissible when under this type of permit, but must
be kept within the conditions of the permit.
The use of a metal detector to locate objects of historic
or archaeological value is permissible subject to the provisions of the
Antiquities Act of 1906, the Archaeological Resources Preservation Act
1979, and the Secretary of Agriculture's regulations. Such use requires
a Special Use Permit covering the exploration, excavation. appropriation,
or removal of historic and archaeological materials and information. Such
permits are available for legitimate historical and pre historical research
activities by qualified individuals. Unauthorized use of metal detectors
in the search for and collection of historic and archaeological artifacts
is a violation of existing regulations and statutes.
The use of a metal detector to locate mineral deposits
such as gold, and silver on National Forest System lands is considered
prospecting and is subject to the provisions of the General Mining Law
Searching for coins of recent vintage (less than 50 years)
and small objects having no historical value, as a recreational pursuit,
using a hand-held metal detector, does not currently require a Special
Use Permit as long as the use of the equipment is confined to areas which
do not posses historic or prehistoric resources.
Important Mining & Recreational Tips
* Pick/shovel excavations may
only be done in conjunction with gold panning and metal detecting and must
be made below the high water mark of the stream channel. All excavations
must be filled in before leaving the area. Prospectors in the Holcomb
Valley and Lytle Creek areas need to submit a "Notice of Intent" to the
local Ranger Station.
* Do not cut trees, limbs or
brush, do not dig up ground cover or dig under tree roots.
* Pack out everything you brought
into the area, especially trash.
* Do not wash yourself or your dishes
in the creeks. All wash water is to be contained and disposed of, off of
National Forest Land
* Bury human waste 4 to 6 inches deep
and at least 100 feet from the stream channel.
* Vehicles must remain on designated
routes, unless approved by the District Ranger.
* Check local conditions and
fire restrictions by calling the local Ranger Station.
Minerals Program Manager
San Bernardino National Forest
602 S. Tippecanoe Avenue
San Bernardino, CA 92408
|Cowboy From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches
in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude
of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late
19th century became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype,
called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In
addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos.
Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well
documented historical role, but in the modern world have established the
ability to work at virtually identical tasks and obtained considerable
respect for their achievements. There are also cattle handlers in many
other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, who
perform work similar to the cowboy in their respective nations.
The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain
and the earliest settlers of the Americas. Over the centuries, differences
in terrain, climate and the influence of cattle-handling traditions from
multiple cultures created several distinct styles of equipment, clothing
and animal handling. As the ever-practical cowboy adapted to the modern
world, the cowboy's equipment and techniques also adapted to some degree,
though many classic traditions are still preserved today.
Etymology and usage
The English word cowboy has an origin from several earlier
terms that referred to both age and to cattle or cattle-tending work.
The word "cowboy" appeared in the English language by
1725. It appears to be a direct English translation of vaquero, a Spanish
word for an individual who managed cattle while mounted on horseback. It
was derived from vaca, meaning "cow." This Spanish word has a long history,
developed from the Latin word vacca. Another English word for a cowboy,
buckaroo, is an Anglicization of vaquero. At least one linguist has speculated
that the word "buckaroo" derives from the Arabic word bakara or bakhara,
also meaning "heifer" or "young cow", and may have entered Spanish during
the centuries of Islamic rule.
Originally, the term may have been intended literally
- "a boy who tends cows" - but had developed its modern sense as an adult
cattle handler of the American west by 1849. Variations on the word "cowboy"
appeared later. "Cowhand" appeared in 1852, and "cowpoke" in 1881, originally
restricted to the individuals who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with
long poles. Names for a cowboy in American English now include buckaroo,
cowpoke, cowhand, and cowpuncher. "Cowboy" is a term common throughout
the west and particularly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, "Buckaroo"
is used primarily in the Great Basin and California, and "cowpuncher" mostly
in Texas and surrounding states.
The word cowboy also had English language roots beyond
simply being a translation from Spanish. Originally, the English word "cowherd"
was used to describe a cattle herder, (similar to "shepherd," a sheep herder)
and often referred to a preadolescent or early adolescent boy, who usually
worked on foot. (Equestrianism required skills and an investment in horses
and equipment rarely available to or entrusted to a child, though in some
cultures boys rode a donkey while going to and from pasture) This word
is very old in the English language, originating prior to the year 1000.
In Antiquity, herding of sheep, cattle and goats was often the job of minors,
and still is a task for young people in various third world cultures.
Because of the time and physical ability needed to develop
necessary skills, the cowboy often did began his career as an adolescent,
earning wages as soon as he had enough skill to be hired, (often as young
as 12 or 13) and who, if not crippled by injury, might handle cattle or
horses for the rest of his working life. In the United States, a few women
also took on the tasks of ranching and learned the necessary skills, though
the "cowgirl" (discussed below) did not become widely recognized or acknowledged
until the close of the 19th century. On western ranches today, the working
cowboy is usually an adult. Responsibility for herding cattle or other
livestock is no longer considered a job suitable for children or early
adolescents. However, both boys and girls growing up in a ranch environment
often learn to ride horses and perform basic ranch skills as soon as they
are physically able, usually under adult supervision. Such youths, by their
late teens, are often given responsibilities for "cowboy" work on the ranch,
and ably perform work that requires a level of maturity and levelheadedness
that is not generally expected of their urban peers.
|The origins of the cowboy tradition come from Spain,
beginning with the hacienda system of medieval Spain. This style of cattle
ranching spread throughout much of the Iberian peninsula and later, was
imported to the Americas. Both regions possessed a dry climate with sparse
grass, and thus large herds of cattle required vast amounts of land in
order to obtain sufficient forage. The need to cover distances greater
than a person on foot could manage gave rise to the development of the
horseback-mounted vaquero. Various aspects of the Spanish equestrian tradition
can be traced back to Arabic rule in Spain, including Moorish elements
such as the use of Oriental-type horses, the la jineta riding style characterized
by a shorter stirrup, solid-treed saddle and use of spurs, the heavy noseband
or hackamore, (Arabic šak?ma, Spanish jaquima) and other horse-related
equipment and techniques. Certain aspects of the Arabic tradition, such
as the hackamore, can in turn be traced to roots in ancient Persia.
During the 16th century, the Conquistadors and other Spanish
settlers brought their cattle-raising traditions as well as both horses
and domesticated cattle to the Americas, starting with their arrival in
what today is Mexico and Florida. The traditions of Spain were transformed
by the geographic, environmental and cultural circumstances of New Spain,
which later became Mexico and the Southwestern United States. In turn,
the land and people of the Americas also saw dramatic changes due to Spanish
Thus, though popularly considered as a North American
icon, the traditional cowboy began with a Hispanic tradition, which evolved
further in what today is Mexico and the Southwestern United States into
the vaquero of northern Mexico and the charro of the Jalisco and Michoacán
regions. Most vaqueros were men of mestizo and Native American origin while
most of the hacendados (ranch owners) were ethnically Spanish. Mexican
traditions spread both South and North, influencing equestrian traditions
from Argentina to Canada.
The arrival of horses was particularly significant, as
equines had been extinct in the Americas since the end of the prehistoric
ice age. However, horses quickly multiplied in America and became crucial
to the success of the Spanish and later settlers from other nations. The
earliest horses were originally of Andalusian, Barb and Arabian ancestry,
but a number of uniquely American horse breeds developed in North and South
America through selective breeding and by natural selection of animals
that escaped to the wild. The Mustang and other colonial horse breeds are
now called "wild," but in reality are feral horses — descendants of domesticated
As English-speaking traders and settlers expanded westward,
English and Spanish traditions, language and culture merged to some degree.
Before the Mexican-American War in 1848, New England merchants who traveled
by ship to California encountered both hacendados and vaqueros, trading
manufactured goods for the hides and tallow produced from vast cattle ranches.
American traders along what later became known as the Santa Fe Trail had
similar contacts with vaquero life. Starting with these early encounters,
the lifestyle and language of the vaquero began a transformation which
merged with English cultural traditions and produced what became known
in American culture as the "cowboy".
With the arrival of railroads, and an increased demand
for beef in the wake of the American Civil War, the iconic American cowboy
evolved as the older traditions combined with the need to drive cattle
from the ranches where they were raised to the nearest railheads, often
hundreds of miles away.
Ethnicity of the traditional cowboy
|American cowboys were drawn from multiple sources. By
the late 1860s, following the American Civil War and the expansion of the
cattle industry, former soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy came
west, seeking work, as did large numbers of restless white men in general.
A significant number of African-American ex-slaves also were drawn to cowboy
life, in part because there was not quite as much discrimination in the
west as in other areas of American society at the time. A significant number
of Mexicans and American Indians already living in the region also worked
Many early vaqueros were Indian people trained to work
for the Spanish missions in caring for the mission herds. Later, particularly
after 1890, when American policy promoted "assimilation" of Indian people,
some Indian boarding schools also taught ranching skills. Today, some Native
Americans in the western United States own cattle and small ranches, and
many are still employed as cowboys, especially on ranches located near
Indian Reservations. The "Indian Cowboy" also became a commonplace sight
on the rodeo circuit.
Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho youths learning to
brand cattle at the Seger Indian School,
Oklahoma Territory, ca. 1900.
Because cowboys ranked low in the social structure of
the period, there are no firm figures on the actual proportion of various
races. One writer states that cowboys were "… of two classes—those recruited
from Texas and other States on the eastern slope; and Mexicans, from the
south-western region. …" Census records suggest that about 15% of all cowboys
were of African-American ancestry—ranging from about 25% on the trail drives
out of Texas, to very few in the northwest. Similarly, cowboys of Mexican
descent also averaged about 15% of the total, but were more common in Texas
and the southwest.
Regardless of ethnicity, most cowboys came from lower
social classes and the pay was poor. The average cowboy earned approximately
a dollar a day, plus food, and, when near the home ranch, a bed in the
bunkhouse, usually a barracks-like building with a single open room.
Large numbers of cattle lived in a semi-feral, or semi-wild
state on the open range and were left to graze, mostly untended, for much
of the year. In many cases, different ranchers formed "associations" and
grazed their cattle together on the same range. In order to determine the
ownership of individual animals, they were marked with a distinctive brand,
applied with a hot iron, usually while the cattle were still young calves.
The primary cattle breed seen on the open range was the Longhorn, descended
from the original Spanish Longhorns imported in the 16th century, though
by the late 19th century, other breeds of cattle were also brought west,
including the meatier Hereford, and often were crossbred with Longhorns.
In order to find young calves for branding, and to sort
out mature animals intended for sale, ranchers would hold a roundup, usually
in the spring. A roundup required a number of specialized skills on the
part of both cowboys and horses. Individuals who separated cattle from
the herd required the highest level of skill and rode specially trained
"cutting" horses, trained to follow the movements of cattle, capable of
stopping and turning faster than other horses. Once cattle were sorted,
most cowboys were required to rope young calves and restrain them to be
branded and (in the case of most bull calves) castrated. Occasionally it
was also necessary to restrain older cattle for branding or other treatment.
A large number of horses were needed for a roundup. Each
cowboy would require three to four fresh horses in the course of a day's
work. Horses themselves were also rounded up. It was common practice in
the west for young foals to be born of tame mares, but allowed to grow
up "wild" in a semi-feral state on the open range. There were also "wild"
herds, often known as mustangs. Both types were rounded up, and the mature
animals tamed, a process called horse breaking, or "bronco-busting," (var.
"bronc busting") usually performed by cowboys who specialized in training
horses. In some cases, extremely brutal methods were used to tame horses,
and such animals tended to never be completely reliable. However, other
cowboys became aware of the need to treat animals in a more humane fashion
and modified their horse training methods, often re-learning techniques
used by the vaqueros, particularly those of the Californio tradition. Horses
trained in a gentler fashion were more reliable and useful for a wider
variety of tasks.
Informal competition arose between cowboys seeking to
test their cattle and horse-handling skills against one another, and thus,
from the necessary tasks of the working cowboy, the sport of rodeo developed.
Prior to the mid-19th century, most ranchers primarily
raised cattle for their own needs and to sell surplus meat and hides locally.
There was also a limited market for hides, horns, hooves, and tallow in
assorted manufacturing processes. Nationally, prior to 1865, there was
little demand for beef. At the end of the American Civil War, however,
Philip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago, which became
known as Armour and Company, and with the expansion of the meat packing
industry, the demand for beef increased significantly. By 1866, cattle
could be sold to northern markets for as much as $40 per head, making it
potentially profitable for cattle, particularly from Texas, to be herded
long distances to market.
The first large-scale effort to drive cattle from Texas
to the nearest railhead for shipment to Chicago occurred in 1866, when
many Texas ranchers banded together to drive their cattle to the closest
point that railroad tracks reached, which at that time was in Sedalia,
Missouri. However, farmers in eastern Kansas, afraid that Longhorns would
transmit cattle fever to local animals as well as trample crops, formed
groups that threatened to beat or shoot cattlemen found on their lands.
Therefore, the 1866 drive failed to reach the railroad, and the cattle
herds were sold for low prices. However, in 1867, a cattle shipping facility
was built west of farm country around the railhead at Abilene, Kansas,
and became a center of cattle shipping, loading over 36,000 head of cattle
that year. The route from Texas to Abilene became known as the Chisholm
Trail, after Jesse Chisholm, who marked out the route. It ran through present-day
Oklahoma, which then was Indian Territory. However, in spite of Hollywood
portrayals of the west, there were relatively few conflicts with Native
Americans, who usually allowed cattle herds to pass through for a toll
of ten cents a head. Later, other trails forked off to different railheads,
including those at Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas. By 1877, the largest
of the cattle-shipping boom towns, Dodge City, Kansas, shipped out 500,000
head of cattle.
Cattle drives had to strike a balance between speed and
the weight of the cattle. While cattle could be driven as far as 25 miles
in a single day, they would lose so much weight that they would be hard
to sell when they reached the end of the trail. Usually they were taken
shorter distances each day, allowed periods to rest and graze both at midday
and at night. On average, a herd could maintain a healthy weight moving
about 15 miles per day. Such a pace meant that it would take as long as
two months to travel from a home ranch to a railhead. The Chisholm trail,
for example, was 1,000 miles long.
On average, a single herd of cattle on a drive numbered
about 3,000 head. To herd the cattle, a crew of at least 10 cowboys was
needed, with three horses per cowboy. Cowboys worked in shifts to watch
the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the
daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft.
The crew also included a cook, who drove a chuck wagon, usually pulled
by oxen, and a horse wrangler to take charge of the remuda, or herd of
spare horses. The wrangler on a cattle drive was often a very young cowboy
or one of lower social status, but the cook was a particularly well-respected
member of the crew, as not only was he in charge of the food, he also was
in charge of medical supplies and had a working knowledge of practical
By the 1880s, the expansion of the cattle industry resulted
the need for additional open range. Thus many ranchers expanded into the
northwest, where there were still large tracts of unsettled grassland.
Texas cattle were herded north, into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas.
The cowboy adapted much of his gear to the colder conditions, and westward
movement of the industry also led to intermingling of numerous regional
traditions from California to Texas, often with the cowboy taking the most
useful elements of each.
End of the open range.
Barbed wire, an innovation of the 1880s, allowed cattle
to be confined to designated areas to prevent overgrazing of the range.
In Texas and surrounding areas, increased population required ranchers
to fence off their individual lands. In the north, overgrazing stressed
the open range, leading to insufficient winter forage for the cattle and
starvation, particularly during the harsh winter of 1886–1887, when hundreds
of thousands of cattle died across the Northwest, leading to collapse of
the cattle industry. By the 1890s, barbed wire fencing was also standard
in the northern plains, railroads had expanded to cover most of the nation,
and meat packing plants were built closer to major ranching areas, making
long cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas unnecessary. Hence,
the age of the open range was gone and large cattle drives were over. Smaller
cattle drives continued at least into the 1940s, as ranchers, prior to
the development of the modern cattle truck, still needed to herd cattle
to local railheads for transport to stockyards and packing plants. Meanwhile,
ranches multiplied all over the developing West, keeping cowboy employment
high, if still low-paid, but also somewhat more settled.
Over time, the cowboys of the American West developed
a personal culture of their own, a blend of frontier and Victorian values
that even retained vestiges of chivalry. Such hazardous work in isolated
conditions also bred a tradition of self-dependence and individualism,
with great value put on personal honesty, exemplified in songs and poetry.
However, some men were also drawn to the frontier because
they were attracted to men. Other times, in a region where men significantly
outnumbered women, even social events normally attended by both sexes were
at times all male, and men could be found partnering up with one another
for dances. Homosexual acts between young, unmarried men occurred, but
cowboys culture itself was and remains deeply homophobic. Though anti-sodomy
laws were common in the Old West, they often were only selectively enforced.
Development of the modern cowboy image
The traditions of the working cowboy were further etched
into the minds of the general public with the development of Wild West
Shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which showcased and romanticized
the life of both cowboys and Native Americans. Beginning in the 1920s and
continuing to the present day, Western movies popularized the cowboy lifestyle
but also formed persistent stereotypes, both positive and negative. In
some cases, the cowboy and the violent gunslinger are often associated
with one another. On the other hand, some actors who portrayed cowboys
promoted positive values, such as the "cowboy code" of Gene Autry, that
encouraged honorable behavior, respect and patriotism.
Likewise, cowboys in movies were often shown fighting
with American Indians. However, the reality was that, while cowboys were
armed against both predators and human thieves, and often used their guns
to run off people of any race who attempted to steal, or rustle cattle,
nearly all actual armed conflicts occurred between Indian people and cavalry
units of the U.S. Army.
In reality, working ranch hands past and present had very
little time for anything other than the constant, hard work involved in
maintaining a ranch.
|The history of women in the west, and women who worked
on cattle ranches in particular, is not as well documented as that of men.
However, institutions such as the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
have made significant efforts in recent years to gather and document the
contributions of women.
There are few records mentioning girls or women working
to drive cattle up the cattle trails of the Old West. However women did
considerable ranch work, and in some cases (especially when the men went
to war or on long cattle drives) ran them. There is little doubt that women,
particularly the wives and daughters of men who owned small ranches and
could not afford to hire large numbers of outside laborers, worked side
by side with men and thus needed to ride horses and be able to perform
related tasks. The largely undocumented contributions of women to the west
were acknowledged in law; the western states led the United States in granting
women the right to vote, beginning with Wyoming in 1869. Early photographers
such as Evelyn Cameron documented the life of working ranch women and cowgirls
during the late 19th and early 20th century.
While impractical for everyday work, the sidesaddle was
a tool that gave women the ability to ride horses in "respectable" public
settings instead of being left on foot or confined to horse-drawn vehicles.
Following the Civil War, Charles Goodnight modified the traditional English
sidesaddle, creating a western-styled design. The traditional charras of
Mexico preserve a similar tradition and ride sidesaddles today in charreada
exhibitions on both sides of the border.
It wasn't until the advent of Wild West Shows that "cowgirls"
came into their own. These adult women were skilled performers, demonstrating
riding, expert marksmanship, and trick roping that entertained audiences
around the world. Women such as Annie Oakley became household names. By
1900, skirts split for riding astride became popular, and allowed women
to compete with the men without scandalizing Victorian Era audiences by
wearing men's clothing or, worse yet, bloomers. In the movies that followed
from the early 20th century on, cowgirls expanded their roles in the popular
culture and movie designers developed attractive clothing suitable for
riding Western saddles.
Fannie Sperry Steele,
Champion Lady Bucking Horse Rider,
Winnipeg Stampede, 1913
Modern western-style show attire for women,
inspired by cowgirl regalia
Independently of the entertainment industry, the growth
of rodeo brought about another type of cowgirl—the rodeo cowgirl. In the
early Wild West shows and rodeos, women competed in all events, sometimes
against other women, sometimes with the men. Cowgirls such as Fannie Sperry
Steele rode the same "rough stock" and took the same risks as the men (and
all while wearing a heavy split skirt that was still more encumbering than
men's trousers) and competed at major rodeos such as the Calgary Stampede
and Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Rodeo competition for women changed after 1925 when Eastern
promoters started staging indoor rodeos in places like Madison Square Garden.
Women were generally excluded from the men's events and many of the women's
events were dropped. In today's rodeos, men and women compete equally together
only in the event of team roping, though technically women today could
enter other open events. There also are all-women rodeos where women compete
in bronc riding, bull riding and all other traditional rodeo events. However,
in open rodeos, cowgirls primarily compete in the timed riding events such
as barrel racing, and most professional rodeos do not offer as many women's
events as men's events.
Boys and girls are more apt to compete against one another
in all events in high-school rodeos as well as O-Mok-See competition, where
even boys can be seen in traditionally "women's" events such as barrel
racing. Outside of the rodeo world, women compete equally with men in nearly
all other equestrian events, including the Olympics, and western riding
events such as cutting, reining, and endurance riding.
Today's working cowgirls generally use clothing, tools
and equipment indistinguishable from that of men, other than in color and
design, usually preferring a flashier look in competition. Sidesaddles
are only seen in exhibitions and a limited number of specialty horse show
classes. A cowgirl wears jeans, close-fitting shirts, boots, hat, and when
needed, chaps and gloves. If working on the ranch, they perform the same
chores as cowboys and dress to suit the situation.
Regional traditions within the United States
Geography, climate and cultural traditions caused differences
to develop in cattle-handling methods and equipment from one part of the
United States to another. In the modern world, remnants of two major and
distinct cowboy traditions remain, known today as the "Texas" tradition
and the "Spanish", "Vaquero", or "California" tradition. Less well-known
but equally distinct traditions also developed in Hawaii and Florida. Today,
the various regional cowboy traditions have merged to some extent, though
a few regional differences in equipment and riding style still remain,
and some individuals choose to deliberately preserve the more time-consuming
but highly skilled techniques of the pure vaquero or "buckaroo" tradition.
The popular "horse whisperer" style of natural horsemanship was originally
developed by practitioners who were predominantly from California and the
Northwestern states, clearly combining the attitudes and philosophy of
the California vaquero with the equipment and outward look of the Texas
In the early 1800s, the Spanish Crown, and later, independent
Mexico, offered empresario grants in what would later be Texas to non-citizens,
such as settlers from the United States. In 1821, Stephen F. Austin and
his East Coast comrades became the first Anglo-Saxon community speaking
Spanish. Following Texas independence in 1836, even more Americans immigrated
into the empresario ranching areas of Texas. Here the settlers were strongly
influenced by the Mexican vaquero culture, borrowing vocabulary and attire
from their counterparts, but also retaining some of the livestock-handling
traditions and culture of the Eastern United States and Great Britain.
The Texas cowboy was typically a bachelor who hired on with different outfits
from season to season.
Following the American Civil War, vaquero culture diffused
eastward and northward, combining with the cow herding traditions of the
eastern United States that evolved as settlers moved west. Other influences
developed out of Texas as cattle trails were created to meet up with the
railroad lines of Kansas and Nebraska, in addition to expanding ranching
opportunities in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain Front, east of the
Thus, the Texas cowboy tradition arose from a combination
of cultural influences, in addition to the need for adaptation to the geography
and climate of west Texas and the need to conduct long cattle drives to
get animals to market.
The vaquero, the Spanish or Mexican cowboy who worked
with young, untrained horses, arrived in the 1700s and flourished in California
and bordering territories during the Spanish Colonial period. Settlers
from the United States did not enter California until after the Mexican-American
War, and most early settlers were miners rather than livestock ranchers,
leaving livestock-raising largely to the Spanish and Mexican people who
chose to remain in California. The California vaquero or buckaroo, unlike
the Texas cowboy, was considered a highly-skilled worker, who usually stayed
on the same ranch where he was born or had grown up and raised his own
family there. In addition, the geography and climate of much of California
was dramatically different from that of Texas, allowing more intensive
grazing with less open range, plus cattle in California were marketed primarily
at a regional level, without the need (nor, until much later, even the
logistical possibility) to be driven hundreds of miles to railroad lines.
Thus, a horse- and livestock-handling culture remained in California and
the Pacific Northwest that retained a stronger direct Spanish influence
than that of Texas.
Cowboys of this tradition were dubbed buckaroos by English-speaking
settlers. The term officially appeared in American English in 1889 and
is believed to have originated as an anglicized version of vaquero, though
there is a folk etymology that the term derived from "bucking", a behavior
seen in some young or fresh horses. The words "buckaroo" and Vaquero are
still used on occasion in the Great Basin, parts of California and, less
often, in the Pacific Northwest.
Florida Cowhunter or "Cracker cowboy"
In the 18th century, Creek, Seminole, and other Indian people
moved into the former Timucua areas and started herding the cattle left
from the Spanish ranches. In the 19th century, most tribes in the area
were dispossessed of their land and cattle and pushed south or west by
white settlers and the United States government. By the middle of the 19th
century white ranchers were running large herds of cattle on the extensive
open range of central and southern Florida. The hides and meat from Florida
cattle became such a critical supply item for the Confederacy during the
American Civil War that a "Cow Cavalry" was organized to round up and protect
the herds from Union raiders. After the Civil War, Florida cattle were
periodically driven to ports on the Gulf of Mexico and shipped to market
|The Florida "cowhunter" or "cracker cowboy" of the 19th
and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Texas and California traditions.
Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary
tools were bullwhips and dogs. Florida cattle and horses were small. The
"cracker cow", also known as the "native cow", or "scrub cow" averaged
about 600 pounds, had large horns and large feet.
Since the Florida cowhunter didn't need a saddle horn
for anchoring a lariat, many did not use Western saddles, instead using
a McClellan saddle. While some individuals wore boots that reached above
the knees for protection from snakes, others wore brogans. They usually
wore inexpensive wool or straw hats, and used ponchos for protection from
Cattle and horses were introduced into Florida late in
the 16th century. Throughout the 17th century, cattle ranches owned by
Spanish officials and missions operated in northern Florida to supply the
Spanish garrison in St. Augustine and markets in Cuba. These ranches brought
in some vaqueros from Spain, but many of the workers were Timucua Indians.
Diseases and Spanish suppression of rebellions severely reduced the Timucua
population. By the beginning of the 18th century, raids by soldiers from
the Province of Carolina and their Indian allies reduced the Timucuas to
a remnant and ended the Spanish ranching era.
A cracker cowboy
artist: Frederick Remington.
The Hawaiian cowboy, the paniolo, is also a direct descendant
of the vaquero of California and Mexico. Experts in Hawaiian etymology
believe "Paniolo" is a Hawaiianized pronunciation of español. (The
Hawaiian language has no /s/ sound, and all syllables and words must end
in a vowel.) Paniolo, like cowboys on the mainland of North America, learned
their skills from Mexican vaqueros.
By the early 1800s, Capt. George Vancouver's gift of cattle
to Pai`ea Kamehameha, monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, had multiplied astonishingly,
and were wreaking havoc throughout the countryside. About 1812, John Parker,
a sailor who had jumped ship and settled in the islands, received permission
from Kamehameha to capture the wild cattle and develop a beef industry.
The Hawaiian style of ranching originally included capturing
wild cattle by driving them into pits dug in the forest floor. Once tamed
somewhat by hunger and thirst, they were hauled out up a steep ramp, and
tied by their horns to the horns of a tame, older steer (or ox) that knew
where the paddock with food and water was located. The industry grew slowly
under the reign of Kamehameha's son Liholiho (Kamehameha II).
Later, Liholiho's brother, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III),
visited California, then still a part of Mexico. He was impressed with
the skill of the Mexican vaqueros, and invited several to Hawai`i in 1832
to teach the Hawaiian people how to work cattle.
Even today, traditional paniolo dress, as well as certain
styles of Hawaiian formal attire, reflect the Spanish heritage of the vaquero.
The traditional Hawaiian saddle, the noho lio, and many other tools of
the cowboy's trade have a distinctly Mexican/Spanish look and many Hawaiian
ranching families still carry the names of the vaqueros who married Hawaiian
women and made Hawai`i their home.
Montauk, New York, on Long Island makes a somewhat debatable
claim of having the oldest cattle operation in what today is the United
States, having run cattle in the area since European settlers purchased
land from the Indian people of the area in 1643. Although there were substantial
numbers of cattle on Long Island, as well as the need to herd them to and
from common grazing lands on a seasonal basis, no consistent "cowboy" tradition
developed amongst the cattle handlers of Long Island, who actually lived
with their families in houses built on the pasture grounds. The only actual
"cattle drives" held on Long Island consisted of one drive in 1776, when
the Island's cattle were moved in a failed attempt to prevent them from
being captured by the British during the American Revolution, and three
or four drives in the late 1930s, when area cattle were herded down Montauk
Highway to pasture ground near Deep Hollow Ranch.
Today, the "Salt Water Cowboys" are known for rounding
up the feral Chincoteague Ponies from Assateague Island and driving them
across Assateague Channel into pens on Chincoteague Island, Virginia during
the annual Pony Penning.
Cowboys in Canada
Ranching in Canada has traditionally been dominated by
one province, Alberta. The most successful early settlers of the province
were the ranchers, who found Alberta's foothills to be ideal for raising
cattle. Most of Alberta's ranchers were English settlers, but cowboys such
as John Ware — who brought the first cattle into the province in 1876 —
were American. American style open range dryland ranching began to dominate
southern Alberta (and, to a lesser extent, southwestern Saskatchewan) by
the 1880s. The nearby city of Calgary became the centre of the Canadian
cattle industry, earning it the nickname "Cowtown". The cattle industry
is still extremely important to Alberta, and cattle outnumber people in
the province. While cattle ranches defined by barbed wire fences replaced
the open range just as they did in the US, the cowboy influence lives on.
Canada's first rodeo, the Raymond Stampede, was established in 1902. In
1912, the Calgary Stampede began, and today it is the world’s richest cash
rodeo. Each year, Calgary’s northern rival Edmonton, Alberta stages the
Canadian Finals Rodeo, and dozens of regional rodeos are held through the
Cowboys outside North America
In addition to the original Mexican vaquero, the Mexican
charro, the North American cowboy, and the Hawaiian paniolo, the Spanish
also exported their horsemanship and knowledge of cattle ranching to the
gaucho of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and (with the spelling gaúcho)
southern Brazil, the chalan in Peru, the llanero of Venezuela, and the
huaso of Chile.
In Australia, which has a large ranch (station) culture,
cowboys are known as stockmen and drovers (with trainee stockmen referred
to as jackaroos and jillaroos). The Spanish tradition also influenced Australia,
both via concepts adapted from the Americas, and traditions brought directly
from Spain, each of which arrived along with imports of various breeds
of horses, cattle, sheep and other livestock.
The idea of horseback riders who guard herds of cattle,
sheep or horses is common wherever wide, open land for grazing exists.
In the French Camargue, riders called "gardians" herd cattle. In Hungary,
csikós guard horses and gulyás tend to cattle. The herders
in the region of Maremma, in Tuscany (Italy) are called butteros. The Asturian
pastoral population is referred to as Vaqueiros de alzada.
Modern working cowboys
On the ranch, the cowboy is responsible for feeding the
livestock, branding and earmarking cattle (horses also are branded on many
ranches), plus tending to animal injuries and other needs. The working
cowboy usually is in charge of a small group or "string" of horses and
is required to routinely patrol the rangeland in all weather conditions
checking for damaged fences, evidence of predation, water problems, and
any other issue of concern.
They also move the livestock to different pasture locations,
or herd them into corrals and onto trucks for transport. In addition, cowboys
may do many other jobs, depending on the size of the "outfit" or ranch,
the terrain, and the number of livestock. On a smaller ranch with fewer
cowboys—often just family members, cowboys are generalists who perform
many all-around tasks; they repair fences, maintain ranch equipment, and
perform other odd jobs. On a very large ranch (a "big outfit"), with many
employees, cowboys are able to specialize on tasks solely related to cattle
and horses. Cowboys who train horses often specialize in this task only,
and some may "Break" or train young horses for more than one ranch.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics collects
no figures for cowboys, so the exact number of working cowboys is unknown.
Cowboys are included in the 2003 category, Support activities for animal
production, which totals 9,730 workers averaging $19,340 per annum. In
addition to cowboys working on ranches, in stockyards, and as staff or
competitors at rodeos, the category includes farmhands working with other
types of livestock (sheep, goats, hogs, chickens, etc.). Of those 9,730
workers, 3,290 are listed in the subcategory of Spectator sports which
includes rodeos, circuses, and theaters needing livestock handlers.
Most cowboy attire, sometimes termed Western wear, grew
out of practical need and the environment in which the cowboy worked. Most
items were adapted from the Mexican vaqueros, though sources from other
cultures, including Native Americans and Mountain Men contributed.
* Cowboy hat; High crowned hat with
a wide brim to protect from sun, overhanging brush, and the elements. There
are many styles, initially influenced by John B. Stetson's Boss of the
plains, which was designed in response to the climatic conditions of the
* Bandanna; a large cotton neckerchief
that had a myriad of uses from mopping up sweat to masking the face from
dust storms. In modern times, is now more likely to be a silk neckscarf
for decoration and warmth.
* Cowboy boots; a boot with a high
top to protect the lower legs, pointed toes to help guide the foot into
the stirrup, and high heels to keep the foot from slipping through the
stirrup while working in the saddle; with or without detachable spurs.
* Chaps (usually pronounced "shaps")
or chinks protect the rider's legs while on horseback, especially riding
through heavy brush or during rough work with livestock.
* Jeans or other sturdy, close-fitting
trousers made of canvas or denim, designed to protect the legs and prevent
the trouser legs from snagging on brush, equipment or other hazards. Properly
made cowboy jeans also have a smooth inside seam to prevent blistering
the inner thigh and knee while on horseback.
* Gloves, usually of deerskin or other
leather that is soft and flexible for working purposes, yet provides protection
when handling barbed wire, assorted tools or clearing native brush and
Many of these items show marked regional variations. Parameters
such as hat brim width, or chap length and material were adjusted to accommodate
the various environmental conditions encountered by working cowboys.
* Lariat; from the Spanish "la riata,"
meaning "the rope," sometimes called a lasso, especially in the East, or
simply, a "rope". This is a tightly twisted stiff rope, originally of rawhide
or leather, now often of nylon, made with a small loop at one end called
a "hondo." When the rope is run through the hondo, it creates a loop that
slides easily, tightens quickly and can be thrown to catch animals.
* Spurs; metal devices attached to
the heel of the boot, featuring a small metal shank, usually with a small
serrated wheel attached, used to allow the rider to provide a stronger
(or sometimes, more precise) leg cue to the horse.
* Firearms: Modern cowboys often have
access to a rifle, used to protect the livestock from predation by wild
animals, more often carried inside a pickup truck than on horseback, though
rifle scabbards are manufactured, and allow a rifle to be carried on a
saddle. A pistol is more often carried when on horseback. The modern ranch
hand often uses a .22 caliber "varmit" rifle for modern ranch hazards,
such as rattlesnakes, coyotes, and rabid skunks. In areas near wilderness,
a ranch cowboy may carry a higher-caliber rifle to fend off larger predators
such as mountain lions. In contrast, the cowboy of the 1880s usually carried
a heavy caliber revolver such as the single action .44-40 or .45 Colt Peacemaker
(the civilian version of the 1872 Single Action Army). The working cowboy
of the 1880s rarely carried a long arm, as they could get in the way when
working cattle, plus they added extra weight. However, many cowboys owned
rifles, and often used them for market hunting in the off season. Though
many models were used, Cowboys who were part-time market hunters preferred
rifles that could take the widely available .45-70 "Government" ammunition,
such as certain Sharps, Remington, Springfield models, as well as the Winchester
1876. However, by far the single most popular long arms were the lever-action
repeating Winchesters, particularly lighter models such as the Model 1873
chambered for the same .44/40 ammunition as the Colt, allowing the cowboy
to carry only one kind of ammunition.
* Knife; cowboys have traditionally
favored some form of pocket knife, specifically the folding cattle knife
or stock knife. The knife has multiple blades, usually including a leather
punch and a "sheepsfoot" blade.
* Other weapons; while the modern American
cowboy came to existence after the invention of gunpowder, cattle herders
of earlier times were sometimes equipped with heavy polearms, bows or lances.
The traditional means of transport for the cowboy, even
in the modern era, is by horseback. Horses can travel over terrain that
vehicles cannot access. Horses, along with mules and burros, also serve
as pack animals. The most important horse on the ranch is the everyday
working ranch horse that can perform a wide variety of tasks; horses trained
to specialize exclusively in one set of skills such as roping or cutting
are very rarely used on ranches. Because the rider often needs to keep
one hand free while working cattle, the horse must neck rein and have good
cow sense—it must instinctively know how to anticipate and react to cattle.
A good stock horse is on the small side, generally under
15.2 hands (62 inches) tall at the withers and often under 1000 pounds,
with a short back, sturdy legs and strong muscling, particularly in the
hindquarters. While a steer roping horse may need to be larger and weigh
more in order to hold a heavy adult cow, bull or steer on a rope, a smaller,
quick horse is needed for herding activities such as cutting or calf roping.
The horse has to be intelligent, calm under pressure and have a certain
degree of 'cow sense" -- the ability to anticipate the movement and behavior
Many breeds of horse make good stock horses, but the most
common today in North America is the American Quarter Horse, which is a
horse breed developed primarily in Texas from a combination of Thoroughbred
bloodstock crossed on horses of Mustang and other Iberian horse ancestry,
with influences from the Arabian horse and horses developed on the east
coast, such as the Morgan horse and now-extinct breeds such as the Chickasaw
and Virginia Quarter-Miler.
Horse equipment or tack
Equipment used to ride a horse is referred to as tack
* Western saddle; a saddle specially
designed to allow horse and rider to work for many hours and to provide
security to the rider in rough terrain or when moving quickly in response
to the behavior of the livestock being herded. A western saddle has a deep
seat with high pommel and cantle that provides a secure seat. Deep, wide
stirrups provide comfort and security for the foot. A strong, wide saddle
tree of wood, covered in rawhide (or made of a modern synthetic material)
distributes the weight of the rider across a greater area of the horse's
back, reducing the pounds carried per square inch and allowing the horse
to be ridden longer without harm. A horn sits low in front of the rider,
to which a lariat can be snubbed, and assorted dee rings and leather "saddle
strings" allow additional equipment to be tied to the saddle.
* Saddle blanket; a blanket or pad
is required under the Western saddle to provide comfort and protection
for the horse.
* Saddle bags (leather or nylon) can
be mounted to the saddle, behind the cantle, to carry various sundry items
and extra supplies. Additional bags may be attached to the front or the
* Bridle; a Western bridle usually
has a curb bit and long split reins to control the horse in many different
situations. Generally the bridle is open-faced, without a noseband, unless
the horse is ridden with a tiedown. Young ranch horses learning basic tasks
usually are ridden in a jointed, loose-ring snaffle bit, often with a running
martingale. In some areas, especially where the "California" style of the
vaquero or buckaroo tradition is still strong, young horses are often seen
in a bosal style hackamore.
* Martingales of various are seen on
horses that are in training or have behavior problems.
The most common motorized vehicle driven in modern ranch
work is the pickup truck. Sturdy and roomy, with a high ground clearance,
and often four-wheel drive capability, it has an open box, called a "bed,"
and can haul supplies from town or over rough trails on the ranch. It is
used to pull stock trailers transporting cattle and livestock from one
area to another and to market. With a horse trailer attached, it carries
horses to distant areas where they may be needed. Motorcycles are sometimes
used instead of horses for some tasks, but the most common smaller vehicle
is the four-wheeler. It will carry a single cowboy quickly around the ranch
for small chores. In areas with heavy snowfall, snowmobiles are also common.
However, in spite of modern mechanization, there remain jobs, particularly
those involving working cattle in rough terrain or in close quarters, that
are best done by cowboys on horseback.
The word rodeo is from the Spanish rodear (to turn), which
means roundup. In the beginning there was no difference between the working
cowboy and the rodeo cowboy, and in fact, the term working cowboy did not
come into use until the 1950s. Prior to that it was assumed that all cowboys
were working cowboys. Early cowboys both worked on ranches and displayed
their skills at the roundups.
The advent of professional rodeos allowed cowboys, like
many athletes, to earn a living by performing their skills before an audience.
Rodeos also provided employment for many working cowboys who were needed
to handle livestock. Many rodeo cowboys are also working cowboys and most
have working cowboy experience.
The dress of the rodeo cowboy is not very different from
that of the working cowboy on his way to town. Snaps, used in lieu of buttons
on the cowboy's shirt, allowed the cowboy to escape from a shirt snagged
by the horns of steer or bull. Styles were often adapted from the early
movie industry for the rodeo. Some rodeo competitors, particularly women,
add sequins, colors, silver and long fringes to their clothing in both
a nod to tradition and showmanship. Modern riders in "rough stock" events
such as saddle bronc or bull riding may add safety equipment such as kevlar
vests or a neck brace, but use of safety helmets in lieu of the cowboy
hat is yet to be accepted, in spite of constant risk of injury.
The term "cowboy" was used during the American Revolution
to describe American fighters who opposed the movement for independence.
Claudius Smith, an outlaw identified with the Loyalist cause, was referred
to as the "Cow-boy of the Ramapos" due to his penchant for stealing oxen,
cattle and horses from colonists and giving them to the British. In the
same period, a number of guerilla bands operated in Westchester County,
which marked the dividing line between the British and American forces.
These groups were made up of local farmhands who would ambush convoys and
carry out raids on both sides. There were two separate groups: the "skinners"
fought for the pro-independence side; the "cowboys" supported the British.
As the frontier ended, the cowboy life came to be highly
romanticized. Exhibitions such as those of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West
Show helped to popularize the image of the cowboy as an idealized representative
of the tradition of chivalry.
In today's society, there is little understanding of the
daily realities of actual agricultural life. Cowboys are more often associated
with (mostly fictitious) Indian-fighting than with their actual life of
ranch work and cattle-tending. Actors such as John Wayne are thought of
as exemplifying a cowboy ideal, even though western movies seldom bear
much resemblance to real cowboy life. Arguably, the modern rodeo competitor
is much closer to being an actual cowboy, as many were actually raised
on ranches and around livestock, and the rest have needed to learn livestock-handling
skills on the job.
However, in the United States and the Canadian West, as
well as Australia, guest ranches offer people the opportunity to ride horses
and get a taste of the western life—albeit in far greater comfort. Some
ranches also offer vacationers the opportunity to actually perform cowboy
tasks by participating in cattle drives or accompanying wagon trains. This
type of vacation was popularized by the 1991 movie City Slickers, starring
The cowboy is also portrayed as a masculine ideal via
images ranging from the Marlboro Man to the Village People.
The long history of the West in popular culture tends
to define those clothed in Western clothing as cowboys or cowgirls whether
they have ever been on a horse or not. This is especially true when applied
to entertainers and those in the public arena who wear western wear as
part of their persona.
However, many people, particularly in the West, wear elements
of Western clothing, particularly cowboy boots or hats, as a matter of
form even though they have other jobs, up to and including lawyers, bankers,
and other white collar professionals. Conversely, some people raised on
ranches do not necessarily define themselves cowboys or cowgirls unless
they feel their primary job is to work with livestock or if they compete
Actual cowboys have derisive expressions for individuals
who adopt cowboy mannerisms as a fashion pose without any actual understanding
of the culture. For example, a "drugstore cowboy" means someone who wears
the clothing but cannot actually ride anything but the stool of the drugstore
soda fountain--or, in modern times, a bar stool. The phrase, "all hat and
no cattle," is used to describe someone (usually male) who boasts about
himself, far in excess of any actual accomplishments. The word "dude" (or
the now-archaic term "greenhorn") indicates an individual unfamiliar with
cowboy culture, especially one who is trying to pretend otherwise.
Outside of the United States, the cowboy became an archetypal
symbol of American individualism. In the late 1950s, a Congolese youth
subculture calling themselves the Bills based their style and outlook on
Hollywood's depiction of cowboys in movies. Something similar occurred
with the term "Apache," which in early twentieth century Parisian society
was a slang term for an outlaw.
The word "cowboy" is also used in a negative sense. Originally
this derived from the behavior of some cowboys in the boomtowns of Kansas,
at the end of the trail for long cattle drives, where cowboys developed
a reputation for violence and wild behavior due to the inevitable impact
of large numbers of cowboys, mostly young single men, receiving their pay
in large lump sums upon arriving in communities with many drinking and
"Cowboy" as an adjective for "reckless" developed in the
1920s. "Cowboy" is sometimes used today in a derogatory sense to describe
someone who is reckless or ignores potential risks, irresponsible or who
heedlessly handles a sensitive or dangerous task. TIME Magazine referred
to President George W. Bush's foreign policy as "Cowboy diplomacy," and
Bush has been described in the press, particularly in Europe, as a "cowboy".
In the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand, "cowboy"
is used as an adjective when applied to tradesmen whose work is of shoddy
and questionable value, e.g., "a cowboy plumber". Similar usage is seen
in the United States to describe someone in the skilled trades who operates
without proper training or licenses. In the eastern United States, "cowboy"
as a noun is sometimes used to describe a fast or careless driver on the