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Have you ever wondered who the cowboys were; how
they lived; or what they did? The American Cowboys
way of life was interesting and unique, and they
contributed more to society than one might think.
Besides looking after stock and driving cattle,
they had to round up huge numbers of cattle for
ranchers. This paper will examine the American
cowboys character, what they wore, the everyday
things they did like driving cattle and branding
calves and the lawlessness of the old west. The
job wasnt just for anyone. Certain character
traits and physical characteristics were required
if someone wanted to be a good cowboy. Considering
the distances that they covered, traveling was
rough. the cowboy needed great strength,
endurance, and often ingenuity to complete the
treks (Cowboy).

People came from everywhere to
become cowboys. Some came from eastern American
states, others from the Midwest, and the rest came
from states in the South. They came to work on
ranches and drive cattle on the trail. Many were
ex-rebel soldiers who maintained that attitude on
the trail. There was also a flood of renegades
from both north and south that went to Texas. This
is how Texas got a reputation for lawlessness and
violence (The Cowboys).

Being a cowboy, for some,
had a special status. Cowboys in the Western
Plains called themselves cow punchers and thought
of themselves as more important than others. The
man himself, the clothes he wore, and the horse he
rode were all outgrowths of life on the range. The
long days in the open, and riding alone with the
cattle gave him self-reliance. The danger of
stampeding cattle, of undependable horses, of
hostile Indians and of bitter winter blizzards
demanded endurance and courage. The whole job of
driving, roping, and handling cattle required
expert horsemanship (Cowboys).

Cowboys worked very
hard and also fought hard, but never with their
fists. In a fight, a cowboy would always use his
gun (The Cowboys). The reason cowboys used their
guns was because of the fact of the West being
lawless. There were two reasons for the west being
lawless, one is the social conditions there during
that period and the second because the law there
didnt apply well to the conditions and wasnt
obeyed. It was also do to the vast distances
between populated areas, which made it easy for a
cowboy to move to another area and get caught for
something he did. Sometimes one had to take the
law into their own hands, thats why cowboy needed
to be physically strong, able to use a gun and
brave (Frantz and Choate 84).

The attire a cowboy
chose was very important to his job. Most things
he wore had a definite purpose and suited the job
well. Their usual gear consisted of a bridle,
saddle, rawhide lariat, spurs, boots, heavy
leather chaps, hat, tarp, buffalo robe, and
blankets (The Cowboys). He also had a woolen or
cotton shirt, tight woolen pants and handkerchief.
All of the clothing accessories were chosen for
their usefulness. For example, A high-crowned,
broad-brimmed felt hat, the sombrero, shielded him
from the sun and rain. His soft-legged boots had
high heels set far under the instep to hold his
ankle clear of the heavy stirrup (Cowboy).

His
handkerchief protected his face by shielding it
from the sun and preventing dust from entering his
mouth. The tight pants were worn for a reason;
they protected his legs from brush and insects
(Cowboys). The things a cowboy wore were essential
to life and they always used these things. A
cowboys job mainly involved the rounding up of
cattle and driving the cattle to the destinations
designated by the ranch owner. The first drives
were short; they went over safe routes to
locations in Texas and Louisiana (Java Script).
Before moving the cattle, cowboys had to make sure
that they were moving the right cattle from the
herd. Cattle were branded to tell them apart from
the others.

The branding was done by having an
expert roper catch the cattle by the legs with
rope, loop the rope around the legs, and then drag
the animal to where the branding irons were being
heated. The adult cattle were thrown on their
sides and the red-hot branding irons were pressed
into the hides of the animals. Calves were stamped
with the same mark as its mother. Earmarks that
were cut into their ears also identified cattle
(Cowboy). After the cattle were branded, the drive
began. The first week on the trail was the crucial
one.

Cattle were strongly attached to their home
range and did not like to leave it. If the herd
could be properly broken to the road they would be
much easier to drive the rest of the way. There
would be less danger of the hazard that cowboys
dreaded most, the stampede or the run (Seidman
66). Not just any cowboy was taken on the trail.
Usually only the ablest and most experienced men
were taken along on the trail. An average trail
crew consisted of a trail boss, a cook, a horse
wrangler and eight to eighteen cowboys, depending
on the size of the herd (Seidman 67). With the
completion of the round-up of the correctly
identified cattle, the cattle began their journey
to the shipping point for the stock.

The drive was
headed by a trail boss to ensure the success of
the drive. A good trail boss could make or break
the success of the Drive. He must have experience
with cattle, horses, and men, plus know the
country, the rivers, and the weather (The
Cowboys). The trail boss was very important to a
successful drive. There was a certain pattern that
he always followed. He rode ahead of the rest,
surveying the area and checking for dangers.

After
carefully checking the area, the trail boss
signaled the other men where the path was and the
direction for them to go (Seidman 67). A trail
boss also had to check on the surroundings ahead
of the herd to make sure there was a safe place to
stop for the night and look for a source of water
for the herd to drink from along the way. They had
to check on how many horses there was along the
way too. They had to know how to get cows across
rivers or many of the cows may drown (The
Cowboys). The Red River was the most hazardous
because upstream storms frequently caused floods
that wiped out herds and men (The Cowboys). One of
the worst things that could happen was for the
herd to stampede.

Storms, wild animals, and
hostile Indians easily startled the herds. A
stampede created complete chaos and danger for all
the cowboys and cattle. The herd often ran for
many miles before settling down and then needed to
be rounded up again (Cowboy). Usually at the end
of the drive, the cattle was processed and then
brought aboard ships for transport. The problem
with these routes is that they were quickly
overworked and the amount of cattle being shipped
soon exceeded the demand for it (Java Script).
After the backbreaking work on the trail and off
it, American cowboys did take the time to relax
and have fun. Driving cattle and branding calves
wasnt the only thing they did, cowboys loved to go
to town and live it up.

They most often danced,
drank, gambled and like to buy women. A cowboy
worked very hard for his money but didnt care
about it because he could spend three to four
months pay in just a few nights of fun out on the
town. American cowboys knew how to live it up.
Just as I said before, cowboys were always ready
to fight, in the hint of someone taking advantage
of them, robbing or cheating them there was a
fight. Bar-room brawls were a common thing back in
the Old West, they happened often and when the
fighters took their guns out it usually resulted
in two dead cowboys (Speidman 90-94). As I have
shown you, the life of a cowboy was very hard at
times, with the chance everyday that you could die
or lose everything you had. Even though they have
good times, American Cowboys deserve a good amount
of credit for the things they did for society.

As
stated in the thesis, the American cowboy was
unique and interesting and contributed in many
different ways to our society. Through hard work
and the ability to endure harsh working
conditions, cowboys historically have been seen as
examples of American workers with strong work
ethics. Economically, the American cowboy
contributed greatly to the cattle movement
industry during the opening of the western part of
the United States. The various backgrounds of the
early American cowboys brought different attitudes
and behaviors that resulted in the need for a
legal system to the early West. Cowboys were
important to American society. Bibliography: Wende
6 Works Cited Cowboy.

Comptons Encyclopedia. 1989
ed. Encarta 96 CD-ROM: Microsoft, 1993-1995.
Gibson, Beth. The Cowboys 28 Dec. 1999
http://www.members.aol.com/Gibson0817/
cowboys.htlm Huff, Madilene and Dick. Java Script
10 Nov.

1999
http://www.net.westhost.com/trail2.htm.

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