Cowboys in the American West

Who were cowboys?

As their name suggests, cowboys ‘cow’ ‘Boys’ took care of the cattle. Once white settlers from American states had started going towards the west, they established huge ranches of cattle.

So they needed someone who could take care of the cattle and keep them safe even when the cattle went out to graze or went from one place to another. Cowboys usually herded the cattle while taking them from one place to another and did other odd jobs at the ranches. They also took care of the horses and were usually expert horse riders.

Taking Care of the Cattle

It wasn’t easy to take care of huge herds of cattle. So cowboys did a lot of hard work. Throughout the year, the cattle grazed in the open fields. During this time, the cowboys had to keep the cattle safe. They simply kept an eye on the cattle. Later in the year when the grazing season was over, it was time for roundup. For this, the cowboys had to go into the open fields and bring back all the cattle that belonged to their ranch.

To identify their cattle, they usually put a unique mark on them which was called a ‘brand’. When the cattle were ready to be sold, cowboys guided them from the ranches to the marketplace. This was usually a long journey and many cowboys accompanied a herd. The senior cowboys rode in the front, guiding the cattle and making sure that they were on the right route. The junior cowboys rode at the rear of the cattle, making sure that no cattle went astray.

Cowboy Dress

Cowboys had a life of hard labor. Most of the day, they rode on horses while taking care of the cattle. For this reason, they wore such a dress which helped them do their job easily. For example, they wore pointed shoes because they could easily slip them into a stirrup and out of it. These shoes were called ‘cowboy boots’.

Cowboys also wore large hats which were very useful in protecting them from all kinds of weather, such as the heat during the summers and the water during the rainy season. When cowboys rode with cattle, it usually got very dusty because of the dust blown up by the traveling cattle. So cowboys often used a bandanna to cover their face and protect it from dust.

Cowboy Etiquette

Cowboys lived by certain rules. These were rules which they defined themselves but they respected them. One of them was that one cowboy could never take another cowboy’s horse because a horse was the most precious possession of a cowboy.

Another rule was that whenever two cowboys met, they said ‘Howdy’, as a formal way of greeting. The hat was considered a very personal belonging of a cowboy, so one cowboy was not allowed to put on another cowboy’s hat.

Finally, when two cowboys met while riding a horse, they didn’t wave at each other but simply nodded which was considered a more respectful form of greeting.

The Wild West in Color: A Photographic Account of our Nation’s Westward Expansion Hardcover – August 1, 2016

Learn More about Cowboys in the American West at Wikipedia