Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Big Cowboy Welcome to Merry Farmer



Cows and Romance

What on earth do cows have to do with Romance?  If you look on the cover of my latest novel, Fool for Love, you’ll see a beautiful picture of cows in a pasture along with a handsome couple.  It’s a pretty, pastoral scene, but cows?  Not exactly romantic, eh?

Actually, cows have played a major role in one of the most famous and romanticized professions of the Old West, the cowboy.  Romance novels abound with cowboys.  What could be more romantic than a rugged young man living his life on the open range, embracing freedom and independence, complete with well-formed muscles, deeply tanned skin, and a dazzling smile that would melt the heart of any heroine.  There is a whole mythos surrounding the cowboy that tickles our fancy.

The hero of Fool for Love, Eric Quinlan, was a cowboy.  He’s got everything your classic cowboy could want: good looks, an independent spirit, and a love for the outdoors and his cattle that lead him into some pretty dicey situations.  And the hat.  Eric definitely has the hat.  But wait a minute, didn’t I just say he was a cowboy?  What happened?  Isn’t he still roaming the open ranch, rustling cattle and driving them to market?

Well, the story is set in 1896.  As Eric mentions to one of the other characters, he used to participate in long cattle drives in his youth, but the days of the open range are long over.  Yep, Eric is a cowboy at the end of the Age of Cowboys.  But how exactly did the Age of Cowboys start and why did it end?

When the American West opened to settlers beginning in the late 1840s it was – to the white man’s eyes – a vast, open land full of wild country, perfect for grazing.  This was before the territory was organized into states.  It was the perfect place to raise livestock with which to feed the growing population back east.  Entrepreneurial ranchers from Texas to Montana saw the opportunity and jumped on it.  They brought herds of all sorts of cattle out west to grow, fatten, and reproduce.

These herds would roam the untamed land, the open range.  They would be marked by their owners and rounded up when the time was right by cowboys.  It was the cowboy’s job to gather their boss’s cattle and to drive them to one of the few railheads for transportation back east.  It was a business that was as lucrative as mining.  Granted, the ethics of the practice could be questioned as the land wasn’t really “free and open”, but rather the ancestral territory of the Native Americans.  But for the purposes of this post, I won’t open that can of worms. (But boy will it be opened with the next book in my Montana Romance series, In Your Arms!)

But as I mentioned, by the time Eric Quinlan is facing the struggles to keep his ranch in Fool for Love, by the 1890s, the era of the open range was over.  There was no more need to let cattle roam freely and then have them driven to railheads by cowboys.  By the 1890s that way of thinking was obsolete.

A few factors led to the end of the Age of Cowboys.  As the railroad expanded, there were more railheads at which cattle could be loaded onto trains and transported east, or even west to California.  With the railroad so close by, there was no need for the long cattle drives that cowboys had traditionally overseen.  At the same time, the once unorganized territory of the west was being divided, administrated, and granted statehood.  Montana itself became a state in 1889.  With more and more of the land being owned by states or individuals, what was once free grazing for cattle became trespassing.

But the biggest change that ended the open range was a revolutionary little invention in the 1880s that we take for granted: barbed wire.  Yes, a few little twists of metal brought about the end of cowboys.  Barbed wire was cheap and easy to produce and erect.  It made it possible for ranch owners to enclose their territory and mark it apart from the territory of their neighbors. Suddenly cattle no longer wandered indiscriminately on the untamed land.  Now they lived and graze in carefully marked areas belonging to their owner.


Granted, cowboys didn’t disappear.  What a travesty that would have been!  Instead they became as enclosed as the cattle they looked after.  Like Eric, they became ranch owners, concentrating their efforts on their own herds on their own land.  Or else they became the men who worked for industrious ranchers like Eric.  But life wasn’t always easy and ranches weren’t always secure, as Eric finds out in Fool for Love.  But I’ll leave you to read about that yourself.

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4 comments:

Jacquie Rogers said...

Welcome to CK, Merry! I'm always amazed that the culture of the cowboy was strong for only about 40 years, but wow, did he ever rope us in! There's still open range in the county where I'm from, Owyhee (in Idaho), and yes, there are still cowboys--but now they all have iPhones and ATVs. Still have the hats and chaps, though. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

Welcome to Cowboy Kisses. I've already seen your appearance here tweeted several times by my tribemates on Triberr. Tomorrow, I'll be able to tell you how many views you got here. We usually average a couple hundred a day, but very few take the time to comment. I hope the promo is positive for your great works.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Merry, welcome to Cowboy Kisses. Your books sound wonderful, so now I have a new-to-me author whose books I'll add to my TBR on Kindle.

Lyn Horner said...

Welcome to our campfire, Merry! Nice to see you here. Cows and their cowboy wranglers are such a huge part of our American psyche. It's hard to imagine what we'd be without that colorful period in our history. What would we gals do without our western heroes?