Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Cowboy

Since I'm right in the middle of putting three novellas into one book, I'm going to make today's post brief and paraphrase a wonderful research book, The American Frontier, authored by William C. Davis.  I highly recommend this beautiful "coffee table" book because it's filled with tons of information about life in the old west.

Real Cowboys
The American Cowboy's image has been highly influenced by the motion picture industry.  While we conjure images of John Wayne, Paul Newman and Robert Redford starring in films to entertain us, these cinemas are highly idealized and often historically incorrect.  That's one of the reasons historical authors research their facts.  Credibility is an important factor, even when writing fiction.

It would be a gross understatement to claim films would be as entertaining as those we've watched if cowboys were portrayed as they really were.  The 'heyday' of the cowboy lasted only about two decades, from 1865-1885, and the highest estimate of actual cowpokes was around 40,000.

Although the cowboy maintains an heroic image, he was actually an overworked laborer, riding miles and miles while fighting the elements.
Being a cowboy was not a glamorous profession, and very few made it a permanent career because of the hardships and physical exertions that prevented older men from continuing to perform the associated tasks.The golden age of the American cowboy ended in the mid-1880s because of the failing cattle market prices.

One thing  generally correct in western films was the  attire:  leather chaps to protect against thorny brush, a plainsman style hat with a low crown set against the wind, a scarf or bandana to discourage inhaling dust, spurs to aid in directing one's mount, and heavy gloves to combat the rawhide ropes frequently used.   I'm pretty sure that few of them smelled like Old Spice since days, sometimes, even months passed between a change of clothing or a much-needed bath.

Necessities of a Cowboy

So, when you read the heroine's description:  "He smelled of smoke and leather" remember a real cowboy probably just smelled really, really bad.  *lol*

Again, my appreciation to William C. Davis for allowing me the continued pleasure of a well-researched and helpful publication, The American Frontier.  He has helped me maintain my credibility as a western author, and I learn something every time I research a chapter.  For information on how to get your own copy, I include the link on Amazon.  Oh, and just for the record, I took pictures of his pictures to emphasize my post.  You can probably tell my the flash on the cowboys.  *smile*


Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, great post. My husband's uncle was a cowboy in the 20th century. He was the foreman of a large Texas ranch, but was kicked in the head by a horse and developed Parkinson's from the injury--or that's when the disease showed itself. One of the "line shacks" from the ranch he worked on has been moved to the Ranching Heritage Museum at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He told of rattlesnakes coming up to get on the hearth and the cowboys shooting the snakes. Too wild for me! I'm going to check out the book. In addition to falling prices, barbed wire played a big role in changing ranching and the cowboy's life.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Great post as always. I think I prefer the TV westerns to the real thing, if that picture is anything to go by. Not a handsome hunk amongst them.



Unknown said...

Thanks Caroline and Margaret for taking time to visit and comment. I often feel bad because my posts don't garner the comments of my peers, but I like to think it's not because I don't produce interesting fodder. :)
Margaret, I agree. None of those cowboys look like any of my heroes. :)

Unknown said...

Oh, and Caroline…I did read about Barbed Wire changing the times, too…Cattle Barons hated it because it closed what was open range, but no amount of cattle could overcome the falling prices of beef. Everything nowadays…at least for the consumer is going the other direction.

D'Ann said...

I'm cowboy to the bone--born and bred. Wish more writers would do a little research before jus throwing the label "cowboy" on anything that wears a hat. It takes a bit more than that!