Looking for cowboy and western cooking recipes?  YES! Alan's Kitchen has a large collection of favorite cowboy and western cooking recipes that you're sure to love.
Custom Search
Cowboy Cooking | Western Films, Stars, & TV

Home >> Cowboy & Western >> Cowboy & Western History

Alan's National Parks Picnic Guide
National Parks

 
 

Cowboy Culture

Ethnicity
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 freedmen 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 as cowboys. Later, particularly after 1890, when American policy promoted "assimilation" of Indian people, some Indian boarding schools also taught ranching skills.

Today, some American Indians 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.

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. Other estimates suggest that in the late 19th century, one out of every three cowboys was a Mexican vaquero, and 20% may have been African-American.

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.

Social world
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 American Indians. 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.

Back << Cowboy >> Next

More US History

History of the Old West
Frontier Begins
Settling the West
Before the Civil War
Civil War in the West
After the Civil War
Frontier Life
Frontier Warfare
People of the Old West
 




Powered by ... All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
E-mail | AlansKitchen Privacy Policy | Thank you!