Okay, I have to do it. This is the obligatory post from me about cowboys. With our governor running for president, all of a sudden, the word “cowboy” has become a bigger part of the national dialogue in a derogatory way. Now before you panic and run, this isn’t a post about politics. Rather, its about cowboys.
To those of you who know me and who have read my books, do I need to say I love cowboys? I grew up among them. I write books about them. I’m married to one and I even consider myself to be one, though I don’t own a horse or a cow.
Here’s the simple definition from the dictionary: “A hired man, especially in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of his duties on horseback.”
To give that some background in a nutshell, in the beginning, cowboys were “boys who took care of cows.” Because most of the original cowboys were young men, even kids. They and their families came to Texas after the South had been devastated by the Civil War. Most of them were farmers. They brought nothing but their Southern manners, a willingness to work hard and a hope to find a new life. Or maybe they just wanted to be able to eat.
In Texas they met vaqueros, Mexican men who were the original “cowboys.” The vaqueros were skilled with a rope and tools of the range and excelled in horsemanship. It didn’t take the newcomers long to learn from the vaqueros.
Millions of longhorn cattle descended from the livestock the Spaniards had abandoned centuries earlier roamed the Texas plains. At about the same time the newcomers arrived in Texas, the East discovered a love for beef. Thus the cattle business and the need for cowboys were born.
These days, there is more than one kind of cowboy. There are cowboys who know a lot about cows, but not much about horses. And vice-versa. There are big ranchers with thousands of cows and hundreds of horses. Small ranchers. with a few hundred cows and maybe a few horses. Horse ranches with no cows.
There are cowboys who are really farmers, but keep a few horses around for pleasure and a steer or two around for beef. There are city dwellers who dress up like cowboys and secretly long to be one. They might own a horse they ride once a month, that lives in a rented stable and is taken care of by someone else. Yet that person won’t hesitate to call himself a cowboy.
Some of the folks who compete in the various horse sports are called cowboys, but they might not know one end of a cow from the other. Then there are rodeo cowboys, a breed unto themselves.
These are just a few examples, but you can see the genre has evolved into a diverse group.
Bottom line, being a “cowboy” is an attitude. You don’t have to own a cow or a horse, or even know how to ride one, to live by the cowboy code. The Code of the West was best defined by an investment consultant named James Owen who suggested that all of us might to well to return to cowboy ethics. Following is what he wrote:
1. Live each day with courage. 2. Take pride in your work. 3. Always finish what you start. 4. Do what has to be done. 5. Be tough, but fair. 6. When you make a promise, keep it. 7. Ride for the brand. 8. Talk less and say more. 9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. 10. Know where to draw the line.
Don’t you agree we could all benefit from this philosophy?
photos from istockphoto.com and You Tube