August 17, 2011

Cowboy Talk

Nebraska cowboy, 1886 (Library of Congress).
Ptak Science Books blog links to a 1937 interview of a 19th-century cowboy. The interview was part of the Works Progress Administration's oral history project, which interviewed many ordinary Americans about their life experiences. From L.M. Cox of Brownwood, Texas:
Cowboys lay awake nights trying to think of "good ones" to play on the tenderfoot. We tied an old cowboy to a tree once and told the tenderfoot that he was a madman, had spells and was very dangerous. At the appointed time the cowboy broke loose and the new comer made it to town, five miles on foot, in a very short time.

"Boiled beef and Arbuckle Coffee was our standby. The boys used to say if old man Arbuckle ever died they'd all be ruined and if it wasn't for Pecos water gravy and Arbuckle Coffee we would starve to death.
And the work:
"I have known cowboys to ride one hundred miles per day. I know this sounds unreasonable but they were off before daylight and rode hard until after dark. Their usual day's work was to be off as soon as they could see how to catch their horses, throw the round-up together around 10 o'clock then work cattle or brand until dark and often times stand guard one-third of the night after that.
No wonder many cowboys were ready to look for easier work once out of their twenties.

Or you can just read the memoirs of E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott, who started cowboying in the 1870s. His book We Pointed Them North is available from the usual sources.

All that open-range stuff lasted just one generation, and by the 1890s late-middle-aged stockmen were getting all nostalgic about it, hence the Cheyenne Frontier Days, etc. etc. etc.

1 comment:

Camera Trap Codger said...

Another good one is "The log of a cowboy" by Andy Adams. After he watched a few early westerns about cowboys and cattle drives he decided to write about the real cattle drives, the way they were on the old Chism Trail when he was young.