The reign of cowboys began closely after the end of the civil war in America. Before this, cattle were roaming in the wild freely without any disturbance. However, after the war, the cattle business began to grow, and man began to domesticate them. The main reason for this was that there was an increase in demand for meat in nearby towns, and so farmers in the plains had to provide for this demand. Due to this and the surrounding nature, the cowboy culture emerged. This culture inspired songs, tales, and legends, which have spread the knowledge about cowboys around the world. However, most of the knowledge that cowboys had mostly came from the Spanish. They came to the New World with men who had a vast experience in breeding cattle and horses. These people became the cowboys of those times.
These men had impeccable skills in handling tools and horses. Others even developed the use of ropes to catch cattle and also the lariat which is a long light rope used with a running noose in order to catch livestock. However, this life was not easy because they had to look after the cows during the cold winters, so that their cattle could be in excellent health for market time during spring. Taking the cows to the market meant that they had to drive them over hundreds of miles to the nearest town centers. They had to go through this routine repeatedly.
This life meant they had to spend a lot of time outdoors and endure harsh weather conditions. Cowboys were out throughout summer and winter, and so they had to wear special clothes to protect them from diseases caused by severe weather condition. In addition, they had to wake up early in the morning to work and stay up till late at night.
Cowboys moved on horses, so most of their time was spent on their saddles. These contributed vastly towards their looking for the appropriate clothing to protect them. They sought to wear wool hats during the winter to keep them warm and straw hats during the summer due to the heat. Cowboys needed to wear clothes that would last longer; therefore, they wore a pair of jeans that looked worn out since they wore them for long periods. They also wore shirts which were either stripped or plain but had double breast pockets. Cowboys spent a lot of time in the wild looking after cattle, and so they wore boot that were strongly leather crafted. To complete their dressing, they wore bolo ties that they wore like neckties and leather belts which color would mostly match the hat or their boots. They also wore gloves made of leather soft enough to allow them to work.
In addition, horses were not only a form of transport for cowboys, but also companions. They ensured that their horses were properly taken care of and were healthy. It is noted that some cowboys even communicated with their horses to give them commands.
This way of life became highly romanticized. There were shows such as Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show that highly popularized this culture. Their speech was a mixture of Spanish and English.
They spent evenings next to a campfire and used their speech in songs about their life. Nowadays, cowboy life is very different in comparison with those days after the civil war. Modern technology like helicopters is used to graze cattle, and this has made cowboy life less stressful; but the legends of a cowboy as the king of the west still surround him, and he remains known as the hero of the Wild West.
Cowboys were mostly Afro-Americans and Mexican Americans. They comprised the lower class in the cattle business, since they were the people who were employed to look after the cattle. Ranchers who were their bosses headed them. Moreover, they were not well paid, and thus made them live a difficult lifestyle. The hard work of cowboys lied within driving cattle over long distances which was not easy. Due to this, some of them opted for unlawful ways to sustain themselves. For instance, this led to the emergence of the outlaw gangs. This led to legends of heroes who fought with these gangs. Therefore, the west became remarkably violent and, thus, was named the Wild West.
The cowboy culture emerged mainly due to the grazing of cattle, the nature that led the cowboys to live in a particular kind of life. They used horses to move around and herd cattle which significantly facilitated their movement around grazing fields. They used ropes to catch livestock that seemed to evade the other flock. They swung their ropes in the air and throw them around the cattle’s neck in order to pull the cattle to where they wanted. Cowboys also had weapons like guns and knives that helped them in guarding their flock. They used guns to scare away wild animals and drive their cattle in certain directions. Cowboys also used the weapons to fight raiders who gradually became a disaster in the West. However, due to the cattle business being common, they were employed; although cowboys worked hard, they were poorly paid.
Two decades after the civil war, the industry grew and spread to places like Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Dakotas due to the expansion of the railway. This is because the railway connected those cities in the west and east. Due to the publicization of cowboys through the media as the heroic symbol of the West, cattle farming became a booming business that even attracted foreign investments. As a result of the railway expansion, the ranchers drove their cattle to the slaughter and the packinghouses of the East. This trade led to the emergence of trading routes that were known as Chisholm Trail (from San Antonio to Abilene and Kansas) and the Western trail (ended in Dodge City).These drives covered a distance of about 800 miles and took approximately two months. However, the Goodknight-loving trail (through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado) was considered long.
This business flourished with significant outcomes. For example, steer purchased at less than ten dollars in south Texas sold for more than three times in Kansas. In addition, the expense to manage cattle was little, since few cowboys could manage dozens of cattle .This attracted investors from the East and overseas. Many ranchers now had to be managers of the property for corporate interests. The Anglo-American Cattle Company (1879) and the Prairie cattle Company (1881) were the main corporate interests. Due to this interference from outsiders, cowboys became people who just drove cattle. However, others wanted to start their own ranches, but it was not easy, since cowboys were now low wage-workers.
The overall situation led to scenarios like strikes demanding increase in wages. Most whites were hired as supervisors; thus, the cowboys were mostly African Americans and Mexicans. This is clearly from the dressing and cow handling skills which came from the early Mexicans. Due to many foreigners getting into the business and benefiting while cowboys suffered, the conflict was definitely going to occur. Another reason for this conflict was the fact that farmers fenced their lands with barbed wire, and the ranchers wanted there to be an open range.
Because of hard economic situation that cowboys were going through, they were paid about $25 to $40 per month and provided with room to live in. Cattle’s rustling is another problem that emerged. Some cowboys choose to steal other people’s cattle to enrich themselves. This was considered as exceptionally serious crime, and many vigilantes lynched those who were found rustling. It became abundant on the border where Mexican stole cattle from Americans, and the Americans were doing the same. Measures like branding calves for identification were put to curb this problem.
The issue of rustling became a great challenge to the cattle business. This became a major issue in the Johnson County War in the state of Wyoming. Even though some ranchers put in place fences to protect, their life stock cowboys often found a way to get the cows through breaking the fences in the night. Even branding cows did not stop rustling, since they stole them and rebranded them and sold to different persons. Now a desperate group of cowboys seeking to support themselves terrorized their previous employers. Moreover, due to the skill they had in horse riding, weaponry and driving cattle, they were remarkably effective in stealing. A study indicated that the number of cowboys in prisons was increasing fast. Furthermore, in countries like Argentina, cowboys stole cattle and exchanged them for brews and weapons.
In the 1880s, the cattle industry began to decline due to people keeping many cattle, since the business was very profitable. This led to overgrazing and over production; thus, the prices of cattle products drastically went down. Drought also hit the land and cattle begun to weaken and die. Ranchers opted new methods such as the fabled King Ranch in South Texas. They fenced their lands and kept a reasonable number of cattle; they feed cattle on hay and grain in winter. They even opted for selective breeding to increase the amount of beef produced.