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  • Not as glamorous as one might think! Take a look at this diary of a cowboy:

“Upset our wagon in River & lost many of our cooking utensils…was on my horse the whole night & it rained hard…There was one of our party drowned to day (Mr. Carr) & Several narrow escapes & I among them…Many men in trouble. Awful night…not having had a bite to eat for 60 hours…tired…Indians very troublesome…Oh! What a night—thunder, lightning and rain—we followed our Beeves all night as they wandered about…We hauled cattle out of the mud with oxen half the day…nothing but bread and coffee. Hands all growling & swearing—everything wet & cold…sick & discouraged…My back is blistered badly…Flies was worse than I ever saw them…weather very hot…Indians saucy…one man down with boils & one with ague…Found a human skeleton on the Prairie today.” (George Duffield, 1866)

  • Dangers:

    • Blizzards

    • Stampedes

    • Droughts

    • Prairie fires

    • Rustlers-people who steal cattle…hanging offense…had a “necktie party”

    • Native Americans

    • Floods

  • Cowboys were democratic; they disliked intellectuals; were individualistic, yet bound to their peers. They spoke only when necessary, and when they did, they said it slowly, with a few swears in-between. He showed hospitality to other outfits and shared trail information. He showed exaggerated courtesy toward “good women” but ultimately shunned their company for prostitutes who would not tie him down.

  • Cowboys on the plains: No more than 40,000

  • 1 in 3 cowboys was either Mexican or black. (Not what you see in old western movies…)

  • $90 for a three month job

  • $ went to a drink, a bath, a prostitute, and possibly some cards.

  • Only thing they usually owned: saddle

  • Did not want them to own a horse because they would take off!

  • If left with company horse, it was a hanging offense.

  • Besides, cowboys needed about _6__ horses each.

  • Wrangler: Young cowboy who took care of the remuda (group of extra horses). Was a key target for a young Indian man because if he could bring horses to his prospective father-in-law, this could mean marriage. Was also a target for rattlesnakes since he was on the ground more than the rest.

  • Cook: nicknamed “cookie”, “the old woman”, “biscuit-shooter”, “dough roller”, or “grub wrangler”; made food, acted as dentist and doctor. He might have more notches on his gun than any cowboy…why? He scouted the territory first for the camp site. He was to forage for the horses and find a good source of clean water for both men and animals.

  • Tongue was always pointed toward the north star at night. Why? Cloudy in the AM…would know which way to head.

  • Remember: Cowboys were NOT gunfighters! (Cowboys used their guns for necessity…shooting a snake, attack from Indian…Gunfighters practiced at least 2 hours a day…why? If they lost…they DIED!)

  • Son-of-gun stew: Calf heart, calf brain, marrow gut, liver and kidneys

  • Chuck Wagon: Supplied food for at least 30 men for three months, provide storage space for extra clothing, valuables, tents, and bedding. (Show picture of chuck wagon)

  • Trail Boss: Hired cowboys and cooks. Picked trail and place to set up camp.

  • Did not want the position of drag. Why? DUST kicked up from the cattle!

  • Uniform:

    • Hat: Proudest possession! Protect from sun, wind, branches, hail; fan fire, carry water; could wear indoors…sleeping!

    • Bandanna: trail dust; insulation from the sun; tourniquet for snake bite or wound

    • Belt: Only in a rodeo! Pants were too tight and would be uncomfortable all those hours of riding!

    • Pants: Made to fit tight around the waist…to prevent chaffing!

    • Vest: Had deep pockets for chew, tally book

    • Chaps: brush, rope burn, horse bites

    • Boots: Started in Civil War…flat heel, round toe; then added high heel, pointed toe and mule ears; work boots still are like the originals (Ropers)

    • Canvas-like jackets/fur-lined overcoats: thorns, cold!

    • Buckskin gauntlets: rope burns, blisters by reins but “real cowboy” didn’t wear them because “they robbed a man a feel of the rope!”

  • Draw the cattle drive formation:




rag Flank

1,500 head of cattle


Flank Trail Boss

Drag Swing

  • Round-Ups: Cowboys would count the results of spring calving, brand the young calves, cut their ears for identification, and “doctor” the sick ones.

  • Rodeos: During Round-ups, cowboys got together to race and rope and do some bronc riding.

  • Only lasted from about 1866 to 1888. Why? Barbed wire. Went from the open range to ranches. 1886, huge BLIZZARD struck. Millions of cattle and buffalo died …couldn’t escape the fence line…their nostrils froze…they suffocated.

  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show: Featured sharp-shooters like Annie Oakley, attacks by real Indian braves, fancy riding and roping and gun tricks.

The Gunfighters

  • Gunman: was an outlaw, who preferred to get close and unload…relying on speed.

  • Gunfighter: the aloof peace officer, who usually did not shoot first, but who would shoot back and with deadly accuracy! (Why they used Longer barrel guns like the Peacemaker)

  • Practiced Daily!

  • Guns did not always go off! (The pistol which Jack McCall used to kill Hickok in Deadwood, misfired on every cartridge except that for Wild Bill!)

  • Generally, wearer carried 5 loaded cartridges in the gun and kept the hammer down on an empty. (So they don’t accidentally shoot their foot!)

  • Shooting at an inanimate object, he could shoot 5 shots from his gun in somewhere around 1 second.

  • Went to longer barrels for two reasons: 1) Does not jump as much 2) Provides better aim

  • After Civil War, Army carried its revolvers in a flap-top holster, butt to the front…very awkward!

  • Holster carried waist high, on a plain belt; the next step was to loosen the belt…closer to hand; tried a shoulder holster. (Although not real popular except as an extra weapon)

  • Cross Draw: wore guns, butt to the front, on the opposite side from the hand you intend on using. Used by Northerners because they had to wear a coat!

  • Would soak and shape the leather holster to your gun.

  • Holster might be greased, and a small wad of paper or bit of leather in the bottom to speed the draw.

  • These tricks probably were not used much:

    • The Road Agent’s Spin: Need to be an idiot to use this! Because you spin up towards your head!!

    • The Roll: Used in Tombstone-shot Marshal with both hands!

  • These were used more for gun fighting:

  • Fanning the hammer: for close range-slapping the hammer with left hand

  • The border shift: Used strong hand to shoot-empty one gun, then toss other gun to their strong hand! Most did not shoot with their left hand!! (remember they had to cock the gun every time!)

  • Many times, shot themselves doing these stunts!

  • Bad Luck to snap a gun on an empty chamber. (Means that they other guy didn’t and you are probably dead!)

  • Proper way to disarm an opponent: “Make him unbuckle his belt with his left hand, let his hardware drop, or extract his fangs yourself, from behind, while he held up the sky!”

  • Label these tricks!

Label pictures of The Roll, The Road Agent Spin and the Border Shift

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