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Cow Boys and Cattle Men

Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier, 1865-1900

Jacqueline Moore

Publication Year: 2010

Cowboys are an American legend, but despite ubiquity in history and popular culture, misperceptions abound. Technically, a cowboy worked with cattle, as a ranch hand, while his boss, the cattleman, owned the ranch. Jacqueline M. Moore casts aside romantic and one-dimensional images of cowboys by analyzing the class, gender, and labor histories of ranching in Texas during the second half of the nineteenth century.

As working-class men, cowboys showed their masculinity through their skills at work as well as public displays in town. But what cowboys thought was manly behavior did not always match those ideas of the business-minded cattlemen, who largely absorbed middle-class masculine ideals of restraint. Real men, by these standards, had self-mastery over their impulses and didn’t fight, drink, gamble or consort with "unsavory" women. Moore explores how, in contrast to the mythic image, from the late 1870s on, as the Texas frontier became more settled and the open range disappeared, the real cowboys faced increasing demands from the people around them to rein in the very traits that Americans considered the most masculine.

Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

Published by: NYU Press


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TiItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

No author writes alone, and in producing this book I have been especially grateful to receive input from a large number of scholars, as well as help from archivists and courthouse staff. Ultimately, of course, any responsibility for errors and misinterpretations lies with me alone. I am particularly grateful to my colleague, Light Cummins, who has been...

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Introduction: The West, the Man, and the Myth

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pp. 1-15

We paint the history of the West, particularly Texas, in traditionally masculine terms. Men tamed the frontier, broke horses, subdued Indians, and dominated the landscape, forcing it to yield to their needs. The Old West made men. In the 1920s and 1930s, old-time cowboys looked back fondly to a time when “men were men and women weren’t governors...

PART I: Doing the Job

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p. 17

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1: Of Men and Cattle

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pp. 19-42

In order to understand ideals of masculinity among Texas cowboys and cattlemen in the late nineteenth century and the ways in which these ideals evolved and conflicted, it is first necessary to examine the intersections of the history of the cattle industry and the history of masculinity during this period. Between 1865 and 1900, the years this...

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2: From Boys to Men

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pp. 43-67

The boys who became cowboys and cattlemen drew their ideas of what it meant to be a man from the men they grew up around. Childhood experiences varied widely depending on their geographic origins or economic circumstances, but all looked to easily identifiable personas they could try on for themselves. The heroes they chose were often active...

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3: At Work

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pp. 68-105

As industrial capitalism rose in the late nineteenth century, economic success became far less certain and fortunes far less stable than before. Workers had less choice over their working conditions and had fewer opportunities to rise above their situation based on hard work. Many clung to older artisan ideals of manliness which emphasized independence, hard...

PART II: Having Fun

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p. 107

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4: A Society of Men

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pp. 109-140

Texas ranch life in the late nineteenth century was predominantly an all-male environment that was at the same time both appealing and out of step with modern society. Both cowboys and cattlemen were influenced by this context, but cattlemen looked outside the ranch for affirmation of their manhood, while cowboys looked mainly to each other....

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5: Men and Women

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pp. 141-167

The relationships that cowboys and cattlemen established with women affected their concept of their own masculinity but also reflected class differences. Although cattlemen spent much time in the company of their wives and daughters, most cowboys had only episodic contact with women. But both shared prevailing Victorian attitudes about respectable...

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6: In Town

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pp. 168-203

As cowboys faced increasing restrictions at work, they relied more on their leisure activities to provide them with a sense of manhood. They relished their freedom when they were done working, but in letting off steam they also publicly showcased their own standards of masculine behavior while mocking civilized society. Many of the early frontier towns...

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Epilogue: The Cowboy Becomes Myth

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pp. 204-216

By 1900, many people had come to see cowboy skills such as riding and roping as simply decorative. As one former cowboy noted, “the expert roper and rider, is admired only for his skill, and not for his usefulness.”1 As the frontier became more settled, the cowboy of old had become more of a public spectacle than ideal worker. Denison, Texas, near...


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pp. 217-261


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pp. 263-268

About the Author

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p. 269

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759844
E-ISBN-10: 081475984X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814757390
Print-ISBN-10: 0814757391

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794698898
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cow Boys and Cattle Men

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ranchers -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Cowboys -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social classes -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Cattle trade -- Social aspects -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
  • Texas -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Ranch life -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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