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Cowboy Life

Reconstructing an American Myth

By William W. Savage Jr.

Publication Year: 1993

First published in 1975 and now in paperback, Cowboy Life continues to be a landmark study on the historical and legendary dimensions of the cowboy. The central figure in American mythology, the cowboy can be seen everywhere: in films, novels, advertisements, TV, sports, and music. Though his image holds little resemblance to the historical cowboy, it is important because it represents many qualities with which Americans identify, including bravery, honor, chivalry, and individualism. Accounts by Joseph G. McCoy, Richard Irving Dodge, Charles A. Siringo, and many others detail the daily trials and tribulations of cowboy life on the southern Great Plains-particularly Texas, Indian Territory, and Kansas-from the 1860s to around 1900. And in a new Afterword, editor William W. Savage, Jr., discusses the directions the cowboy myth has taken in the past two decades, as well as the impact the "new Western history" and films such as Lonesome Dove have had on popular culture.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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Editor's introduction

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pp. 3-16

The cowboy is the predominant figure in American mythology. More than the explorer, trapper, soldier, or homesteader, the cowboy represents America's westering experience to the popular mind, and his image is everywhere. Accounts of his activities, fictional and historical, comprise substantial portions of publishers'...

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Joseph G. McCoy "Anger and bad whiskey urge him on to deeds of blood and death"

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pp. 17-32

The herd is brought upon its herd ground and carefully watched during the day, but allowed to scatter out over sufficient territory to feed. At nightfall it is gathered to a spot selected near the tent, and there rounded up and held during the night. One or more cowboys are on duty all the while, being relieved...

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Richard Irving Dodge "The most reckless of all the reckless desperadoes"

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pp. 33-40

Years ago, while yet a cherished portion of Mexico, Texas was famous for its cattle. Individuals owned thousands, even tens of thousands, which roamed almost at will, over the vast and fertile plains. The care of these was left to a few men and a crowd of Mexican boys from eight to twenty years...

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Walter Baron von Richthofen "Among cowboys are to be found the sons of the best families"

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pp. 41-48

Terms used in the cattle business are not generally known East and abroad, and I will therefore give their definition, as I shall have to use them repeatedly in the following chapters. The owners of cattle in the Western stock-raising states are required by law to brand their stock with initials, figures, etc., chosen by themselves. The iron brands are attached to long...

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Charles A. Siringo "I spent my last dime for aglass of lemonade"

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pp. 49-76

I put in the following winter branding Mavricks, skinning cattle and making regular trips to Matagorda; I still remained in partnership with Horace Yeamans in the skinning business, I made considerable money that winter as I sold a greater number of Mavricks than ever before. But the money did me no good...

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Joseph Nimmo, Jr. "A creature of circumstance"

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pp. 77-86

During the last fifteen years the American cow-boy has occupied a place sufficiently important to entitle him to a considerable share of public attention. His occupation is unique. In the exercise of his function he is always a man on horseback. His duty as a worker in the...

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Charles Moreau Harger "A man of unflinching courage"

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pp. 87-100

The task of the drover and his assistant cow-boys in getting the herds from the Southern ranches to the Northern shipping points was one involving both skill and daring. Only a man of unflinching courage and quick movement could succeed in handling animals whose characteristics were rather those of the wild beast...

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Richard Harding Davis "There are cowboys and cowboys"

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pp. 101-106

The coming of the barb-wire fence and the railroad killed the cowboy as a picturesque element of recklessness and lawlessness in south-west Texas. It suppressed him and localized him and limited him to his own range, and made his revolver merely an ornament. Before the barb-wire fence appeared, the cattle...

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W.S. James "The cow-boy goes to the school of nature"

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pp. 107-120

In writing on the subject of "Life on a Texas Ranch," I don't wish it understood that there is any cast-iron rule by which one shall judge of the manners and customs of the cow-man, for custom changes on the range as it does in any other section. The methods of...

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Baylis John Fletcher "Wilderness was a source of great joy to the cowboy"

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pp. 121-154

On the morning of April 11, a supreme moment for us, we started up the trail to Cheyenne, Wyoming. To gather the cattle in the pasture into one great herd took up the forenoon. In the afternoon we made only about five miles, bedding our cattle that night just south of Victoria, near the Guadalupe River. On the following...

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Alfred Henry Lewis "He becomes deeply and famously drunk"

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pp. 155-160

While the farms in their westward pushing do not diminish the cattle, they reduce the cattleman and pinch off much that is romantic and picturesque. Between the farm and the wire fence, the cowboy, as once he flourished, has been modified, subdued, and made...

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National Live Stock Association "No class of men ever was so unfaithfully represented"

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pp. 161-190

One of the groups of temporary "statuary" with which the great Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis in 1904 was embellished represented four yelling cowboys mounted on galloping "cow-horses" and firing their revolvers in the air-"shooting up the town." No doubt a large majority of the visitors to that incomparable...

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Andy Adams "Dead tough men bawled like babies"

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pp. 191-198

These old cronies from boyhood sparred along in give-and-take repartee for some time, finally drifting back to boyhood days, while the harshness that pervaded their conversation before became mild and genial. "Have you ever been back in old San Saba since we left?" inquired Edwards after a long meditative silence. "Oh, yes, I spent a winter back there two...

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Frank Collinson "I am glad I had the experience"

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pp. 199-208

Since I had been working more with horses than with cattle on the Noonan ranch, I looked forward to the trail trip with John T. Lytle and his cousin, Tom McDaniel, to the Red Cloud Indian Agency at Fort Robinson on the Niobrara River in northwestern Nebraska. I respected Lytle and knew him well and believed he would...

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pp. 209-213

Cowboy Life was intentionally revisionist only in its call for improved western fictions; but in 1975 reviewers were less interested in that sort of thing than in finding something upon which to hang a general announcement of debunkery. The book was blamed in some quarters...

E-ISBN-13: 9781607321217
E-ISBN-10: 1607321211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870812934
Print-ISBN-10: 0870812939

Page Count: 213
Illustrations: 49 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 1993