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The World's Most Elegant Workmen

  • A TEXAS COWBOY (by )
  • Songs of the Cowboys (by )
  • Cowboys of the Wild West : A Graphic Por... (by )
  • The Adventures of Buffalo Bill : To Whic... (by )
  • The Virginian (by )
  • Roughing It, By Mark Twain : Volume 1 (by )
  • Riders of the Purple Sage : A Novel (by )
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Film, music, and literature depict ruddy-faced men effortless herding and tending livestock on the open plains in cowboy lore, a sentimentalization of ranch workers and their prospective duties. At times those men are heroes defending the ideals of the cowboy: hardworking, honest, fearless. In other instances, they are anti-heroes: gunslingers and stagecoach robbers whose lives brewed a reckless lawlessness (both revered and feared) associated with a brand of self-defined freedom. Names like Billy the Kid, Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Nat Love (a former slave who found work as a cowboy following the American Civil War), and Annie Oakley (a teenaged sharpshooter who toured with Buffalo Bill) are among the most lauded cowboys and cowgirls. But they originated from a different faction of cowboys.

In the Iberian Peninsula, a region characterized by dry climates and sparse grass, Spanish and Portuguese vaqueros rode horses to cover large stretches of land as they herded cattle. The 16th century saw the conquistadors and other Spanish settlers introduce their cattle-raising traditions to the Americas, specifically in what is now Florida and Mexico. In the centuries leading up to the 1848 Mexican-American War, New England merchants traveled westward to trade with English speaking hacendados (or, ranch owners) and saw firsthand the gallantry and ease with which vaqueros (men largely of Mestizo and Native American origin) handled and domesticated horses and cattle. They appropriated these traditions in similar landscapes like Texas and California.

J. Frank Dobie's A Texas Cowboy chronicles the life and times of Charles A. Siringo who penned his own exploits and adventures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Buffalo Bill similarly depicted his life as a cowboy in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill. These accounts (and several others) sparked a surge in cowboy-related fiction and fable. Owen Wister's The Virginian, Mark Twain's Roughin' It, and Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, and Louis L’Amour’s Hondo romanticize cowboy folklore. The authors were akin to the New England gentlemen enamored by the wild individualism of the southwest ranch hands, and through their literary works persevere and develop the culture of the world's most elegant workmen. 

By Logan Williams

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