Tomorrow (the fourth Saturday in July) is the National Day of the Cowboy, and we celebrate the spirit and hard work ethic embodied by the American cowboy!
The first cowboys were the Spanish vaqueros (the word comes from vaca, the Spanish word for cow), who worked the livestock herds that sprung up across the southern part of North American, and extending even into South America, in the wake of the Spanish conquest of and expansion into those regions in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The cattle imported from Europe thrived and multiplied exceedingly in the vast grasslands of the American southwest. The vaqueros originated almost all of the essential characteristics that are associated with the cowboy, from their work-specific attire and paraphernalia, to the roping, riding, and herding skills and techniques. The vaqueros even held seasonal competitions and demonstrations of the skills that were the precursors of modern-day rodeos.
As U.S. expansion across the continent progressed over the course of the 19th century, the newcomers adopted these same accoutrements and techniques – with little change in the essentials, but subtle adjustments that gave rise to the image of “the cowboy” as is popularly conceived the world over today. Many of these adjustments were the result of changing conditions and technologies: the cattlemens’ way of life was greatly affected by the expansion of the railroads; repeating rifles and six-shooters quickly became indispensable tools for protecting valuable herds; wild buffalo herds gave way to longhorn cattle, which subsequently gave way to other breeds, such as Hereford and Angus; open range gradually gave way to barbed wire. In the 20th century, the cowboy attained iconic status, thanks to Hollywood and the enormously successful genre of films and television shows which perpetuated and popularized the “western” way of life.
Today, while the cowboy himself might be more readily found in the cab of a pickup truck than on horseback, many of the old ways continue to be preserved – and without a doubt, the resilient spirit of the cowboy and of the western way of life continues undiminished!
TIMELINE OF COWBOY HISTORY:
The Spanish begin bringing cattle and horses to North America.
Texas gains independence from Mexico.
The Mexican-American War
California ceded from Mexico to the U.S. The California Gold Rush begins.
Beef demand surges following the end of the Civil War. Railroad expansion opens up new markets for ranchers in the southwest, who begin driving their cattle in large droves to newly established railheads in the north.
The first transcontinental railroad completed.
On July 4, Deer Trail, Colorado celebrates its first rodeo, arguably the oldest extant rodeo in the nation.
The Colt .45 “Peacemaker” is introduced.
Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and all of the soldiers under his direct command are massacred by combined Sioux and Cheyenne forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, on June 25.
Widespread use of barbed wire to enclose cattle ranges begins.
An infamous gunfight occurred at the O.K. Corral, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, between lawmen Wyatt Earp, “Doc” Holliday, and their associates on one side and members of a notorious outlaw gang on the other.
Former Army scout and bison hunter “Buffalo Bill” Cody establishes his Wild West show, which would promote a fascination with the American West across the world for the next several decades.
A bitterly cold winter devastates cattle herds across the west.
The Great Oklahoma Land Rush is initiated at noon, on April 22.
“The Great Train Robbery,” a silent film considered the first of the westen genre, is released.
National Day of the Cowboy Established