After wrangling in eight western authors, I had one ask if I would like another western author to guest post on my blog. I was in awe others wanted to get involved with what I was doing. Very grateful I emailed D.B. Jackson, and the response was awesome. Here Dale expresses what a cowboy is, and what he does.From the Old West to the modern day cowboy. Welcome Dale, and I want to personally thank you for a great post, and a wonderful look into what a cowboy is.
You already have some idea, in your own mind, what you define as a cowboy. Most of us do. Regardless of that definition, the important thing is that we recognize the cowboy as an important and enduring part of our American heritage.
The truth is, the American cowboy started off as, and largely still is, essentially a day laborer with a very specific set of skills that does not have much purpose in other jobs. Their days are long, the pay is short, and most cowboys invest a lot of money in the tools of their trade: a good using saddle, a dependable horse, a decent bridle, spurs to their own liking, and a hat that becomes an individualized trademark unique to each man.
His knowledge includes horsemanship, but he does not engage in talk of how to post a canter, or which new supplement produces the greatest equine performance. He knows cattle and is his own veterinarian. He understands the market and knows about futures, but can’t tell you anything about a mutual fund or a bond offering. He can look at a bale of hay and give you a detailed dissertation on the merits of its feed value.
His hands are calloused, he carries a pocketknife, he’s short, tall, thin, and heavy. He can handle a rope, flank a calf, and tell you a funny story. His politics are built around the realities of working for a living and making do with what he earns. He’s not impressed with your high-paying job, Ivy League education or expensive car, but you will get his nod of approval for a good heel catch or for being where you should be when a herd-quitter breaks and threatens to set your day back several hours.
Most cowboys I know are good to their word and their handshake. They do not feel compelled to tell you something to take the heat off a problem or to redirect your disapproval. They fix problems and move on. They spend no time judging those who profess to be cowboys or present themselves as real cowboys. You either are or you are not—everyone on the crew will know where you fit within an hour of you being there.
Is the guy who shows up with a new rope, new chaps, a lot of fancy gear, and wearing gloves a real cowboy? Probably not—but, he did show up and that’s worth something. I never met a cowboy who brags, draws attention to himself or makes an issue of him being a cowboy. There is an understated, self-assuredness about a cowboy that does not require him to do so. And, for most, it’s not in their nature anyway.
So, is there any such thing as the “cowboy spirit”? I’m not sure. There definitely are “cowboy values”, but they are not exclusive to the cowboy. The cowboy image certainly exists, and there are lots of people who identify with it, and many who look to be identified with it.
Most cowboys do not view themselves as special. They consider themselves lucky to be in a position to lead a lifestyle that many would like to lead. They do not look down upon the guy in the big hat adorned with feathers and wearing boots that would never hold up in the branding pen. They do not feel threatened by or insulted by those who profess to be cowboys, but have never worked cattle or drug calves to the fire.
In the end, we are all part of a special culture unique to America and admired by people all across the world. That micro-culture should be preserved and celebrated—the American cowboy may well be our last handhold on a set of values that helped make this the great country it is. A National Day Of The Cowboy is one small way to help insure we do not lose those values.
D.B. Jackson, author of the 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award winning book, They Rode Good Horses, Goldminds Publishing, and long time cattle rancher, resides with his wife, Mary, near Oakdale, CA. His latest novel, Unbroke Horses, Goldminds Publishing, is being released July 2012, to excellent critical acclaim. A short story, Last Of The Cowboys appears this month in a ReadWest anthology. Stories Of The American West, with the legendary Elmer Kelton, the bestselling author, Steven Law, and others. Another short story, A Blood Red Moon, appears in October in the La Frontera Publishing anthology, Outlaws And Lawmen.