|The Real West|
| Its Sunday morning 1866, what a bad day this will be.
its spring but there's a brisk chill in the air. Most of the hands are still sleeping but its time to get up. The Cook bellows out that the beans, bacon and bread will be thrown in the creek in 5 minutes.
Cowboy's began to rise. Spurs jingle leather creaks as they ready themselves for another day of what some feel is pure hell. A quick meal and their off, another 18 hours in the saddle. Some have been up half the night tending the herd and have only had a few hours sleep. In comes two riders who have been pulling their shift with the herd for a fast meal, then their right back in the saddle for what will be a grueling day.This is the typical day in the cowboy's life whether its round up time or on a trail drive, its the same. Hard work low pay and little sleep till its over.
|A group of Texas Cowboys|
| Life as portrayed by the movie industry is a far cry from what the real life was. Watching a movie such as Tombstone makes the old west look as if it was easy money and the good life, that is if you didn't get killed by one of the local gunslinger's. In reality times were hard in the 1800s, we read and write about the more famous gunslingers and lawmen forgetting the old cowboys that rode the range every day, working from daylight to dark most of the time seven days a week. These men were tough and most was not afraid and even the most notorious outlaws would mind their own business when these men were around.
Retired Texas Rangers, Lawmen, Civil War Veterans and of course Ex Outlaws and Bandits made up a large part of the Cattlemen, Ranchers and Cow Punchers. Some had been to prison while others were wanted. Some were ex gunfighter's just wanting to get away from that type of life. These men had looked death in the eye before and would do it again. Can you imagine being a trail boss in charge of the likes of Billy The Kid, John Wesley Hardin or Bill Longley, all these men were cowpunchers at one time or the other. This tells me that to be a trail boss you had better know your limitations, or be one tough man.
I've only seen two movies that portrayed the old west in a realistic way, that was Lonesome Dove and The Unforgiven. In the Movie The Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood was a gunfighter turned farmer turned killer that would kill anyway he could. The movie Lonesome Dove showed life in the Old West as it was and it was harsh. Cold and wet or hot and dusty these men lived their lives the way some of us would have liked. Or maybe we think that we would.
George Duffield kept a diary while driving a herd from Texas to Iowa in 1866 here are some things that he wrote:
Upset our wagon to day in river lost almost all our cooking utensils.... Was on my horse the whole night and it was raining hard.... There was one that drowned today, Mr. Carr and several narrow escapes and I among them.... Many men in trouble, horses give out and men refuse to do anything.... Awful night ... have not had a bite to eat in 60 hours.... Tired........ Indians very troublesome.... Oh what a night.... Thunder, lightning and rain, followed our cattle all night as they wandered about..... We hauled cattle out of the mud with oxen half the day.... Dark days are these to me, nothing but bread and coffee.... Hands all growling and swearing, everything wet and cold.... Have not got the blues but am in hell of a fix.... My back is blistered badly.... I have a sick headache bad.... Flies was worse than I ever saw them.... Weather very hot..... Indians saucy.... Found a human skeleton on the prairie today.... and it goes on. This man was not a gunfighter but let me tell you, He was a very tough man and in my opinion would not walk away from trouble when some two bit gunslinger wanting to make a name for himself came looking for trouble.
| The Cowpunchers life was not easy by any means. Most men lived in small bunk houses that had no floor, only dirt. The walls were made of logs, sometime planks but not often. The roof usually leaked and they were cold in the winter. In summer the heat was intense, most cowboys would take their bed rolls outside and sleep under the stars to avoid the smell, heat, lice and other critters that occupied the cabin. Up before sunrise and working until dark did not leave much time for bathing, which would usually take place once a week if you were lucky enough to have a tub large enough to get in. If not a water trough would often take its place. Sometimes the men would go down to a lake or stream and bath. In the winter most just forgot about it until spring rolled around. The bunk houses had a special aroma that you would notice long before you entered the door. Up before sunrise the cowboy's breakfast usually was a few strips of bacon, beans, coffee and sourdough bread depending on the outfit you worked for. The rest of the meals always had Whistle Berries (Beans) as the men called them, sourdough bread and buffalo hump, jack rabbit, venision or what ever else they could rustle up. The nights were lonely for the cowpunchers, most would spend their free time playing poker, with some losing their monthly wages before they got them. One of their favorite things was to hold Kangaroo court, where a cowboy usually a tenderfoot are some new hand would be put on trial for some trumped charge such as not feeding his horse or over sleeping. He would be tried and a sentence would be imposed and carried out by the rest of the hands. Usually this would be in the form of throwing him in a horse trough or it could mean a whipping if the men had a grudge against him. On the other hand a man stationed at a line cabin" likely a dugout hole in a bank with a log front" might go for months before he saw a single person and almost always this was a cowboy who had been laid off and was riding the line looking for work or just a meal. The cabin door was always left unlocked and if a drifter came around with no one at home would usually just help himself to a meal if it was available, then perform a few chores such as chopping wood, mending a fence or make repair's to the cabin to pay for his meal. If the owner did not return they would just ride on looking for another meal or job." Try leaving your door open these days and see what happens."
Earning a living as a cowboy was not a glamorous life but its the only thing that most of these men knew. Most lived short and hard lives. Many were killed on the trail driving cattle while others were killed by Indians or disease. Many would just pack up and never be heard from again. These men carved a notch in history that will never be forgotten The Cowboy's.....
Still like to have been a cowboy? I think I would. Take the time and let me know where you would liked to have lived and in what part of the 1800s.
|A few facts about the Cowboys|
|Leadville Colorado's first legal hanging drew over 10,000 spectators.
The man known as the hanging judge was Judge Isaac Charles Parker not the famous Judge Roy Bean.
The average age of a cowhand was 24 years old.
Between the years 1867 and 1887 over 5.5 million head of cattle were driven north to sell.
In Montanaa the winter's were so cold -50 that it would sometimes freeze a cow in its tracks.
Charlie Goodnight "Lonesome Dove" Persided over a herd of more than 100,000 head and would sell around 30,000 per year bringing a gross income of half a million dollars.
The male female ratio was about 10 to 1 in the west and ihe distance between individual females might be as much as 50 to 100 miles.
If You were Heifer branded you wore an apron and danced the female part at the few dances that were held that had no women.
The average cow poney would weigh 700 to 900 pounds and was a mustang "mesteno spanish for stray"
In 1875 the cost of a saddle was around 30.00 and would last as long as 30 years.
Cowboys used a rope around 40 ft in lenth and made of grass. the eye of the rope was called the honda.
A cowboy's standard pay was around 30.00 a month. A foreman or trail boss could make as much as 3 times that.
Usually a trail boss would hire 1 man for every 400 head of cattle he was driving, a cook and a wrangler to look after the remuda" extra horses."
Gypsy photographers rode the range looking for the cowboys, taking their pictures and selling them for 50 cents each.
|The cowboys' hats were high-crowned with wide, floppy rims, practical for protection from the sun's glare, useful as a cup with which to scoop up water or, folded over, as a pillow.
The bandana handkerchief tied around the neck could be lifted to cover mouth and nostrils from dust.
Originally the collarless shirt and trousers were nondescript, of flannel or wool.
A vest was often worn; it gave some protection from cold winds and also had a number of useful pockets, one of which held Bull Durham tobacco and cigarette papers.
The boots with heels two inches high, the better to rest in the stirrups or dig into the ground while roping a calf, may have appeared exotic to a dude, but they were absolutely practical.
The stock saddle's design traced all the way back to the Moors of North Africa, having come to the American cowboy by way of the Spanish and Mexicans.
Chaparejos, or chaps, served a valuable purpose when a cowboy had to chase after a steer into a patch of thorny mesquite. A lariat, and, during the cattle drives, probably a well-balanced six-shooter completed the cowboys' outfit.
|A Cowboy's Accessories|