Saturday, July 23, 2011

National Day of the Cowboy

Well I am pretty excited about this day...National Day of the Cowboy...knowing me, most people would know why. I fancy myself a cowgirl from time to time, mostly when I am at the farm like I am today. But there are other times when I am roping I also feel very cowboyish. I am also excited because two of the biggest rodeos on US soil are going on right now...the Cheyenne Frontier Days and the National High School Rodeo Finals...both of which I have been to and wish I was at either of them right now, but I'm watching the high school finals via webcast as I type so it is almost like I am there.

My dad headed out to ride through the herd to
check for any sick cattle.

If we are honoring the cowboy, where did he cowboy come from anyway?

Cowboy is pretty much a North American term for someone who uses a horse to tend to and w
wrangle cattle. The term descended from the Mexican vaquero traditions for those doing ranch work with cattle or also to compete in rodeo competition and first was used in the present day United States territory in 1725, but it took until the 19th century before cowgirl was a recognized term. It is interesting that a very American viewed activity or way of life actually originated from Spanish/Mexican way of raising cattle.

A cowboy's or cowgirl's view in this case on a modern
day cattle drive.

We often think of cowboys like John Wayne who drive large herds of cattle across the Rio Grande to big open fields of grass as movie hero's, but the reality is that is how it happened. Looking for more grass and land, the 'open range' mentality of moving herds to where the grass was took root in the 1800's. Open range means there were no fences to keep the cattle in one place, it was the cowboy's job to move them to a location and keep them there until it was time to move them again or for round up. Many cattle from different herds were mixed together in these open range situations so the art of branding took place to each animal was easily identified to their owner. During round ups they would sort out individual brands before shipping cattle to market. Also during roundup they could brand the young calves, castrate the bull calves and doctor any animals that needed medical aid. These are often known as branding parties and still take place today in many parts of the western US. Both the round up and brandings took a very experienced cowboy, someone who was good with a horse, good with a rope and understood how a cow was going to react or move in certain situations. Many modern day rodeo events derived from round up or branding activities.

Modern day working cowboys are very similar to those back in the 18th and 19th centuries but with a higher level of sophistication. Cowboys still tend to their cattle, provide food and care for those in need and often still on horseback but some have modern working facilities and electronic record keeping systems that makes it easier than it was back on the open range. Most identifiable today is probably the rodeo cowboy. Rodeo cowboys are professional athletes who compete in rodeo or round up style competitions for prize money. Some of today's rodeo cowboys are also working cowboys, but many are not.
My brother and family friend team roping at a competition
summer 2010.
There are other identifiable items of the cowboy culture including the cowboy hat and boots that have taken off into main-stream fashion and appear on the run-way from time to time. But they are still very practical pieces of work wear for those who spend their days tending to the cattle and the land.

So next time you are flipping through the channels and run across an old western, stop for a moment and honor the American Cowboy in honor of the National Day of the Cowboy.

For more information and sourcing on my information above you can visit here.

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