The silver screen helps image of the American cowboy
America is rich in tradition and history in a variety of areas. Today, I want to focus our attention on the American ranching industry and the cowboy. The image of a cowboy and ranch country will cause most people to visualize the old west. And the cowboy image from the silver screen has helped that image become real.
Allowing most folks to believe that cowboys never got dirty, that their hat was always on their head, their gun never ran out of bullets, their horse always came when they whistled, and they always got the girl, unless they just rode off into the sunset.
Of course, the true cowboy knows better! Ranching got its start in the 1800s in Texas because the numbers of wild cattle made it a good business for ranchers. They hired cowboys to round them up and get them to market. Mexican ranches in Texas were numerous from early 1800 until about 1830 when Texas settlers began to take over as Texas won her independence from Mexico. Then the War of Northern Aggression took many of the young Texans away from the ranches as they went off to war. This resulted in cattle herds becoming wilder and multiplying.
After the war, Texans came home to find cattle were plentiful and roaming free. Ranchers kept track of their cattle with earmarks and brands. Mass roundups occurred and the herds were separated by these markings so each rancher could move his herd to market. Often the hands used on cattle drives were nothing more than young lads often as young as 10 to 12 years old. They learned quick under the direction of older and wiser hands.
One young lad said that he knew when he had made the grade because the older hands told jokes to him instead of making jokes about him. He said that every day was a learning process made with trial and error. If you did a job wrong, you soon knew it and from then on you did not do it wrong. When your “education” was complete the old hands quit calling you “Boy.”
They began to trust you to do specific jobs and expected you to do them in a satisfactory manner. They knew that you had developed good judgement and knew the proper time and place to use it. By this time, you were no longer a green hand but had become a seasoned hand and more than likely would soon be known as an old timer.
Reminiscin’ of an Old Hand
The years had passed, good and bad, he’d started when just a lad,
He’d rode for a lot of brands, seen a passel of decent hands,
Oh, the stories he could tell.
An’ horses, he’d rode ‘em all, winter, spring, summer, an’ fall,
Most all of ‘em big an’ stout, with gentle face or Roman snout,
Always ready to do their job well.
Spring round-up an’ ridin’ hard, tired out, aches, an’ pains, all ignored,
Cousie’s coffee, beef an’ beans, purty much cowboy routine,
bed down as nightguard sings.
First light finds your bedroll packed, coffee drank an’ vittles sacked,
Head ‘em out to meet the day, roust them steers, get ‘em on the way,
In stiflin’ heat an’ chokin’ dust rings.
What do you find on any drive, chuckwagon fare to help you thrive,
Stories an’ tales about the day, listenin’ to the squeezebox play,
The mournful sound of nightguard song.
The roar of steers poundin’ feet, chockin’ dust an’ miserable heat,
The crackle of the campfire, an’ smell of smoke that will transpire,
The rumble of thunder comes along.
Thunderstorms with lightnin’ bright, sandstorms that blot the light,
Blue northers with frigid chill, coyotes yippin’ on the hill,
An’ them rivers runnin’ bank full,
Friends you made along the way; ponies you rode everyday
Oh, the trials an’ tribulations, experienced in the “Nations,”
The wisdom of the Trail Boss
An’ them steers, what could you say, mostly trouble in every way,
Just lumberin’ on, head to tail, nervous an’ spooky on the trail,
Stampede with romp an’ toss.
Roust the crew an’ cuss the weather, ridin’ hell bent for leather,
Don’t stumble or hit the ground, head them steers an’ turn ‘em around,
Get ‘em millin’ an’ wait for daylight.
Check on your pard with shout an’ whoop, as others try to regroup,
Dark of night will turn to dawn, Lord only knows how far you’ve gone,
Your good pony kept you safe that night.
Such is life upon the trail, it’s puncher’s plight to face travail,
Almost as if it had been planned, trust the Lord an’ ride for the brand,
Head ‘em up an’ head ‘em out.
Wrangler’s slap of early morn, cowboy’s cussin’ the day he was born,
The hiss of lariat thrown just right. Neigh of pony in the night,
Cousie’s cry, “Come an’ get it!”
The break-o-day’s frosty chill, sunrise o’er the treeless hill,
Rollin prairie, far mountains high, blazing sun an blue of sky,
Herd headed for the railhead.
Ridin’ hard ‘til day is done, early morn ‘til end of sun,
Herd is penned at railhead site, get your pay an’ wait for night,
For tomorrow you point ‘em to the homestead.
© Ol’ Jim Cathey
God Bless cowboy life and God Bless America!