Friday, May 13, 2016

The Birth of the Cowboy

By Miralee Ferrell

Cowboys--a subject of fascination for little boys and girls through the years--with many a young girl smitten and young boy wanting to be one when they grew up. My sister wanted to be a cowboy when she was little--not a cowgirl, mind you. 

Have you ever wondered where and when the cowboy came into being? The Old West would be most people's guess, but his origin goes back a little beyond that, and even has roots in different countries. 

From I discovered this interesting bit of information.  "Predecessors of the cowboy date back to colonial times. In western Massachusetts, in the uplands of the Carolinas, in Florida, and across the northern, red clay hills of Georgia and Alabama, cattle-raising societies existed long before the Great Plains had been cleared of buffalo. It was in Florida that much of the protocol involving branding evolved. Yet the cattle industry of the Southeast never attracted national attention. The herders never became heroes. They remained little known and were recognized for what they were—illiterate, unmounted trespassers on the public domain, drifting from grazing ground to grazing ground, trailing their beasts to markets at Ohio River towns or to Savannah or Jacksonville."

Cowboys came in all shapes and sizes. We often envision them as rugged, tall, handsome, and strong. But history shows they could as easily have been short, stout, scrawn, or homely, but undoubtedly most were brave and had incredible internal strength to maintain the rugged life they chose to live. Long days, weeks, and sometimes months, were spent on the trail herding cattle to market, or alone on a vast range guarding, branding, doctoring, and keeping track of their boss's (or their own) cattle or horses. It was often a solitary life, sleeping on the ground or in a bunkhouse with a number of other men, with few, if any luxuries to call their own. 

Vaqueros were the Spanish and Mexican version of our Old West cowboy. At I discovered the following: 
1519–1700s After the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519, ranches were established and stocked with cattle and horses imported from Spain. Landowners mounted native Indians on well-trained horses and taught them to handle cattle. By the early 1700s, cattle ranching had spread north into what is now Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and south to Argentina. The native cowboys were called vaqueros(from the Spanish word for cow) and developed roping skills, using braided rawhide reatas (the root word for lariat). Starting in 1769, a chain of 21 Franciscan missions eventually stretched from San Diego to San Francisco, marking the beginning of California’s livestock industry.
The golden age of the cowboy, 1866-1886, had it's beginnings post-Civil War, in Texas. Cattle were allowed to roam free, grew wild, and had few natural enemies when traveling in a herd. Their numbers grew to be over 5 million in the Texas territory, and the lure was great for a cowboy to attain their own small herd. The need for beef back east drove the market, and the cattle industry began to boom. At times, range wars arose and were settled by gun-play, and at other times, sheep farmers tried to invade the cattle land and created tension and bloodshed. 

Cowboys had to fight outlaws bent on stealing their cattle, Indians angry at the white man usurping their land, homesteaders wanting to farm or put up fences, as well as predators, disease, and long hours with low pay. But most of the men who chose this life wouldn't have it any other way. They loved the freedom it provided, as well as the camaraderie they often found working on a ranch.  

A little known fact is, that after the Civil War, about one-quarter of the cowboys
were black. I found the following at this website: The life of the black cowboy was tougher than most. It was the black cowboy who broke the horses and herded the cattle across the rivers. Though they took on the toughest jobs, it was better to be a black cowboy on the ranch than a slave on the plantation picking cotton.

Little to no attention was given to the black cowboys who made their mark in western history by Hollywood. Riders like William “Bill” Pickett, Stagecoach Mary, Nat Love and Bass Reeves were among the most famous. Documentary filmmakers John Ferguson and Gregg MacDonald have created “The Forgotten Cowboys,” in which they follow the contemporary black cowboys of today, like Jason Griffin, who is a four-time world champion bareback bucking horse rider, while also reflecting on the black riders in the past.

I have two new books out, both released March 1, and both are full of historical cowboy stories, Heart of a Cowboy, a collection of novellas by four award-winning authors, and The Cowboy's Bride, by nine different authors, which recently hit the ECPA best-seller list. I think you'd enjoy both of these, and I'd love if you'd pick up a copy. 

Miralee Ferrell is an award-winning, best-selling author. She has 18 books released with two more releasing during 2016. She's also the publisher at her company, Mountain Brook Ink, which published Heart of a Cowboy, and can be found at her personal website or her business website


  1. Thank you for this most interesting post, Miralee. It was very informative and enjoyable.

  2. Thank you, Melanie! I wish I'd had time to share it a bit more, but I just returned from a 3 day writer's conference. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.