Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1875 American cowboy

Subject: cowboy
Culture: Western American
Setting: range wars, American West late 19th-early 20thc.


* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p68-69 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"The cowboy has become an American folk hero, an icon of the American West.  His emergence on the public scene came with dime nobels and, later, B-movie Westerns.  He took over prime time on TV in the 1950s and 1960s, but the TV western met its demise in the face of more sophisticated public entertainment.
    "This uniquely American figure did not begin in America.  He had his origins in the Old World.  His principal antecedent was certainly the vaquero, who had seen centuries of development in Spanish North America before Anglos and their black slaves moved into the eastern United States.  Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb places the birth of Texas cowboy life and ranching in a diamond-shaped area of Texas with San Antonio on the north, Laredo on the west, Indianola on the east, and Brownsville on the south.  This area, the brasada, or brush country, is the home country of Webb's friend J. Frank Dobie, the folklorist who wrote extensively on the cattle industry, the cowboy, the vaquero, and the brush country.  Dobie loved this region's unique Spanish-influenced culture and inhabitants.  And both Webb and Dobie agreed that the most important influence on the country lay in its Spanish roots."

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Boorman 2004 p106
"The first cowboys were from Texas, where the organized cattle industry in the United States began. ... Small cattle drives were organized before the Civil War, with the help of experienced Mexican 'vaqueros' or cowboys, but in 1867 Joseph G. McCoy persuaded the Union Pacific Railroad to construct a switch or siding at a little place called Abilene, Kansas, to receive cattle from Texas.  With former Confederate and Union soldiers and other unemployed workers available to work on ranches and cattle drives, business flourished, and more 'cowtowns' were established.  By 1871, 600,000 to 700,000 cattle a year were being moved north.  It is estimated that some 35,000 cowboys took part in these drives from 1868 to 1895.  One-third were Negroes and Mexicans, and the pay averaged only $30 per month.  The big cattle drives ended effectively with a drop in meat prices in the 1890s and the extension of railroads into Texas."

* Carlson ed. 2000 p111-112 (Paul H Carlson, "Cowboys and sheepherders" p109-118)
"The cowboy's work involved action, danger, and spectacular skill on horseback.  The cowboy sat high on his horse with the rein tight, and gauged another's worth by the way he could ride.  He looked down (figuratively and literally) on anybody who (like the sheepherder) walked the range instead of riding it, or who, if he did ride, rode with a slack rein that called for nothing spectacular or dangerous.  He believed that 'a man on foot was no man at all.'"

* O'Neal 2004 p1-2
"[S]cores of ... violent incidents marked the furor between cattlemen and sheepmen in nine western states or territories.  This bitter conflict took the form of a guerilla war that lasted for nearly five decades.  There were more than 120 raids and skirmishes, producing more than fifty human casualties and the slaughter of at least 53,000 sheep.
    "Hostilities began in the 1870s, with scattered strife in Texas and Colorado.  During the 1880s the clash intensified greatly in Texas, where 2,400 sheep and four men were killed, and a malignant fence-cutting war erupted.  In 1887 Arizona's Pleasant Valley War was triggered by the introduction of sheep into cattle country, and more than a score of men were shot.  Two years later, in a Mexican sheep camp in Arizona, a fight broke out which resulted in the death of five sheepherders, along with the wounding of a cowboy and the sixth herder.
    "There were a few more violent incidents in Texas in the early 1890s, but the scene of conflict expanded during the decade to Colorado ... and to Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.  ... [A] final outbreak of violence erupted in 1920-21: two fights in Arizona resulted in the killing of three sheepmen, while four clashes in Colorado produced another sheepherder fatality and about 1,500 dead sheep."

* Askins 1981 p16
"The bucko who rode up the Chisholm Trail, or the Western Trail, or the old Shawnee Trail, with a pair of Confederate Dance .44s strapped to his flanks and a Spencer, Henry, or Winchester Carbine swung under a stirrup leather, come to town for just one purpose -- a hell of a time!  And despite the Hickoks, the Earps, and the Mastersons, he intended to have it.  Product of the Civil War, veteran of a dozen brushes with Comanches and Lipan Apache, aftern ninety days in the heat and the dust kicked up by a few thousand cow brutes, he galloped into Abilene to paint the town red!"

* Rosa 2002 p76
"The great cattle ranges of Texas, Montana and Wyoming were ... the scenes of range wars and family feuds.  Some feuds were short-lived, while others lasted for generations until in the end few of the participants were really sure what started it all.  The 'blood feud' became almost a way of life to some people who felt obliged to carry on the fight no matter what.  The likes of John Wesley Hardin, who joined in on the Sutton-Taylor feud, claimed it was because they were 'kin'; but love of violence may well have been the real reason."

* Robinson/Hook 2005 p13
"While much of the West suffered through range wars of some sort, the feud was almost exclusively a Texas phenomenon.  Among the prominent feuds are the Taylor-Sutton Feud, which gave rise to John Wesley Hardin, the Horell-Higgins feud, the Mason County War, and the ... Shackelford County Feud."


* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p103-104 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"By 1870, hats of beaver felt became the standard head covering for cowboys.  The men, according to Rollins, left the crown of this hat 'at its full height, but applied three or four dents running vertically at the top of the crown, a style later to become known as the Montana Poke.'  Other techniques of shaping the hat followed, but the tall crown and rolled brim were common by the turn of the century.  The name of John B. Stetson, the most popular manufacturer, came to be the dominant one, frequently being applied to a hat regardless of of the source.  For their hats, cowboys preferred leather hatbands, sometimes of rattlesnake skin.  Ornamentation of nails or silver conchos, or in rare cases gold or jewels, decorated the leather bands.  Whatever their construction, these bands were more than merely ornamental; they were intended to control the size of the hat to make it fit the cowboy's head more securely, especially in the wind.  A 'bonnet string,' a leather thong descending from the inner edge of the brim, running behind the wearer's ears, and pushed under the base of the skull, kept the hat in place when the wind was high or the ride fast.  It differed from the string that passed under the chin of the sombrero, and from the 'stampede string' of the buckaroos.  When not needed, the 'bonnet string' was tucked up inside the cowboy's hat. For some years after the cowboys on the border no longer wore sombreros, that Spanish term was used in a slang sense to refer to the cowboy's hat and is still recognized in that way."


* O'Neal 2004 p2-3
"Cowboys were mostly young men, in their twenties or late teens. They were high-spirited, proud, tough.  They possessed the majestic feeling of power and height and superiority of mounted men throughout history.  Notoriously ill-at-ease out of the saddle, the cowboy held in contempt men who worked on foot -- men such as farmers and sheepherders.  A cowboy's work was hard and long and dangerous.  ...  Their work demanded bravery and physical endurance.  Vigorous and aggressive, 'if they had to fight they were always ready,' said pioneer cattle baron Charles Goodnight.  'Timid men were not among them -- the life did not fit them.'  By the time trouble with sheepmen became widespread, the American press had begun to lionize the cowboy as the most admirable cavalier of a fading frontier.  Conscious of their romantic public image, cowboys spent much of their salaries to upgrade their utilitarian but dramatic clothing and gear.  Clad in chaps, bandanas, big hats, boots and spurs, cigarettes dangling from their lips, brandishing six-guns, scowling fiercely at the camera, cowboys eagerly lined up in groups to be photographed.  In town many cowboys tried to live up to their rakehell image by roistering from one saloon to another."

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p103 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"[C]lothing is the most obvious part of the cowboy's image.  Anyone can 'see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,' as the dying cowboy in the old folk song 'The Cowboy's Lament' plaintively states.  This typical 'outfit' for the cowboy developed over a period of time.  Like the vaqueros along the border, the first Texas cowboys were poverty stricken.  On their roundups, forays on which the men roped and branded unclaimed cattle, Texas cowboys wore whatever kinds of nondescript clothing they could obtain or make from available materials.  Pants, shirts, and moccasins as well as hats and caps made of leather served the purpose of some.  Homespun shirts were common.  Thomas Horton described the head covering as 'a dollar wool hat.'  He also cites 'stogy' boots -- rough, cumbersome footwear, likely with tall tops resembling the stogy, or cigar -- and a homemade overcoat that served as protection from cold and rain and doubled as a covering at night as the men wandered far from home and stayed wherever night caught them.
    "As the trail drives began, largely after the Civil War, some change in appearance occurred.  Many of the drovers wore parts of military uniforms and hats.  Before many trail herds had made the drive to Kansas, however, distinct patterns of clothing made for the task began to appear, and the outfit of the Texas cowboy soon began to emerge because it fitted the work.  Trail drivers bought what they could in Kansas as well as items along the way up and back.  The clothing was not uniform, and especially was it not clean or often in good repair because the chance to bathe and change clothes regularly was uncommon, even if the men had extra clothes to change into.  Marsh cites one of the rules of the cow camp on the LX Ranch in Texas: 'If you pull off any old clothes that you don't want, burn them, as it doesn't look good to leave a camp ground so filthy." [references omitted]

* Fort Worth Museum of Science and History > 150 Years of Fort Worth (quoting Kansas Daily Commonwealth, August 15, 1871)
"The Texas cattle herder is a character, the like of which can be found nowhere else on earth.  His diet is principally Navy plug and whisky, and the occupation of his head is gambling.
    "His dress consists of a flannel shirt with a handkerchief encircling his neck, butternut pants, and a pair of long boots in which are always to be found the legs of his pants.  His head is covered with a sombrero, which is a Mexican hat with a low crown and a brim of mammoth dimensions.
    "He generally wears a revolver on each side, which he will use with as little hesitation on a man as on a wild animal."

* Carlson ed. 2000 p105 (Susan Karina Dickey, "Work clothes of the American cowboy" p95-107)
"Headwear and footwear were among the cowboy's most important and cherished possessions.  Not only did hat and boots facilitate the ranch hand's work, but they also shaped his identity.  More importantly, the special apparel molded the popular image of the cowboy.  'Clothes make the man' is a cliche, but one with a grain of truth.  In recent times we tend to dismiss the symbolic functions of apparel.  We think clothing makes a personal statement, and indeed, it does.  But in the heyday of the cowboy, clothing was more an indicator of social status.  The pants, shirt, and vest identified the ranch hand as a manual laborer, but his hat and boots telegraphed to others that he was a cowboy."

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p104-105 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"The neckerchief preferred by the cowboys is approximately thirty-six inches square and will likely be of silk, though smaller pieces of bandanna cotton have long been a favorite among cowboys.  In fact, the inexpensive cotton bandanna, costing ten cents each in the 1850s, has been preferred historically because early-day shopkeepers kept these in stock and the cowboys had little other choice.  The neckerchief may sport a slide, often of plaited rawhide, or a wooden ornament with a hole through it to hold the ends.  More than likely the ends will be tied, usually in a square knot.  When the rider is herding cattle, the neckerchief may be loosely secured to form a mask pulled in place over the mouth and nose for protection agaisnt the cold wind.  The neckerchief has many other uses: a blindfold to calm an enraged cow, a makeshift rope, a towel, a napkin, a bandage, a handkerchief, or just an ornament.
    "The early cowboy's shirt was made of cotton flannel or wool and was usually collarless.  Cowboys preferred colors other than red, since that shade was traditionally worn by miners.  The shirts always have long sleeves for protection from the brush and the rays of the sun.  [....]
    "The early cowboys wore pants of various sorts, though a kind of striped bool pants from Oregon City found great favor.  Charlie Cone recalls that in the early decades of this [20th] century in Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, the men often wore khaki pants year round but put long underware and perhaps another pair of pants on in cold weather.  And this was under their chaps."


* Byam 1988 p60
"The westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century coincided with a period of rapid development in firearms, and the new arms were used alike by settlers, cowboys, the army, Indians, and outlaws. The most popular weapons were revolvers such as those made by Samuel Colt, and repeating rifles such as the Winchester, which were light enough for use as a carbine on horseback and more accurate than a revolver at longer ranges on the open plains."

* O'Neal 2004 p4-5
"Cowboys were zealously loyal to their spread, to 'their' brand.  Riding across the plains like a medieval knight, the cowboy felt a feudalistic bond to his ranch.  Cowboys often were armed with revolvers or rifles, and they worked in a land of few peace officers and courts.  If rustlers or prairie fires or Indian raiders or predators threatened the ranch, cowboys fought with every weapon to preserve their herds.  When the threat to their ranged was posed by sheep, their response was fueled by a virulent contempt for bleating woolies and the strange men who herded them."

* Askins 1981 p17, 19-20
"The guns he packed were those he had fetched home from the [US Civil] war.  Johnny Reb (whom Texas supplied in quantities that only Virginia exceeded) rode home from the war if he was lucky enough to keep his mount out of the clutches of the Union forces; if not, he just walked.  Some trudged more than a thousand miles.  When everything else was tossed aside, his six-shooter remained with him.
    "[...] The six-shooter in the late 1860s was a necessary item of dress for the well turned out cowboy come to town.  For the business of whooping a herd of spooky longhorns across the Indian Territory, a land filled to overflowing with more than forty tribes of discontented Indians, the cowboy needed a rifle.  He wanted a repeater and preferably one that could be loaded on Monday and shot all week!"


* Kovboji 1995 p38 caption
"NEBEZPEČNÉ NOŽE  Nôž bowie, ktorý preslávil texaský dobrodruh Colonel James Bowie (1799-1836), bol hrozivou zbraňou.  Kovboji nosili zväčša univerzálne nože, ale bowie bol určený na boj, hoci ho používali aj poľovníci."


* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p110 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"The history of the cowboy boot is interesting and the original source debatable.  Some early-day boot makers located their shops along the cattle trails north to serve the demand of drovers headed to Kansas.  The tops of these boots were often decorated with Texas stars and other such designs.  Tom C. McInerney had a shop with sometimes up to twenty makers in Abilene, Kansas, at trail's end.  Later shops, especially those associated with the names Justin and Hyer, worked out a way for the men to measure their own feet and request custom-fitted footwear by mail order.  These early-day boots often cost as much as a month's wages, usually around thirty dollars."

* Greenlaw 1993 p47
"The cowboy's boots were as important to him as his Stetson, and they were the most expensive part of his wardrobe.  He often spent two months' wages for his boots and was very vain about them. ...
    "As with other items of the cowboy's attire, the first boots on the range often were castoff uniform boots from the Civil War.  The true cowboy boot began with the Coffeyville pattern, developed in the late 1860s.  It was made in Coffeyville, Kansas, and was a combination of the American cavalry type and the British Wellington."

* Sims 2015 p017-018
​"The heel was made high, at 5-8 centimetres (2-3 inches), large and angled towards the instep to help the foot stay in the stirrups but prevent it from passing all the way through them -- it also dug into the ground when the cowboy (or girl) wearing the boots had to restrain or pull back on a wayward horse. The toe was made more chiselled so that, when mounting one's horse, it was easier to insert into the stirrups in the first place. The boot's wider opening and lack of lacing not only made it easier to get on while wearing heavy-duty all-weather outerwear but, more importantly, made it easier to free the foot from the boot if the rider was thrown from the horse and the boot remained caught in the stirrup. A tight-fitting vamp (upper) kept the boot secure on the foot while upright. The tall shaft afforded the rider's legs protection against stones, brambles and the like (the shorter version of the cowboy boot known as the 'roper' came in with the rodeo, since rodeo riders had to be free not only to ride but also to run after and rope a calf). Even the thickness of the leather afforded the foot and lower leg protection form knocking against both stirrups and leathers."