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.

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."


* 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 agressive, '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."

* 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."


* Rosa 2002 p98  [PLAGIARIZED: Boorman 2004 p107-108]  
"COWBOY GUNMEN 1870s-1880s  It is not difficult to picture cowboys riding in from the trail, celebrating their opportunity to relax, and firing their revolvers jubilantly into the air.  The fact is that many cowboys did carry revolvers for a variety of purposes.  They were used to put injured animals out of misery, but they were rarely used in range wars and other conflicts.  Revolvers were handy for dealing with snakes and rabid animals, and with a really lucky shot could help to put meat on the dinner table.  Revolvers were also worn for reasons of status, but the truth is that they were also heavy and got in the way.  Many cowboys kept their guns in saddle bags or in the chuck wagon, bringing them out as they needed or maybe just for the chance to go to town and to wear while having a picture taken.  Down on their luck and out of a job, some cowboys joined the ranks of the lawless, resorting to violence and use of the gun.
    "Low wages kept most cowboys from having really fancy equipment.  They were not without their pride, however, and fancy silver mounted bits and spurs were not uncommon.  A Colt revolver with ivory and pearl grips might compliment such an outfit along with nicely stitched boots and a particularly fine shirt and hat."

* 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 clutcheds 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!"


* 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."