Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cowboys - Dispelling Myths

This past weekend, while enjoying the Silver Spur Ranch in Bandera, Texas, we had the opportunity to ask a real cowboy questions about the life of a cowboy.

First, let me clarify, a cowboy is an individual who tends to cattle, a wrangler is one who tends to horses, usually a remuda during a cattle drive. Each cowboy required the use of several horses for remounts. During cattle drives in the old days, when deaths occured along the trail, it was usually the wrangler while getting the horses across. In many old western movies we see cowboys firing guns. Guns weren't allowed while driving cattle. They remained in the cook wagon until needed.

One of the most interesting facts I learned was the number of cowboys needed to run a ranch. I've always thought a large operation hired eight to ten men but usually one man is responsible for 1,500 to 2,000 head averaging 1,800 per man. If more men are needed, day workers are hired. A large ranch in South Texas might have three or four regular cowboys. The cowboy usually spent nights in a line shack and tended the cattle during the day watching for sick cattle and over grazing of the land.

Free range cattle don't do well with cattle dogs. They see them as predators like bears or mountain lions. Controlled cattle tolerate them.

Most branding of horses is done today with liquid nitrogen. Hot wire is still used on cattle but with the use of a branding shute which makes the process easier on both the calves and those applying the brand.

The most shocking fact I learned this weekend is that John Wayne couldn't ride a horse. He looked terrible in the saddle. A real cowboy can adjust to the gait of any horse is just a few minutes. The trot is the hardest gait to ride. The rider must catch the gait and go with it. I need a lot more practice. Of course, I think the roughness depends on the horse. Friday I rode Texas and did pretty well when we broke into a trot. On Sunrise, I bounced all over the place.

Though I learned many more facts, I'll save those for someone else to share.

The photo above is by 1881 Western Photography Co.

Happy reading and writing folks!



Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--loved this. Yes, there is a difference between a wrangler and a cowboy, and you'll se those used erronously if you watch. Also, John Wayne had tiny feet, and he'd often have to wear a bigger boot to look balanced when he was on a horse. You see him sitting on a horse, but yes, not riding it. I never cared much for JW, and don't anyone throw tomatoes at him. He just wasn't the Western sort we thought of him. Now take Clint Eastwood--he could play a real cowboy. I glad you had a great time in Bandera--I should try to go next time. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

P.S. excuse me, that's "don't anyone throw tomatoes at ME!" Celia

L M Gonzalez said...

Thanks for the update on the Bandera retreat. I wanted to go, too, but just couldn't make it.

This info will be helpful in writing my story.

Thanks, Linda.

Tanya Hanson said...

Wonderful blog, Linda. It was terrific meeting you at Bandera...and terrific being at the ranch. oxoxox