Cowboy Day: Remembering the Wild West

cowboy

Today, the fourth Saturday in July, is National Cowboy Day. A symbol of the Wild West, this day recognises these individuals stoic and hardworking nature. Almost mythological in image, these cattle wranglers continue to represent a proud American sensibility. In today’s blow, we’ll discuss the history of the cowboy. Plus, share some ways you can celebrate this national day. 

The History of the Cowboy

A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches. Traditionally, they perform their duties on horseback. In addition to this work, some work for or participate in rodeos. These are competitive horse sports inclusive events such as:

Cowboys find their origins in the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico. In fact, although old western films depict only white wranglers, people of colour made up a large number of the ranks. Black cowboys, for example, accounted for up to 25% of workers in the range-cattle industry. What’s more, many early vaqueros were Native Americans trained to work for the Spanish missions in caring for the mission herds. 

The arrival of English-speaking settlers in Texas began in 1821. With the arrival of the railroads and an increase demand for beef, so came the need to drive cattle from the ranches were they were raised to the nearest railheads — often located hundred of miles away. 

Their Tasks

While certain tasks pertained to certain locations, cowboys could be expected to do the following. 

Roundups

Large numbers of cattle were left to grave untended on the open range. In order to determine who owned what cow, the cattle were marked with a hot iron branding. Once a year, ranchers would hold a roundup in order to find the new young calves. This required a number of specialised skills from both horses and horse riders alike. Informal competition arose between those testing their cattle and horse handing skills. Thus, the sport of the rodeo was born. 

Cattle Drives

The market for cattle was more profitable in the North. However, most cow ranches were in the South. Therefore, cattle had to be herded to railheads to be transported around the country. Cowboys had to strike a balance between speed and the weight of the cattle. Pushing a cow too much in a single day would result in so much weight loss that it would be hard to sell it by the end of the trail. Thus, it would take about two months to travel from home ranch to rail head. 

Ways to Celebrate

Want to honour the cowboy tradition? Check out these ways to celebrate!

  1. Go to a Rodeo. Get your western fix with a full day of fun. Alongside the competition, enter contests and marvel at parades. 
  2. Watch an Old Western. While they’re not exactly historically accurate, flicks like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly will ignite your rancher spirit. 
  3. Visit a Western Museum. Check out some cool artefacts! 
  4. Dress Like a Cowboy. Don’t have any rodeos or museum nearby? Don a traditional hat and boots and be your own rancher. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo Clubs. Don't let after-school be an afterthought - join Gooroo's online platform centred around hands-on project-based learning!