“Go West, young man.” Past, present, or future, a day in the life of the American Cowboy intrigues us. All throughout the history and development of the West, cowboys have been admired, idolized, glamorized, and even despised for the way they lived, dressed, worked, and entertained themselves. What was one day really like for the cowboy?
A Little Bit of Cowboy History
Certainly, the American West isn’t complete without the image of the rough and tough cowboy. Cowboys played an important role in the westward expansion of our United States.
The western cowboy dates back to colonial times. There is evidence of cowboys in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Cowboys and cattle associations existed out east long before cowboys existed here in the West. History also tells us that much of the branding methods used to identify cattle herds today began in Florida.
But the American Cowboy, as we know him today, originated in Mexico. The Mexican cowboy (vaquero) traditions and methods of herding cattle moved northward from Mexico into Texas and California. And their ways became the foundation for American Cowboys.
The Iconic Lifestyle of the American Cowboy
Cowboys came from diverse ethnic backgrounds. They were African-American, Native American, Mexican, and settlers from Europe and the eastern United States. And they came from many walks of life, too. They were retired lawmen, civil war veterans, outlaws, bandits, and gunslingers.
Because of the diverseness of their backgrounds, there were many differences of opinion. Diaries show that fights occurred regularly among cowboys. And this is where a good trail boss mattered. He had to be tough enough to deal with the feuds that erupted and prevent the loss of human life or livestock.
Cowboys were mostly young men in need of cash. A cowboy in the West earned about $25 to $40 a month. A trail boss earned about $125 a month. They were hired to herd cattle, care for horses, repair fences, and buildings, and work cattle drives. And in some cases, they even helped establish towns on the western frontier.
Life for the cowboy was rough, lonely, grueling. His life was not for the faint of heart. It was full of hard work, low pay, and very little sleep. Many of them died young. Accidents on cattle drives, Indian skirmishes, and disease claimed the lives of cowboys.
A Day in the Life of the American Cowboy
Everyday life was difficult for the American Cowboy. He would wake up before sunrise, eat some chuck (a quick breakfast of bacon, beans, bread, and coffee), and get to work.
Work lasted about 15 to 18 hours a day. And most of that time was spent in the saddle. He roped, branded, and castrated cattle, and culled out the herd. Cowboys also mended corrals and fences, tended water for the herd, constructed barns, sheds, and even homes, fixed wagons, and shoed horses.
When on a cattle drive he might have slept a few hours on his bedroll under the open night sky. But if it was his turn to guard and tend the herd, there was no time for shut-eye.
Workdays were just as long and difficult on the ranch as they were on a cattle drive. But the living conditions worse in the small bunkhouse than they were out on the range.
The bunkhouse the cowboys and ranch hands shared was drafty and leaky, cold in winter, and stiflingly hot in summer. Their beds were plagued with lice. And the smell! Imagine a small room full of men who had worked hard with horses and cows all day, and who might bathe. once a week. in the summer. If there was a lake or stream nearby or a tub big enough to bathe in, they’d clean up once a week. If not, they wouldn’t bother. In the wintertime, most wouldn’t even think about bathing until spring.
Nights were lonely. They were spent catching up on lost sleep, playing poker, or holding Kangaroo court. Some cowboys sang songs, played the guitar or harmonica, and wrote poetry for entertainment.
Experience the Life of the American Cowboy with Fort Laramie Bed and Breakfast
Fort Laramie Bed and Breakfast is located on a working ranch that offers a western experience without the daily duties of the American Cowboy. You won’t experience the grueling work of the cowboy when you stay with us. We teach you the art of roping, give you a Stetson to wear, feed you chuck wagon meals served with Cowboy Coffee. You can even bathe outside if you’d like to, but not in a nearby lake or stream. Only the best accommodations are offered (free of lice and the smell of hard-working men).
It’s a western experience full of love for American Cowboy history and his iconic way of life. Book your stay today. Call Arnold and Kathy Tollefson at (307) 532-6496.
1 (307) 532-6496
Open May thru September
Open on a limited basis October thru April