Cowboys: Myth V. Reality

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The American Cowboy
Discuss the American cowboy in terms of myth vs. reality. How and why did this less than glamorous historical figure become transformed into our romantic “All-American” national hero?
The traditional cowboy depicted in media is noble, heroic, determined, and humble – all qualities that many individuals would like to possess themselves. So it is no wonder that America has adopted this image of the rugged do-gooder as its national symbol. Through these expectations the image of the cowboy and the values he holds have been shaped and molded by years of cinema into an almost completely false assumption of what true cowboys did and how they behaved.

Even popular assumptions of a cowboy’s physical appearance are often false. Cowboys in cinema are generally tall with impressive builds. However, for practicality, true cowboys tended to be shorter with smaller builds, since horses would have not been able to support the wait of a six foot four heavy weight champion for very long. Despite the many fallacies surrounding the traditional cowboy a few descriptions of the cowboy’s appearances are somewhat accurate, such as the wearing of wide-brimmed hats, boots, Levis, and bandannas. However true, some of these wardrobe staples may have not been used for the purposes we believe. For example bandannas were not worn to mask a cowboy’s identity, but were in fact used as dust guards when riding behind a herd of cattle. Another unfortunately true description of the cowboy’s appearance was that they were rugged and dirty. Cowboys would travel on horseback herding hundreds of cattle for 1200-1500 miles over the course of a few months and they would not bathe often during these treks.

While some of the physical aspects of the cowboy’s appearance may have been accurate, the behavioral aspects of his image are almost entirely created by media. One of the most popular images of the cowboy is that he is courageous and dedicated to justice. In reality however,...
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