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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

In terms of description,
'cowboy' has been varied

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

There is little question of which came first, the cow or the cowboy.

The wild ox of prehistory seemed to have been here first, and man domesticated the beast for food. This decision was not well thought out, as man later found he would have to tend the beast's needs until eternity.

Once this mistake was discovered by mature males, the job of tending the beasts fell to their sons, usually young boys, hence the first notation of cowboys.

As shown in cave wall pictographs, temple walls and written in the Bible, tending of cattle evolved into herding and herders. Without fences, livestock of all types, including large poultry, had to be removed from crop areas until such crops were harvested. This was called transhumance. Somewhere during this period, a few herders became tired of walking and began riding jackasses, thus becoming the first mounted cowboys.

During the Norman Conquest, the young boys tending herds were called "cattle lads." After migration to New America, those same lads became the first American cowboys. At one time in early history, the term cowboy took on a taint of criminal bent, as Tory sympathizers sent their young cowboys to raid the herds and barns of those who supported the Revolutionary War.

At about this time in history, the development of the cattle industry in North America began on two fronts, one in the Carolinas and deep in Mexico. Mounted cowboys in the Carolinas were called cowboys, with great respect. When migration to the West started, these same mounted cowboys drove the herds of horses, mules and other livestock along with the wagon trains.

After crossing the Mississippi and entering the dry, semidesert plains, the eastern cowboy's experiences among timbered hills, running rivers and creeks came up lacking. It was here he met the Spanish vaquero, meaning cow caretaker, spawned and experienced in deserts with little water. Quickly, they blended different experiences and became the real cowboys we know today.

With vast wild herds, no fences and few corrals to contain cattle, they took to the rope to brand and claim the wild herds as their own, then driving them to the nearest railroad markets. These years produced many terms, including cowman, trail driver, cow boss, trail boss, cow waddy and even cow person - a term used by the English ranchers.

A cowpuncher was described as an out-of-work and hungry cowboy, working at railroad shipping yards helping load cattle onto rail cars, using a long stick to urge them up the chutes.

A cowpoke was described in two ways. One rode along on rail cars carrying his boss' cattle, and at each stop he poked any cattle lying down in the car back on their feet and attended feeding and watering if the cattle were unloaded and rested.

Some called the "drag men" following along behind the trail herds "cowpokes," because they poked along behind the herds urging stragglers to move ahead.

Thanks to Judge Orland L. Sims, author of the book Cowpokes, Nesters, & So Forth, published by Encino Press in 1970, for the above information.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
February 6 , 2010 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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