The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture / Edition 1

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The lives of American cowboys have been both real and mythic; hence our continuing fascination with their history and culture. In sixteen essays and an annotated bibliography, scholars explore cowboy music, dress, humor, films, and literature. Some examine the cowboy’s powerful symbolic life. Others look at African American, Hispanic, Native American, French, and English cowboys, the great cowboy strike of 1883, and even the origins of the term cowboy itself. Celebrating the cowboy way, the essays also come to grips with false images and the make-believe world that surrounds cowboy culture. Nonetheless, these essays demonstrate, the American cowboy is destined to remain the most easily recognized of all western character types, a knight of the road who, with a large hat, tall boots, and a big gun, rode justifiably into legend and into the history books.“Cowboys—both mythic and real—have become part of an American epic that is commemorated from Denver to Dresden, from Montreal to Melbourne. Their image is burned deep into America’s collective consciousness. . . .“The abiding interest has a long history. It can be seen first in the attraction of dime novels and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Exhibition, then in the enormous popularity of Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902), and subsequently in the success of popular western novels of the type by Zane Grey and Max Brand, in western films (made in Italy and Germany and Hollywood and elsewhere), in television programs, in public television documentaries, and in other formats, including the highly effective use of cowboys as advertising symbols. Serious scholars, including historians, sociologists, literary critics, and others, have studied cowboys and the symbols and myths that surround them.“In the popular view cowboys were men on horseback. In fact, most of the time they spent their days on foot working at such farm-related chores as repairing fences and cutting hay. Even in Wister’s defining cowboy novel, for example, the hero of the story—the prototypal cowboy—herded neither cows nor cattle of any kind.“Nonetheless, in both his actual and his imagined life the cowboy has become a popular hallmark for defining what it means to be a ‘real’ American male. Perceived as a tough, mobile, and independent outdoorsman, he has become a symbolic yardstick against which modern men might measure their own manhood.” —Paul Carlson“Few readers of The Cowboy Way will be surprised that real cowboys of the late nineteenth century differed markedly from their twentieth-century mythical counterparts, but they may learn much about the nature and extent of that difference.” —Western Historical Quarterly. “[Helps] us distinguish the historical reality of the cowhand from the myths that now surround the cowboy. . . . Both a general audience and scholars will appreciate this volume.” —Southwestern Historical Quarterly.“Whether discussing the myth or the reality of the cowboy, his work clothes, his place in film history, his humor, or his songs, these essays once again demonstrate the strength of the cowboy as cultural icon.” —Roundup Magazine. “Promises to get at the truth behind the cowboy myth . . . [and suggests] all kinds of reasons why the cowboy should have held his place in the American imagination for so long.” —Bloomsbury Review.Sixteen essays explore cowboy music, dress, humor, films, and literature. Some examine the cowboy’s powerful symbolic life. Others look at African American, Hispanic, Native American, French, and English cowboys, the great cowboy strike of 1883, and even the origins of the term cowboy itself.Paul H. Carlson is professor of history at Texas Tech University. He has published many articles and several books, including Deep Time and the Texas High Plains (Texas Tech 2005).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780896724259
  • Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul H. Carlson is professor of history at Texas Tech University. He has published many articles and several books, including Deep Time and the Texas High Plains (Texas Tech 2005).
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2001

    The Cowboy Way Infects Many

    The term 'cowboy way' has an infectious effect on those who love cowboys and everything about them. If this is truly the case, then Paul H. Carlson is infected. He is deathly ill from 'cowboy fever.' His book The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture is loaded with sixteen essays all dealing with cowboy culture. Each is well written and thoroughly researched. Paul H. Carlson is a professor of history at Texas Tech University. He has written a number of articles and several books that deal with Western American culture. Two of his books are Empire Builder in the Texas Panhandle: William Henry Bush and The Plains Indians. Since Carlson is the editor and also a contributor to The Cowboy Way, there are many other authors to make mention of. Lawrence Clayton is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Hardin-Simmons University. He has written several books, including Historic Ranches of Texas and Watkins Reynolds Matthews: Biography of a Texas Rancher. J'Nell L. Pate is a professor of history at Tarrant County College and has written many articles and four books dealing with western history, including the award-winning Livestock Legacy: The Fort Worth Stockyards, 1887-1987. Other authors that contributed include graduate students, a freelance writer, an archivist, a reference librarian, a book review editor for the Permian Historical Annual, a French teacher, and the Executive Vice President of San Antonio College, Robert E. Zeigler. (pp. 217-219) In his preface, Carlson begins by saying, 'Although there is no dominant thesis, there are many themes.' (p. ix) Carlson is correct in saying there are many themes throughout the book. Each essay deals with a specific aspect of cowboys and their way of life. I must disagree with his denying the existence of an overall thesis. From what I could garner from the book as a whole, it is an effort to help the public get the truth about cowboys. I might suggest that the thesis is cowboys are an important part of America's past, but much myth has been made out of them. The book is not intended to destroy that myth but to educate us about it. There is still much about the cowboys that the public does not know. One of the essays, 'Today's Cowboy: Coping with a Myth' written by Lawrence Clayton, expounds on this point. There are some out there who want to destroy the cowboy myth entirely. Clayton refers to them as 'demythologizers.' They 'describe the cowboy as only a hired hand working for low wages . . . He was just a laborer who happened to ride a horse to do his work.' (pp. 201-202) Clayton goes on to describe what efforts the demythologizers are making. He concludes by saying that with all those efforts they are not making much headway. He says that the truth about cowboys has no effect on the public. People love the cowboy and enjoy the 'aura of romance that elevates him to a pure-hatred knight-errant.' (p. 205) Carlson's essay, 'Myth and the Modern Cowboy,' expounds more on the same point. The truth and the myth both exist. It is our choice to accept or not accept both. Many of the topics or themes covered in the book help to reinforce the thesis. Each is designed to educate and not to destroy the myth. They include the origins of the word 'cowboy'; discussions on vaqueros, African American cowboys, and American Indian cowboys; cowboy labor strikes; clothing cowboys wore; cowboy relationships with sheepherders and Europeans; cowboy humor; the origins of the rodeo; and western movies. Each essay is well researched and documented. Their sources include interviews, newspapers, journal articles, photographs, surveys, movies, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog, and books written by other historians. Each essay is easy to read and very informative. One essay that I really enjoyed was 'Black Cowboy: Daniel Webster `80 John' Wallace' written by Douglas Hales. Hales gives a brief history of Daniel Webster Wallace who was born a slave and died a rich cattleman. At a young age, just a

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