Q&A Questions and Answers:
Where did cowboys sleep?
When you've spent a hard day on the trail, the last thing you want is to spend an uncomfortable night -- tossing and turning on the hard ground or shivering in the cold night air. To solve this problem, the cowboy brought along his "sugan" (sometimes spelled soogan or sougan). A sugan was a wool blanket, down-filled quilt or featherbed which was wrapped in a waterproof canvas cover. The word appears to be derived from an old Irish word denoting a type of straw rope -- possibly referring either to the ropes used to tie the early bedrolls or to the fact that many beds consisted of ropes wrapped around a simple frame.
Before putting that bedroll on the ground, a savvy cowhand would check for sticks or stones on the ground and hollow out spots for his hips and shoulders. While camping on the ground recently, I was struck by the fact that just taking a little time to prepare the ground can result in a night of sleep that's about as comfortable as sleeping in my bed at home. Come to think of it, I recall seeing the adobe bed in Kit Carson's reconstructed home at Rayado, New Mexico. As I remember the story, Kit figured that his house should have a civilized sort of bed, so he bought a nice, soft one. Well, he tossed and turned on that contraption for a little while -- then went back to his hard adobe slab... which he slept on as long as he lived he lived in Rayado.
If the weather was very cold, windy, or rainy, the cowboy might also pitch a canvas tent or use a canvas "shelter half" for extra protection. (The top photo shows a young rider on the Grand Rapids to Effie trail ride who used a reproduction of the traditional mountain man's shelter half. He rigged it as a tent on the rainy first night, as a hammock on the second night, and as a plain ground cloth wrapped around his blanket for the rest of the week.)
A sugan, if filled with down or feathers, was rather bulky, so the cowboy would toss it in the chuck wagon or on some other wagon for transport between camps. The sleeping gear was much too large to simply be tied behind his saddle. If he were traveling by himself, he would probably have a pack animal for his gear.
While working near the ranch headquarters, of course, the cowboy had a regular bed in the bunkhouse -- which could be anything from a crude log cabin to a finished frame building.
(The black and white photos were taken in 1939 on the Walking X Ranch in Texas. Photos courtesy of Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.)
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