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Hi, Bob,

I'm doing a speech in class about "What is a cowboy?" I have been searching the internet. I just can't seem to find anything. My speech is four minutes long, so I can't use a book. I need some information on the history of the cowboy. If you could help I would be grateful.


- J.


You've got an interesting challenge ahead of you. Asking, "what is a cowboy?" is a lot like asking, "what is love?" You know it when you find it, but it's kinda hard to lasso with a definition.

The name itself is fairly basic: a simple combination of "cow" and "boy," because that's who they were. They were young fellows who herded cows. How young? Well, during the late 1800s the average cowhand was 24 years old. Some boys as young as eight were given charge of entire herds.

I've heard rumors that there were "cow-boys" in Britain before the first colonists came to North America. We know that cow boys were driving cattle from rural New England to Boston in the 1600s. At the time of the American Revolution, Britain hired "cowboys" who were loyal to the king to steal cattle from patriot farmers.

Also in the 1700s, Spanish settlers in the southwest were hiring native Indians and Mexicans to tend their herds. In Spanish, they were called "vaqueros" (pronounced "bah-ke'-roes") - which English-speakers converted into the word, "buckaroos." The boom years for cowboys were those between the Civil War and the invention of barbed wire in 1874.

Eventually, the name "cowboy" was defined as someone who tended cattle on horseback.

All of that, however, falls far short of the real meaning of a cowboy.

I've had folks instantly identify me as a cowboy when I wasn't riding a horse and there wasn't a cow within miles. My attire may have had something to do with it, but there's also a sense of character that goes with it.

So, what is a cowboy?

He can be young or old, rich or dirt-poor, of any race or religion.

A cowboy is someone who will tackle a job that may be painful or even deadly, and he'll do it simply because it needs to be done. He'll do his level best at a task no one else will even be aware of. Why? Because HE knows what kind of a job he did, and he wants to be proud of himself.

He won't hesitate a second before shooting a rattlesnake - but if a kid has a kitten that needs doctoring, a cowboy will ride 20 miles out of his way to take it to the vet's office. He may be rough-cut and poorly educated, but he keeps a tight rein on his language if there are children, womenfolk, or "respectable" men around.

A cowboy loves life as much as anyone, but if a bully threatens someone - especially someone weaker - a real cowboy won't hesitate to get in harm's way.

What is a cowboy? He's someone who is not afraid to take on the challenges of working with large - and dangerous - animals. At the same time, he's an incurable romantic who will remove his hat and say a prayer of thanks when he sees a beautiful sunset. He's a real man who takes pride in the fact that he can keep his manhood under strict control.

He's rough, yet always a gentleman. He loves the feel of a good horse under him, the sight of a calf frolicking in a field, a child's smile, the feel of wind and rain on his face, and the touch of a lady's hand in his.

If he gives his word, you can take it to the bank. He's your best friend or your worst enemy - all depending on the sort of person you are.

He's what all fellows - deep down inside - would really like to be.

What is a cowboy? I don't know. But I sure know one when I see him.

Happy Riding!

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