When people think about the Old West in United States History, so much of the story is romanticized. Rarely do people ever think about how cattle drives led to bloody conflicts as more of the west was settled and the land claimed by farmers and ranchers. Those cattle drives and clashes may be a thing of the past, but so much of that space is still ranched the way it was during that time period. Yes, ladies, the American Cowboy still lives.
Let’s look for a moment at the example set by a specific cattle ranch, the Watrous Valley Ranch in New Mexico owned by Rebecca and Michael Jusbasche. With a completely restored period ranch house, this property is a traditionally run cattle ranch. Cowboys still ride horses to perform duties like checking on the herd, removing sick animals for quarantine and treatment, branding and separating the calves from the calves when it’s time to wean the little ones from their moms. The fences still need to be checked often and repaired. Herds are still moved from one pasture to another by driving them from horseback. Ranchers and their hands still get together to both complete their seasonal tasks and show off riding and roping skills.
Also, read The Heartbreak Cowboy Book Tour
A Variety of Proficiencies
Riding and roping are two important skills for which every cowboy needs. Knowing how to do both takes practice and patience. Each person also needs to be well-versed in the ailments that can affect the animals on the ranch. A herd dog who can’t run is no help to moving the herd. A sick cow can quickly infect an entire herd of 500 head if that cow isn’t isolated for treatment as quickly as possible. A horse with a stone in his shoe can become lame, costing the ranch in lost labor hours and veterinary bills. Healthy, well-treated animals are a ranch’s livelihood. Knowing how to spot and prevent pest infestations can save both animals and crops. Then there are the other skills like branding, harvesting the ranch’s crop fields and maintaining equipment like combines and tractors, saddles and bridles.
You’ve seen pictures of the typical cowboy, but have you ever asked why they wear what they wear? Head to toe, the cowboy dresses for practicality instead of fashion. A high-crowned cowboy hat with a wide brim protects the cowboy’s head and neck from sun damage. The high crown aids in keeping the cowboy cool. Hats are made from either straw or felt. The straw is cooler and lighter, but more easily blown off in the wind. The felt is durable and heavy. It’s less likely to blow off in the wind, but it is warmer than straw. Light cotton long-sleeved shirts allow the cowboy to roll the sleeves up in the heat or down to protect their arms. Gloves are frequent options. Denim jeans allow for both movement flexibility and durability. Boots cover the calves to protect the lower legs. If spurs are worn, the edges aren’t pointed. Their purpose isn’t to damage the horse, just to encourage the horse’s movement.
The modern American cowboy lives much as those did in the Old West.