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Cow Boys and Cattle Men

Cow Boys and Cattle Men: Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier, 1865-1900

Jacqueline M. Moore
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 281
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  • Book Info
    Cow Boys and Cattle Men
    Book Description:

    Cowboys are an American legend, but despite ubiquity in history and popular culture, misperceptions abound. Technically, a cowboy worked with cattle, as a ranch hand, while his boss, the cattleman, owned the ranch. Jacqueline M. Moore casts aside romantic and one-dimensional images of cowboys by analyzing the class, gender, and labor histories of ranching in Texas during the second half of the nineteenth century.As working-class men, cowboys showed their masculinity through their skills at work as well as public displays in town. But what cowboys thought was manly behavior did not always match those ideas of the business-minded cattlemen, who largely absorbed middle-class masculine ideals of restraint. Real men, by these standards, had self-mastery over their impulses and didn't fight, drink, gamble or consort with "unsavory" women. Moore explores how, in contrast to the mythic image, from the late 1870s on, as the Texas frontier became more settled and the open range disappeared, the real cowboys faced increasing demands from the people around them to rein in the very traits that Americans considered the most masculine.Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5984-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jacqueline Moore
  4. Introduction The West, the Man, and the Myth
    (pp. 1-16)

    We paint the history of the West, particularly Texas, in traditionally masculine terms. Men tamed the frontier, broke horses, subdued Indians, and dominated the landscape, forcing it to yield to their needs. The Old West made men. In the 1920s and 1930s, old-time cowboys looked back fondly to a time when “men were men and women weren’t governors,” and argued that the movie cowboys had been over “prettified.”¹ One chronicler from the 1940s went as far as to proclaim, “The history of West Texas is essentially the history of men.”² The cowboy has become an icon of Anglo masculinity to...


    • 1 Of Men and Cattle
      (pp. 19-42)

      In order to understand ideals of masculinity among Texas cowboys and cattlemen in the late nineteenth century and the ways in which these ideals evolved and conflicted, it is first necessary to examine the intersections of the history of the cattle industry and the history of masculinity during this period. Between 1865 and 1900, the years this book covers, there were tremendous changes in American society, primarily as a result of industrialization, the rise of corporate monopolies, and the development of the industrial working class. The cattle business was no exception. Large private and corporate ranchers fenced in their lands...

    • 2 From Boys to Men
      (pp. 43-67)

      The boys who became cowboys and cattlemen drew their ideas of what it meant to be a man from the men they grew up around. Childhood experiences varied widely depending on their geographic origins or economic circumstances, but all looked to easily identifiable personas they could try on for themselves. The heroes they chose were often active ones to match their own energy and rough play. It was much easier for boys from any social class to play Indian scout or explorer than lawyer or accountant, and far more fun.¹ Most Texas boys, like boys elsewhere in the country, idolized...

    • 3 At Work
      (pp. 68-106)

      As industrial capitalism rose in the late nineteenth century, economic success became far less certain and fortunes far less stable than before. Workers had less choice over their working conditions and had fewer opportunities to rise above their situation based on hard work. Many clung to older artisan ideals of manliness which emphasized independence, hard work, and pride in one’s labor, all of which were challenged by modern corporate methods. Businessmen faced increasingly competitive markets in which stock speculation, labor protest, and the whims of a consumer public could shape their fortunes more than their own behavior. In this environment...


    • 4 A Society of Men
      (pp. 109-140)

      Texas ranch life in the late nineteenth century was predominantly an all-male environment that was at the same time both appealing and out of step with modern society. Both cowboys and cattlemen were influenced by this context, but cattlemen looked outside the ranch for affirmation of their manhood, while cowboys looked mainly to each other. Cattlemen spent as much time in town as in the cow camps, and while sharing some of the same beliefs about honor and masculinity with their employees, they valued their interactions with “civilized” society much more. A good cattleman and leader was both physical and...

    • 5 Men and Women
      (pp. 141-167)

      The relationships that cowboys and cattlemen established with women affected their concept of their own masculinity but also reflected class differences. Although cattlemen spent much time in the company of their wives and daughters, most cowboys had only episodic contact with women. But both shared prevailing Victorian attitudes about respectable women as innocent and in need of protection. The degree to which men could protect women, moreover, was a traditional marker of manhood. To the cattlemen, women could only enhance their masculine image. As a prominent member of society, the cattleman could add to the community with his choice of...

    • 6 In Town
      (pp. 168-203)

      As cowboys faced increasing restrictions at work, they relied more on their leisure activities to provide them with a sense of manhood. They relished their freedom when they were done working, but in letting off steam they also publicly showcased their own standards of masculine behavior while mocking civilized society. Many of the early frontier towns owed their existence to working men and their needs, so economics usually triumphed over morality. However, as more settlers moved into the region and as the cattlemen built houses in town for their families, the towns developed other economic interests as well as social...

    • Epilogue: The Cowboy Becomes Myth
      (pp. 204-216)

      By 1900, many people had come to see cowboy skills such as riding and roping as simply decorative. As one former cowboy noted, “the expert roper and rider, is admired only for his skill, and not for his usefulness.”¹ As the frontier became more settled, the cowboy of old had become more of a public spectacle than ideal worker. Denison, Texas, near the Red River and the Shawnee Trail, had been as wild, if not more so, than Fort Griffin in its early years; but even by 1876, genuine cowboys were a rare sight in that town. At the age...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 217-262)
  8. Index
    (pp. 263-268)
  9. About the Author
    (pp. 269-269)