What is a Cowboy?

a cowboy is man with guts and a horse. — will james.

Everyone has their own opinion. To some, a cowboy is the man riding a horse in a Marlboro cigarette ad. To others, a cowboy is someone who mistreats horses, animals and often children and women, too. This seems to be a definition preferred by Easterners who have never met a cowboy. It’s cowboy in the sense of someone who doesn’t have any sense at all.
For me cowboy is defined by the months I spent living and working with Dick Jones and his wife, Maureen. Dick and Maureen were natives of Wyoming and Dick was a Cowboy. He grew up on a horse and spent most of his life on ranches and working for outfitters. He was retired when I knew him and he sat a horse like it was a rocking chair. They owned one house in Cody and a ranch outside of town. He was a blunt man with no time for niceties. When you made him mad, you knew it and you apologized for it. We three girls who had hired on for the summer certainly tried him at times but he treated us like a foster father and every one of us loved him and respected him for it. He treated his horses as well as any I’ve ever seen but he didn’t pamper them. They were there to work and they did. I never saw Dick yank or snatch a horse. He was calm and patient and always got his way with them because he understood them.
Dick loved and respected his wife. She was a great lady– whip-thin with short, dyed auburn hair and snug Wranglers. She always had a Virginia Slim in her hand and her voice showed the strain of it. Her vocal cords were coated in nicotine. Maureen was just as blunt as Dick and worked us like mules but when we were finished she would shoo us off to our fun. Dick told me that on their first date he took her to a bar in Graybull and she said, “Do you have money, cowboy?” He told her he did and she looked at the bartender and said, “A round for the house on the cowboy.” I think it was about all Dick could do to pay the tab but she had him then. Maureen had brass and didn’t apologize for it. She was larger than life.
I loved them.
When I think cowboy, I think: A man who grew up around horses and cattle. A man who gets up every day before daybreak to take care of his horses and cattle. Someone who is kind but blunt. A man with backbone and grit. Respect. Humor. A great work ethic. A cowboy might rodeo but rodeoing does not make a cowboy.
“he’s still out there riding fences
still makes his living with his rope
as long as there’s a sunset he’ll keep riding for the brand
you just can’t see him from the road.”
Chris LeDoux
and maybe that’s the key: You don’t find a cowboy walking around trying to prove that he’s a cowboy. It’s just who he is. It’s his job. Kind of like being ship’s captain or a lumber jack–there’s no costume that proves it, no collection of stuff that will bring you closer. It’s just who a person is…or isn’t.

Gene Autry’s “Ten Commandments of the Cowboy”

1. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage.
2. A cowboy never betrays a trust.
3. A cowboy always tells the truth.
4. A cowboy is kind to small children, to old folks, and to animals.
5. A cowboy is free from racial and religious prejudice.
6. A cowboy is helpful and when anyone’s in trouble he lends a hand.
7. A cowboy is a good worker.
8. A cowboy is clean about his person and in thought, word, and deed.
9. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents, and the laws of his country.
10. A cowboy is a patriot.

Just for the record, I do not claim to be a ‘Cowgirl’ but I also don’t believe the saying, “It takes one to know one.”


About Bettina Colonna Essert

Illuminated Magdalene High Priestess and facilitator of empowerment and healing circles for girls and women, including a monthly Red Tent Temple. BA in English, minor in anthropology. Waldorf homeschool mom. Reiki master, cranial sacral therapist, herbalist, menstruvist, feminist, epicurian.
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