More about Mike Puhallo
Whence Came the Cowboy?
by Mike Puhallo
Hollywood might have us believe that the cowboy is a purely American icon born on the Texas plains. It is true that the great cattle drives of the post Civil War era provided the world with a brand new heroic figure.
From the lowly dime novels to the silver screen, the legend of the cowboy grew into the most recognizable image the world has ever seen.
Of course, it is a whole different perspective when cowboy is what you do instead of how you look.
From the Chilcotin Plateau to Argentina, from the Scottish Highlands to the land Down Under, cattlemen from nearly every continent have added to the legacy that began on the Andalusian Plains of central Spain.
People had been raising cattle in North Africa since way back in the Ice Age, but it was the Spanish vaquero who truly developed the art of ranching and working cattle on horseback. Over five hundred years ago they brought that culture to the New World. The culture of the vaquero thrived in California and old Mexico, while in Texas it evolved along a slightly different path, influenced by the many African American cowboys employed on the large Texas ranches as well as the influx of Southerners after the Civil War.
Whence came the cowboy? I think that question comes in for a little extra consideration here in Canada's Original Cowtown, because here in Southern British Columbia the ancient cattle traditions of the Scots and English met and merged with the ways of the California vaquero. This is where the first Indian cowboys in Canada learned their trade, riding alongside their Metis brothers.
English remittance men and the sons of Chinese prospectors have herded cattle and swapped lies with the descendants of Alabama slaves, Austrian aristocrats and Shuswap Chiefs in these bunchgrass hills.
Cowboys come from many diverse backgrounds and cultures and each has added something to the legend that just keeps on growing.
© 2005, Mike Puhallo, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
This article first appeared in the BC Cowboy Heritage Society (BCCHS) 2005 Winter/Spring newsletter. "Whence Came the Cowboy" is the theme of the Ninth Annual Kamloops Cowboy Festival
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