Wyoming, a Guide to Its History, Highways, and People

By Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Wyoming | Go to book overview

Folklore and Folkways

THE cowboy is the most important figure in Wyoming folklore. In this country of strong wills and tastes, there is a local fondness for the tradition of the cowpuncher's regalia and his feats at corral and bar. Less commonly understood is the fact that calf-roping and broncobusting are chores that the ranch hand may be called on to perform a dozen times a day in the course of earning his 'forty dollars and found.' Common apparel also has been a source of wonderment to visitors, who usually do not know that the big hat, the loose shirt, the leather chaps, and the high-heeled boots are strictly utilitarian in purpose; that the jaunty effect of the costume is a by-product albeit a prized one. However, familiar tests of strength and endurance and the stories that spread the cowboy's fame through bunkhouse and parlor represent a type of American folklore that is still in the making. Yarn- spinning is inspired by hours in the saddle. The tales 'traded' give life and currency to such expressions as 'cow sense,' 'chew it finer,' 'maverick,' 'raking a horse,' 'rustler,' 'hog tie,' and 'running iron.' And in the glow of roundup fires, tales of fearless men and horses, blazing suns and congealing winters, still make the rounds and grow better with telling.

Sometimes the cowboy sang with his fellows or alone on the night ride. Typical themes were the cowman's life and loves, and the beauty of prairies and mountains. Many of the songs followed the longhorns up from the Southwest; others originated in the State. They were usually melancholy, full of pathos and love of mother and home. Most often they were quiet and in contrast to the accepted notion of the carefree, roving cowboy (seeMusic).

Throughout the Rocky Mountain and Plains region, and especially in Wyoming, ghosts and restless spirits are rare. A few phantom riders have been known, especially where unexplained killings have occurred. Above one famous hot spring in the Big Horn Basin a pale man on a white horse floats in the mist. Ghost lights appear in a small area south

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