The Modern Cowboy

The Modern Cowboy

The Modern Cowboy

The Modern Cowboy


The American cowboy is a mythical character who refuses to die," says author John R. Erickson. On the one hand he is a common man: a laborer, a hired hand who works for wages. Yet in his lonely struggle against nature and animal cunning, he becomes larger than life. Who is this cowboy? Where did he come from and where is he today?

Erickson addresses these questions based on firsthand observation and experience in Texas and Oklahoma. And in the process of describing and defining the modern working cowboy#151;his work, his tools and equipment, his horse, his roping technique, his style of dress, his relationships with his wife and his employer#151;Erickson gives a thorough description of modern ranching, the economic milieu in which the cowboy operates.

The first edition of this book was published in 1981. For this second edition Erickson has thoroughly revised and expanded the book to discuss recent developments in cowboy culture, making The Modern Cowboy the most up-to-date source on cowboy and ranch life today.


In 1978 and 1979 I was working as a cowboy on a ranch in Beaver County, Oklahoma. In the depths of January, I drove over to the next ranch and found my good friend and cowboy companion, Jake Parker. “Jake,” I said, “we’re about to starve out. We just can’t make it on six hundred dollars a month. Inflation is killing us and I’m so tired of feeding cattle seven days a week, I could scream.” Jake nodded.

In February I caught Jake as he was coming in from his feed run. “Jake,” I said, “we’re just barely getting by. If everyone stays healthy and the car doesn’t break down, we’ll make it. But if something goes wrong … I guess I’d better start looking around for another line of work.”

Jake nodded. He understood.

In March I helped Jake do some cattle work. It was the first time we had been horseback since fall. The day was warm and most of the snow had melted off the sandhills. Our horses felt good and so did we. “Parker,” I said, “I’m looking forward to spring roundup season, aren’t you?” He smiled and said, “You bet.”

In April we were riding on a roundup crew, laughing and joking with the other cowboys, drinking in the spring air, working our horses, and playing with our ropes. And I said, “You know, Parker, we’re lucky that somebody will pay us money for doing this.” Jake laughed and said, “Yalp.”

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