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

By Jacqueline M. Moore | Go to book overview

2
From Boys to Men

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 the cowboys they saw on the ranches or that they read about in dime novels and believed they embodied the very ideal of manhood. With their devil-may-care attitude toward society, cowboys mirrored the freedom that all young boys wanted from their parents, and they seemed to live an ideal life without responsibility. They performed dazzling feats of skill riding and roping that boys longed to be able to do themselves. Moreover, the hazing rituals cowboys used emphasized that acceptance among them was a privilege, and provided an irresistible challenge. Cowboys offered a clear path to manhood that boys could understand: master the skills and gain acceptance and you were a man.

Boys on the Texas cattle frontier thus measured their manhood in their abilities to perform the jobs the cowboys did and to act as much like them as they could, even as many adults worried that cowboys were poor role models. As a result, parents tried to ensure their sons would have at least a basic education to serve them later in life and to prolong their sons' departure from home. Cattlemen encouraged their sons to learn the skills of the cowboys as part of the business, but also instilled in them a sense that they were a part of something greater than the cow camps. They judged whether their sons had achieved manhood by whether they understood this larger role and acted in a way consistent with it. For cattlemen, the steps to acceptance were marriage and land ownership rather than hazing rituals, steps that increased their sons' responsibilities, rather than leading

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction: The West, the Man, and the Myth 1
  • Part I - Doing the Job 17
  • 1: Of Men and Cattle 19
  • 2: From Boys to Men 43
  • 3: At Work 68
  • Part II - Having Fun 107
  • 4: A Society of Men 109
  • 5: Men and Women 141
  • 6: In Town 168
  • Epilogue: The Cowboy Becomes Myth 204
  • Notes 217
  • Index 263
  • About the Author 269
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