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A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos. Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well documented historical role, but in the modern world work at identical tasks and have obtained considerable respect for their achievements. Cattle handlers in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, perform work similar to the cowboy.
The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest European settlers of the Americas. Over the centuries, differences in terrain and climate, and the influence of cattle-handling traditions from multiple cultures, created several distinct styles of equipment, clothing and animal handling. As the ever-practical cowboy adapted to the modern world, his equipment and techniques also adapted, though many classic traditions are preserved.
The English word cowboy was derived from vaquero, a Spanish word for an individual who managed cattle while mounted on horseback. Vaquero was derived from vaca, meaning \"cow\", which came from the Latin word vacca. \"Cowboy\" was first used in print by Jonathan Swift in 1725, and was used in the British Isles from 1820 to 1850 to describe young boys who tended the family or community cows. Originally though, the English word \"cowherd\" was used to describe a cattle herder (similar to \"shepherd\", a sheep herder), and often referred to a pre-adolescent or early adolescent boy, who usually worked on foot. This word is very old in the English language, originating prior to the year 1000.
By 1849 \"cowboy\" had developed its modern sense as an adult cattle handler of the American West. Variations on the word appeared later. \"Cowhand\" appeared in 1852, and \"cowpoke\" in 1881, originally restricted to the individuals who prodded cattle with long poles to load them onto railroad cars for shipping. Names for a cowboy in American English include buckaroo, cowpoke, cowhand, and cowpuncher. Another English word for a cowboy, buckaroo, is an anglicization of vaquero (Spanish pronunciation: [baˈkeɾo]).
Today, \"cowboy\" is a term common throughout the west and particularly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, \"buckaroo\" is used primarily in the Great Basin and California, and \"cowpuncher\" mostly in Texas and surrounding states.
Because of the time and physical ability needed to develop necessary skills, both historic and modern cowboys often began as an adolescent. Historically, cowboys earned wages as soon as they developed sufficient skill to be hired (often as young as 12 or 13). If not crippled by injury, cowboys may handle cattle or horses for a lifetime. In the United States, a few women also took on the tasks of ranching and learned the necessary skills, though the \"cowgirl\" (discussed below) did not become widely recognized or acknowledged until the close of the 19th century. On western ranches today, the working cowboy is usually an adult. Responsibility for herding cattle or other livestock is no longer considered suitable for children or early adolescents. Boys and girls growing up in a ranch environment often learn to ride horses and perform basic ranch skills as soon as they are physically able, usually under adult supervision. Such youths, by their late teens, are often given responsibilities for \"cowboy\" work on the ranch.
\"Cowboy\" was used during the American Revolution to describe American fighters who opposed the movement for independence. Claudius Smith, an outlaw identified with the Loyalist cause, was called the \"Cow-boy of the Ramapos\" due to his penchant for stealing oxen, cattle and horses from colonists and giving them to the British. In the same period, a number of guerrilla bands operated in Westchester County, which marked the dividing line between the British and American forces. These groups were made up of local farmhands who would ambush convoys and carry out raids on both sides. There were two separate groups: the \"skinners\" fought for the pro-independence side, while the \"cowboys\" supported the British.
The origins of the cowboy tradition come from Spain, beginning with the hacienda system of medieval Spain. This style of cattle ranching spread throughout much of the Iberian peninsula, and later was imported to the Americas. Both regions possessed a dry climate with sparse grass, thus large herds of cattle required vast amounts of land to obtain sufficient forage. The need to cover distances greater than a person on foot could manage gave rise to the development of the horseback-mounted vaquero.
Though popularly considered American, the traditional cowboy began with the Spanish tradition, which evolved further in what today is Mexico and the Southwestern United States into the vaquero of northern Mexico and the charro of the Jalisco and Michoacán regions. While most hacendados (ranch owners) were ethnically Spanish criollos, many early vaqueros were Native Americans trained to work for the Spanish missions in caring for the mission herds. Vaqueros went north with livestock. In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate sent an expedition across the Rio Grande into New Mexico, bringing along 7000 head of cattle. From this beginning, vaqueros drove cattle from New Mexico and later Texas to Mexico City. Mexican traditions spread both South and North, influencing equestrian traditions from Argentina to Canada.
Black cowboys in the American West accounted for up to 25 percent of workers in the range-cattle industry from the 1860s to 1880s, estimated to be between 6,000 and 9,000 workers. Typically former slaves or children of former slaves, many black men had skills in cattle handling and headed West at the end of the Civil War.
By the 1880s, the expansion of the cattle industry resulted in a need for additional open range. Thus many ranchers expanded into the northwest, where there were still large tracts of unsettled grassland. Texas cattle were herded north, into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas. The cowboy adapted much of his gear to the colder conditions, and westward movement of the industry also led to intermingling of regional traditions from California to Texas, often with the cowboy taking the most useful elements of each.
Mustang-runners or Mesteñeros were cowboys and vaqueros who caught, broke and drove mustangs to market in Mexico, and later American territories of what is now Northern Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and California. They caught the mustangs that roamed the Great Plains and the San Joaquin Valley of California, and later in the Great Basin, from the 18th century to the early 20th century.
In order to find young calves for branding, and to sort out mature animals intended for sale, ranchers would hold a roundup, usually in the spring. A roundup required a number of specialized skills on the part of both cowboys and horses. Individuals who separated cattle from the herd required the highest level of skill and rode specially trained \"cutting\" horses, trained to follow the movements of cattle, capable of stopping and turning faster than other horses. Once cattle were sorted, most cowboys were required to rope young calves and restrain them to be branded and (in the case of most bull calves) castrated. Occasionally it was also necessary to restrain older cattle for branding or other treatment.
A large number of horses were needed for a roundup. Each cowboy would require three to four fresh horses in the course of a day's work. Horses themselves were also rounded up. It was common practice in the west for young foals to be born of tame mares, but allowed to grow up \"wild\" in a semi-feral state on the open range. There were also \"wild\" herds, often known as mustangs. Both types were rounded up, and the mature animals tamed, a process called horse breaking, or \"bronco-busting\", usually performed by cowboys who specialized as horse trainers. In some cases, extremely brutal methods were used to tame horses, and such animals tended to never be completely reliable. Other cowboys recognized their need to treat animals in a more humane fashion and modified their horse training methods, often re-learning techniques used by the vaqueros, particularly those of the Californio tradition. Horses trained in a gentler fashion were more reliable and useful for a wider variety of tasks.
Informal competition arose between cowboys seeking to test their cattle and horse-handling skills against one another, and thus, from the necessary tasks of the working cowboy, the sport of rodeo developed.
On average, a single herd of cattle on a drive numbered about 3,000 head. To herd the cattle, a crew of at least 10 cowboys was needed, with three horses per cowboy. Cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft. The crew also included a cook, who drove a chuck wagon, usually pulled by oxen, and a horse wrangler to take charge of the remuda, or herd of spare horses. The wrangler on a cattle drive was often a very young cowboy or one of lower social status, but the cook was a particularly well-respected member of the crew, as not only was he in charge of the food, he also was in charge of medical supplies and had a working knowledge of practical medicine. 59ce067264