Found 25 Resources containing: Cowgirl
New York Times, December 11, 1936, pg. 24.
Black-and-white study print (8x10).
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
"Herbert Haseltine: Rodeo Impressions, December 10-19, 1936," New York: Carroll Carstairs Gallery, 1936.
New York Times, December 11, 1936, pg. 24.
Black-and-white study print (8x10).
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
Outfitted for this portrait in a homemade floral-embroidered skirt and matching blouse, sharpshooter Annie Oakley balanced dual roles as a performer and a domestically well-versed woman during a time in which it was considered uncouth for "proper" women to use firearms or perform on stage. For seventeen years beginning in 1885, the year when this photograph is believed to have been taken, Oakley was a major attraction in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Widely admired for her sharpshooting skills—the Lakota leader Sitting Bull gave her the nickname "Little Sure Shot"—she was also applauded for her adherence to Victorian etiquette. Oakley personified the western cowgirl who could outshoot a man during the day and cook a roast for her husband at night.
Twenty years ago, California rancher John Dofflemyer and his bride took their vows surrounded by poets, musicians, storytellers—and cowboys. The setting was the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, an event Dofflemyer had been attending since 1989. Surrounded by a sea of cowboy hats, the pair jumped over two brooms decorated with bouquets, starting a fresh life together before settling in for the rest of the festival in Elko, Nevada.
Now in its 32nd year, the gathering has blossomed from a small group of cowboy poets reciting on stage to a list of nearly 50 bards and musicians, plus artists, dancers, movie producers, scholars and audiences numbering in the thousands. The festival runs for one week each January at seven locations throughout Elko that host everything from poetry readings and open mics to evening dances and panel discussions, all focusing on life in the world of western ranching. There's no competition, no winners—just a group of cowboy poetry lovers sharing the art form in the best way they know how.
Cowboy poetry itself began on the frontier more than 150 years ago, Darcy Minter, communications director at the Western Folklife Center, tells Smithsonian.com. Cowboys would compose rhymes as they rode along, then sit by the campfire at night and share the poems with other riders. The oral tradition continued on in ranching communities and spread to families and groups of friends. A 1985 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed the Western Folklife Center to put together the festival, and it’s grown every year since.
This particular poetry gathering is unique because it doesn’t focus outright on past lyrical classics. “We don’t do history programs because we’re about a living tradition,” Minter says. “But the history comes through in the stories people tell, and in the poetry and the music.”
Here, the focus is on modern cowboys and current cowboy poetry, highlighting the differences—and similarities—between ranchers and non-ranchers alike.
“In my poetry, I try to bridge that rural-urban chasm by demonstrating that we, as a culture, are human,” Dofflemyer says. “We’re not cold and uncaring, we’re not the spoilers of the range—all that bad press that we live with.”
The poetry recited at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is true to that human spirit, telling stories of what life is actually like on the ranch and in the cowboy world, regardless of location. “Most of our performers are working ranchers, so the things they write about are the things they deal with every day out on the ranch,” Minter says. “They might be writing about horses, or they might be riding four-wheelers. It gives them a forum to help people understand what they do, who they are, what they care about.”
The festival draws cowboys from all over the world—in the past, ranchers have come from as far away as Europe, South America and Mongolia. Minter says this is one of the best things about the festival; it gives everyone a chance to see “we’re really not all that different” no matter where someone is based or even what gender they are. And women participate, too, though Minter says they prefer to be called cowboys instead of cowgirls because “cowgirl has a different connotation.”
Dofflemyer, for his part, isn’t in love with the cowboy moniker. “I’d like to think of myself, instead of a cowboy, as a cowman,” he says. “We’re raising cattle. It’s all about the cows, whereas a cowboy is kind of footloose. I like to think of myself as a rancher poet.” At the gathering, which he refers to as a family reunion, he reunites with the community he loves. But the poetry itself speaks to common cowboy themes that will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever ridden a horse—or dreamed of the freedom of the open range.
We know the sound, feel it
pound our flesh, reverberate
in our skulls, draw sinew tight
to hold on—to the moment
fleeting, bucking, kicking loose
the last of common sense.
No ordinary ride in the park
upon watered lawns spaced
between pampered shade trees,
we recognize the scent
of rain on sudden gusts,
feel skin shrink, follicles lift
us up, and the sweet cud
swirling above bovine beds,
flat mats of grass awakening.
Not quite wild, we are captive
in a maze of weathered hills,
fractured rock and families
of oaks where shadows slip
and voices stalk—whisper one
more metaphor upon our lips.
This year's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering runs through Saturday, January 30, 2016.
When New York redeveloped the city-adjacent Governors Island, it turned the former military post into a major cultural destination that artists flock to. But Manhattan certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on bays or fabulous art—and now, reports The New York Times’ Jori Finkel, San Francisco wants to get in on the action with a major redevelopment of Treasure Island.
The artificial isle in the Bay has deep cultural roots. It was built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, a world’s fair that turned the man-made island into a place to view everything from scantily clad cowgirls to live mural-painting by Diego Rivera.
Now, it’s set to get new life with an arts investment that will bring monumental artwork, cultural opportunities and restored public spaces to the island. The plan, which took years to develop, will take 20 years to fulfill—but when it’s complete, city officials hope they’ll have a destination that puts the much smaller Governors Island to shame.
As The New York Times’ Matt A.V. Chaban notes, the Governors Island project has taken more than 10 years and over $300 million. The Treasure Island project is comparably ambitious. According to the San Francisco Arts Commission, it will draw on a 1 percent public art tax built into the city’s planning code and levied on private developers. As Finkel reports, the commission plans to spend almost $50 million on private artwork over the next two decades.
Art is just the beginning—as SF Gate’s Charles Desmarais reports, the master plan also includes a hotel, a new ferry terminal and development of high-end housing (with 25 to 30 percent of the housing earmarked for affordable housing units). But the arts funding isn’t set in stone. Desmarais notes that funding is contingent on development costs, and that it will be paid out over 20 years. And San Francisco, which is in the midst of sweeping gentrification, may not welcome the news of even more expensive housing in a city with some of the least affordable housing in the nation.
Will Treasure Island be a beacon or a flop? Only time will tell. But while the project kicks off, you can get involved: The commission will soon ask the public for suggestions about what art to install.
Update, June 19, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect that the development will include affordable housing units.
How now, brown cow? That question may typically be asked only during elocution practice, but visitors to a farm in the Alps can ask it and actually mean it—as they ride atop a traditional Swiss cow.
At Bolderhof Farm in Hemishofen, Switzerland, visitors participate in cow trekking, an opportunity to climb onto a dairy cow and ride through the rivers and woods of the Rhine lowlands. Riders can choose between an hour-and-a-half ride and a four-hour, half-day excursion through the Alpine landscape.
If the idea sounds ridiculous, it's because it had a silly beginning. As Stephanie Rickenbacher, who handles guest relations at the farm, tells Smithsonian.com, it all began when farm owner Heinz Morgenegg wondered what a lazy cow would do if he climbed on her back while she lay on the ground. He tried, but the cow did nothing—except spark the idea for the cow rides. That was years ago; now people come from all over the world to take a bovine stroll at the farm.
The first step to successful cow riding is a speed date session with the herd where adults and children alike meet the cows and get acquainted—Morgenegg is a big believer in a good relationship between cows and their riders. Once cows and humans are comfortable, guests must put on a helmet and lead the cows out of the corral. Then it’s time to climb on up.
Once you’re on your cow—be it Umbra, Oklahoma, La Paloma or another—it’s time to get mooving. Don’t expect to take off at a trot, though. While a horse (usually) responds to its rider's speed preference, the cows at Bolderhof pick their own pace, which Rickenbacher says is “between slow and very slow.” The ride is calm and quiet, allowing riders to enjoy stress-free moments in the beauty of the Alps. There's a benefit to saddling up a cow instead of a horse: Cows don't really care about the kinds of things that might spook a horse. “If something happens around you, the cow stands still and looks,” Rickenbacher says.
The biggest challenge cow trekkers face are stalled rides because of some particularly delicious grass or corn along the route—a problem that can be fixed with a few pets and nice words to the cow. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to hop off and lead the heifer away from the distraction.
Cowboys and cowgirls on all tours return to the farm for a picnic-style refreshment of organic meat, cheese, bread and wine. And if you didn’t relax enough on the cow trek, Bolderhof has several other experiences to try. Visitors can milk the cows, saw wood, watch the farm’s herd of water buffalo, make cheese and even participate in an Olympic-style farm duties competition. The farm restaurant offers organic cuisine from food grown on-site. After dinner, guests can curl up in a straw bed or take to the top floor of a silo-shaped building with a retractable roof, a view of the stars over nearby Hemishofen, and the sound of cows crooning down below.
In his 1907 autobiography, cowboy Nat Love recounts stories from his life on the frontier so cliché, they read like scenes from a John Wayne film. He describes Dodge City, Kansas, a town smattered with the romanticized institutions of the frontier: “a great many saloons, dance halls, and gambling houses, and very little of anything else.” He moved massive herds of cattle from one grazing area to another, drank with Billy the Kid and participated in shootouts with Native peoples defending their land on the trails. And when not, as he put it, “engaged in fighting Indians,” he amused himself with activities like “dare-devil riding, shooting, roping and such sports.”
Though Love’s tales from the frontier seem typical for a 19th-century cowboy, they come from a source rarely associated with the Wild West. Love was African-American, born into slavery near Nashville, Tennessee.
Few images embody the spirit of the American West as well as the trailblazing, sharpshooting, horseback-riding cowboy of American lore. And though African-American cowboys don’t play a part in the popular narrative, historians estimate that one in four cowboys were black.
The cowboy lifestyle came into its own in Texas, which had been cattle country since it was colonized by Spain in the 1500s. But cattle farming did not become the bountiful economic and cultural phenomenon recognized today until the late 1800s, when millions of cattle grazed in Texas.
White Americans seeking cheap land—and sometimes evading debt in the United States—began moving to the Spanish (and, later, Mexican) territory of Texas during the first half of the 19th century. Though the Mexican government opposed slavery, Americans brought slaves with them as they settled the frontier and established cotton farms and cattle ranches. By 1825, slaves accounted for nearly 25 percent of the Texas settler population. By 1860, fifteen years after it became part of the Union, that number had risen to over 30 percent—that year’s census reported 182,566 slaves living in Texas. As an increasingly significant new slave state, Texas joined the Confederacy in 1861. Though the Civil War hardly reached Texas soil, many white Texans took up arms to fight alongside their brethren in the East.
While Texas ranchers fought in the war, they depended on their slaves to maintain their land and cattle herds. In doing so, the slaves developed the skills of cattle tending (breaking horses, pulling calves out of mud and releasing longhorns caught in the brush, to name a few) that would render them invaluable to the Texas cattle industry in the post-war era.
But with a combination of a lack of effective containment— barbed wire was not yet invented—and too few cowhands, the cattle population ran wild. Ranchers returning from the war discovered that their herds were lost or out of control. They tried to round up the cattle and rebuild their herds with slave labor, but eventually the Emancipation Proclamation left them without the free workers on which they were so dependent. Desperate for help rounding up maverick cattle, ranchers were compelled to hire now-free, skilled African-Americans as paid cowhands.An African-American cowboy sits saddled on his horse in Pocatello, Idaho in 1903. (Corbis)
“Right after the Civil War, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations,” says William Loren Katz, a scholar of African-American history and the author of 40 books on the topic, including The Black West.
Freed blacks skilled in herding cattle found themselves in even greater demand when ranchers began selling their livestock in northern states, where beef was nearly ten times more valuable than it was in cattle-inundated Texas. The lack of significant railroads in the state meant that enormous herds of cattle needed to be physically moved to shipping points in Kansas, Colorado and Missouri. Rounding up herds on horseback, cowboys traversed unforgiving trails fraught with harsh environmental conditions and attacks from Native Americans defending their lands.
African-American cowboys faced discrimination in the towns they passed through—they were barred from eating at certain restaurants or staying in certain hotels, for example—but within their crews, they found respect and a level of equality unknown to other African-Americans of the era.
Love recalled the camaraderie of cowboys with admiration. “A braver, truer set of men never lived than these wild sons of the plains whose home was in the saddle and their couch, mother earth, with the sky for a covering,” he wrote. “They were always ready to share their blanket and their last ration with a less fortunate fellow companion and always assisted each other in the many trying situations that were continually coming up in a cowboy's life.”
One of the few representations of black cowboys in mainstream entertainment is the fictional Josh Deets in Texas novelist Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. A 1989 television miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel starred actor Danny Glover as Deets, an ex-slave turned cowboy who serves as a scout on a Texas-to-Montana cattle drive. Deets was inspired by real-life Bose Ikard, an African-American cowboy who worked on the Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving cattle drive in the late-19th century.
The real-life Goodnight’s fondness for Ikard is clear in the epitaph he penned for the cowboy: “Served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches. Splendid behavior.”
“The West was a vast open space and a dangerous place to be,” says Katz. “Cowboys had to depend on one another. They couldn’t stop in the middle of some crisis like a stampede or an attack by rustlers and sort out who’s black and who’s white. Black people operated “on a level of equality with the white cowboys,” he says.
The cattle drives ended by the turn of the century. Railroads became a more prominent mode of transportation in the West, barbed wire was invented, and Native Americans were relegated to reservations, all of which decreased the need for cowboys on ranches. This left many cowboys, particularly African-Americans who could not easily purchase land, in a time of rough transition.
Love fell victim to the changing cattle industry and left his life on the wild frontier to become a Pullman porter for the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. “To us wild cowboys of the range, used to the wild and unrestricted life of the boundless plains, the new order of things did not appeal,” he recalled. “Many of us became disgusted and quit the wild life for the pursuits of our more civilized brother.”
Though opportunities to become a working cowboy were on the decline, the public’s fascination with the cowboy lifestyle prevailed, making way for the popularity of Wild West shows and rodeos.Bill Pickett invented "bulldogging," a rodeo technique to wrestle a steer to the ground. (Corbis)
Bill Pickett, born in 1870 in Texas to former slaves, became one of the most famous early rodeo stars. He dropped out of school to become a ranch hand and gained an international reputation for his unique method of catching stray cows. Modeled after his observations of how ranch dogs caught wandering cattle, Pickett controlled a steer by biting the cow’s lip, subduing him. He performed his trick, called bulldogging or steer wrestling, for audiences around the world with the Miller Brothers’ 101 Wild Ranch Show.
“He drew applause and admiration from young and old, cowboy to city slicker,” remarks Katz.
In 1972, 40 years after his death, Pickett became the first black honoree in the National Rodeo Hall of fame, and rodeo athletes still compete in a version of his event today. And he was just the beginning of a long tradition of African-American rodeo cowboys.
Love, too, participated in early rodeos. In 1876, he earned the nickname “Deadwood Dick” after entering a roping competition near Deadwood, South Dakota following a cattle delivery. Six of the contestants, including Love, were “colored cowboys.”
“I roped, threw, tied, bridled, saddled and mounted my mustang in exactly nine minutes from the crack of the gun,” he recalled. “My record has never been beaten.” No horse ever threw him as hard as that mustang, he wrote, “but I never stopped sticking my spurs in him and using my quirt on his flanks until I proved his master.”
Seventy-six-year-old Cleo Hearn has been a professional cowboy since 1959. In 1970, he became the first African-American cowboy to win a calf-roping event at a major rodeo. He was also the first African-American to attend college on a rodeo scholarship. He’s played a cowboy in commercials for Ford, Pepsi-Cola and Levi’s, and was the first African-American to portray the iconic Marlboro Man. But being a black cowboy wasn’t always easy—he recalls being barred from entering a rodeo in his hometown of Seminole, Oklahoma, when he was 16 years old because of his race.
“They used to not let black cowboys rope in front of the crowd,” says Roger Hardaway, a professor of history at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. “They had to rope after everybody went home or the next morning.”
But Hearn did not let the discrimination stop him from doing what he loved. Even when he was drafted into John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Honor Guard, he continued to rope and performed at a rodeo in New Jersey. After graduating with a degree in business from Langston University, Hearn was recruited to work at the Ford Motor Company in Dallas, where he continued to compete in rodeos in his free time.
In 1971, Hearn began producing rodeos for African-American cowboys. Today, his Cowboys of Color Rodeo recruits cowboys and cowgirls from diverse racial backgrounds. The touring rodeo features over 200 athletes who compete at several different rodeos throughout the year, including the well-known Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
Although Hearn aims to train young cowboys and cowgirls to enter the professional rodeo industry, his rodeo’s goals are two-fold. “The theme of Cowboys of Color is let us educate you while we entertain you,” he explains. “Let us tell you the wonderful things blacks, Hispanics and Indians did for the settling of the West that history books have left out.”
Though the forces of modernization eventually pushed Love from the life he loved, he reflected on his time as a cowboy with endearment. He wrote that he would “ever cherish a fond and loving feeling for the old days on the range its exciting adventures, good horses, good and bad men, long venturesome rides, Indian fights and last but foremost the friends I have made and friends I have gained. I gloried in the danger, and the wild and free life of the plains, the new country I was continually traversing, and the many new scenes and incidents continually arising in the life of a rough rider.”
African-American cowboys may still be underrepresented in popular accounts of the West, but the work of scholars such as Katz and Hardaway and cowboys like Hearn keep the memories and undeniable contributions of the early African-American cowboys alive.
Dog versus bear: An ancient duet of nature? Or an artificial battle royale staged by sport hunters?
Advocates and critics each flaunt the opposing characterizations—but either way, hound hunting can be simply defined: the pursuit of a large mammal using a pack of trained dogs that, often, chase the quarry up a tree. Many times, the human hunter, who often locates his dogs by following the signal emitted from their radio collars, shoots the animal out of the branches. Other times, the hunt ends without a gunshot as the houndsman, satisfied only by the chase, leashes his dogs and leads them away, leaving the quarry—very often a black bear, other times a cougar or bobcat—alive in the treetop. Still other times, the pursued animal may fail to make it up a tree and get mauled by the dogs.
This is hound hunting.
In England, foxes have long been the target animal of the sport as highbrow hunters on horseback follow their bawling hounds to the eventual death of the fox. Such hunting has been banned in the United Kingdom, though hunters seem to be thumbing their nose at the law; they continue mounting their steeds and trailing their hounds—”at least as much as ever,” according to one hunter quoted by the The Telegraph. And in America, hound hunting was romanticized in such literature as The Bear, by William Faulkner, and Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.
But state by state, the practice—call it a sport, a tradition, a hobby, a way of life—is becoming illegal as people sympathetic to the well-being of wild animals campaign to abolish hound hunting. Of the 32 American states that permit black bear hunting, 14—including Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington—prohibit hunters from using dogs to chase the animals. Now, California could be looking at a statewide ban. Senate Bill 1221, introduced earlier this year by Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), will ban the use of hounds while hunting bears and bobcats if Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill.
The ban would not affect bird hunters who rely on retrievers to recover ducks and other fowl, researchers who hire houndsmen to assist in treeing study animals, and wildlife officials who conduct depredation hunts of bears and mountain lions deemed dangerous to the public or their property.
Hunters are up in arms and have been protesting at public gatherings. Josh Brones is among those leading the defense of the sport. As the president of the California Houndsmen for Conservation, Brones says that hound hunting does not usually involve killing the bear and, what’s more, brings to life an ancient and natural drama between black bears and canine predators. During an interview, Brones said hound hunting is rather like a game of “hike-and-seek.” In these pursuits, the bear leads the hounds through the woods, often for many miles, before climbing a tree. The houndsman, slower but just as dogged as his hounds, eventually arrives, shoots some shaky video of the bear to post on YouTube and finally departs. Hunters sometimes call this activity catch-and-release—and even many wildlife researchers rely on it.
Brones, like many houndsmen, almost never kills bears, he says.
“In my 28 years of hunting with hounds, I have only killed four , and the last one was more than a decade ago,” he said. “I don’t even take a weapon when hunting for bear.”
Brones assures that catch-and-release hunting is not stressful to the bear. Though hunting publications frequently characterize bear hunting as the most epic of adrenaline rushes (just Google hunting bears adrenaline rush), Brones says black bears themselves do not experience particularly increased adrenaline levels when chased by dogs. Rather, by fleeing for miles through the woods, bears—as well as other large game—are answering to basic instincts; they are not afraid—just running, he explained to me. He also described treed black bears yawning and nodding off to sleep in the cozy crook of a tree, indifferent to the dogs below. Department of Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy similarly told of treed mountain lions, which are sometimes pursued via hounds by researchers, as appearing “like they don’t have a care in the world.” Foy said, too, that a chase covering several miles of rough terrain is not especially hard on many large wild animals—just a walk in the woods, really.
“For a bear, six miles is nothing,” Foy said.
Some biologists, however, assure that hound hunting has considerable impacts on wildlife. Rick Hopkins, a conservation ecologist in San Jose, California, said in an interview that he participated in a long-term study more than 20 years ago in which he helped catch and radio collar 30 Bay Area mountain lions. In three of the chases, a cougar was caught and viciously attacked by the dogs. He says he knows, too, of cases in which a research hunt led to a cougar kitten getting killed by the hounds.
“Even in research hunts, which are carefully controlled,” dogs catch and maul the quarry, he said. “And I can guarantee that in less controlled hunts, bear cubs get caught.”
Hopkins went on to say, “It’s absolutely silly to suggest that it’s OK to run animals to exhaustion and chase them up a tree, and think that they’re fine.”
To the sport’s many opponents, hound hunting appears like little more than brazen wildlife harassment. Jennifer Fearing, the California director of the Humane Society of the United States, recently told the press, “It’s just reckless wildlife abuse. Even if don’t intend to kill the bear, there isn’t such a thing as benign catch-and-release hound hunting.” Fearing noted that many public parks prohibit unleashed pet dogs.
“And yet we allow this narrow field of people to not only run their dogs off-leash but with the express purpose of chasing wildlife,” she said.
Brones says bears are very rarely injured by dogs, and he says he doesn’t know of any incidents in which cubs were attacked, though this (incredibly graphic, so be forewarned) video shows it happening. While such tooth-and-claw combat may be rare, no one seems really to know how often it occurs. Hunters are regularly separated for lengths of time (that’s why they use radio collars) from their dogs, which may show extreme aggression toward the pursued animal (the dogs often mob dead bears that have been shot from a tree). And for every dog-and-bear fight videoed and posted online, other similar skirmishes likely go unseen or undocumented. In one case described by an official with the Haven Humane Society in a recent letter to Senator Lieu, an injured bear fleeing from hounds happened to enter the city limits of Redding, California, where it climbed a tree. The said official tranquilized the bear, discovered that it bore severe dog bites and euthanized the animal.
Hounds on the chase almost certainly scare and disturb nontarget wildlife. One European study (Grignolio et al. 2010) found that roe deer, though not the subject of hound hunts, would shift to less desirable habitat during the boar hunting season, where food was less abundant but where regulations precluded hunters and their hounds from entering. And in a July 2006 report (PDF) from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, wildlife biologist Mark Ternent wrote, “Pursuit with hounds also may impose stress, disrupt reproduction, and alter foraging effectiveness of bears or other wildlife. Family groups may become separated, or cubs occasionally killed by hounds. However, several studies have concluded that most biological impacts from hound hunting are minimal (Allen 1984, Massopust and Anderson 1984), and the issue of hound hunting is largely social.”
As a species, black bears are not considered threatened. Scientists believe that there are about 30,000 in California, some 300,000 in the United States, and as many as 725,000 across their entire North American range, from Mexico to Alaska. Every year, licensed bear hunters in California take no more than 1,700—a quota set by the Department of Fish and Game. Half or less of these are currently taken with the assistance of dogs—and it’s almost certain that in California, even if houndsmen are soon banned from unleashing their dogs onto a scent trail, the bear hunt will still go on.
The dogs will just have to stay home.
Weigh in in the comment box below: Is hound hunting of bears, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals a fair chase? Or a sport whose time must end?
Dust kicks up on a hill in the distance. The pasture vibrates, taking the abuse of thousands of feet stamping into the ground. A crowd on the other side of the range feels the energetic air and cheers in approval. The first cowboy crests the hill, snapping his whip in the air, rearing back on his horse and hollering into the wind. Three more join him, yelling and cracking whips into the widening dust cloud. A buffalo charges through the dirty mist. The leader of the pack runs down the hill with 1,300 more buffalo behind him. The crowd screams in excitement.
Every fall, this scene is repeated in South Dakota’s Black Hills during the annual Buffalo Roundup, when about 60 volunteer cowboys and cowgirls ride across the 71,000-acre range, funneling the American Bison herd into pens for vaccinations and herd maintenance before the winter season arrives. The roundup is part of a larger event with an arts and crafts festival, live entertainment, and meals. Custer State Park, where the buffalo roam, was originally founded as a game preserve in 1914, with 36 buffalo on a protected range to prevent overhunting and loss of habitat. By the 1940s, the buffalo population grew to more than 2,500. A range management plan—the Buffalo Roundup—had to be instituted to keep control of the herd and its health. The first roundup was in 1966.
American Bison—named the national mammal earlier this year—haven't always had such booming numbers as they do here at Custer State Park. They were once nearly extinct from overhunting, but conservation efforts boosted the population to the current roughly 500,000 bison throughout the country. Custer State Park’s herd is one of the largest—second only to the herd at Yellowstone.
The Buffalo Roundup unofficially begins at 6:00 a.m. when a caravan of cars makes its way through Custer State Park to the viewing area. A pancake and sausage breakfast at 6:15 kicks off the festivities. The parking lots close at 9, and then you’re stuck until the entire herd is safely in the corrals, at about noon. Observers can either walk or take the shuttle bus to the viewing areas—the two hilltops overlook the corrals and the pasture the buffalo have their final charge through. When the show is over, most attendees eat an on-site lunch, then head out to the art festival.
Sometimes the roundup takes much longer than anticipated. Last year, the buffalo proved hard to catch. As soon as they’d arrive at the gates of the corral, the herd would linger for a moment, then about-face and run back up the way they came. The riders would turn and go after the buffalo, starting the entire process over again. Last year the herd tricked the riders four times. Each time, the crowd hollered and laughed in a joyous frenzy. It’s always more fun for the crowd when the buffalo tease the cowboys, one volunteer rider told Smithsonian.com.
Over the following four days, crews maintain the herd. They administer vaccinations to new-to-the-herd buffalo, brand the calves, check for pregnancy, and select about 200 to be sold at an auction in November. It’s all part of a management plan to keep a healthy balance between animals and available range.
“The annual roundup and working event is the one time each year that we handle the herd,” herd manager Chad Kremer tells Smithsonian.com. “The size of the herd must be managed so that the forage resource in the park is not overgrazed.”
When the roundup isn't in full swing, the buffalo live and graze year-round in Custer State Park. Kremer's responsibility extends throughout that entire time—he maintains the herd population, runs the park's annual auction, participates in the roundup and monitors the herd's health. About 14,000 people each year gather in the park to watch the show and, thanks to Kremer, get a little education about bison safety.
“There’s the selfie movement,” he told the Grand Forks Herald last year. “People want to get a picture, and they think they have to be within five or six feet. They’re big, and they’re furry, and they look kind of cumbersome, but they can run 35 mph, and I’ve seen that bull that weighs a ton jump over a five-foot fence.” Translation: Don't get too close to the buffalo, unless you're a trained rider.
Want to come see one of the nation’s largest buffalo herds in action? This year’s event is September 30.
Don Cusic’s new book, The Cowboy in Country Music: An Historical Survey with Artist Profiles (McFarland), explores how the cowboy became an American pop culture icon and the face of country music. Cusic is a music historian and professor of music business at Belmont University in Nashville. His book profiles artists who have embraced and promoted ideas about cowboys and the American West, including performers of western music, which he identifies as an offshoot of country music. Most of the profiles – from Gene Autry to George Strait – were first published in the magazine The Western Way, for which Cusic is editor.
I talked with Cusic about how performers have fashioned their cowboy look and why Americans are still drawn to this image.
From the late 1940s through the 1960s there was a musical genre called “country and western,” but today there are two different camps – country music and western music. This book focuses more on the later. How do you define western music? What is its relationship to country music?
Musically [the two] are basically the same thing. The difference in western is in the lyrics. It deals with the West – the beauty of the West, western stories. The western genre has pretty much disappeared. The country music cowboy is a guy who drives a pick-up truck – he doesn’t have a horse, there’s no cattle. In movies like Urban Cowboy, [he] works not on a ranch but in the oil industry. At the same time there’s this thriving subgenre of people who work on ranches or own ranches and are doing western things and [playing] western music – reviving it. Country’s not loyal to a sound – it’s loyal to the market. Western music is loyal to a sound and an image and a lifestyle. But less than 2 percent [of the U.S. population] lives on farms or ranches today.
As you point out, there’s a difference between a “real” working cowboy and the romantic, heroic figure that emerged to represent country music. When and how did the cowboy become a big player in American popular culture?
Back with Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Shows. He kind of glamourized the West, and so did the dime novels. Buffalo Bill had a guy called “King of the Cowboys” – he was a romantic hero. Then when the early movies came, westerns were popular. In music, the [cowboy] comes along a little later in the 1930s with Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the singing cowboy movies.
Who were the most popular early cowboy heroes of film and radio?
Well, the first big western hit [song] was “When the Work’s All Done This Fall” by a guy named Carl Sprague [recorded 1925]. In the movies, it was William S. Hart and then Tom Mix. Tom Mix dressed like somebody who didn’t work with cattle; he brought the glamour in. Coming out of the early 1930s, [after] Prohibition, gangsters and the “flaming youth” movies, the cowboy was a good, clean alternative. And Gene Autry was the first singing cowboy star.
Why do you think Autry was so popular?
He was like a breath of fresh air. The movie people didn’t like him – they thought he was too feminine, not masculine enough to be a cowboy hero. But he had an appealing voice, he had that presence, he kind of had that “next-door” look, and he was a great singer. One of the things he did in his movies was put the old West in the contemporary West. People rode horses, but they also drove pick-up trucks. They chased bad guys, but they also had a telephone and a phonograph.
Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS. With appearances in over 100 movies as well as his own radio and television shows, Roy Rogers, here with his horse Trigger, lived up to his nickname King of the Cowboys. (original image)
Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis. Gene Autry, known as the Singing Cowboy, epitomized the western star, performing in movies, television and radio for more than three decades. (original image)
What about cowgirls? What role did musicians such as Dale Evans and the Girls of the Golden West play in the evolution of cowboy music and culture?
Patsy Montana had that first big hit, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” but women were relegated to pretty much a subservient role – the schoolmarm, the innocent spoiled brat, those kind of roles. Dale Evans changed that a bit, but not until she got into television when [she and Roy Rogers] were openly married and she was running a café [on “The Roy Rogers Show”].
You say the singing cowboy films of the 1930s and ’40s brought country music into the realm of pop music and that the cowboy replaced the hillbilly as country’s mascot of sorts. The hillbilly image was created in part to help sell the records or promote “barn dance” radio shows. Were record companies and advertisers similarly involved in creating the cowboy image?
The cowboy was a positive image, as opposed to the hillbilly, which was considered a negative image. The cowboy, I think, was just more appealing. That’s something you could want to be – you didn’t want to be a hillbilly but you did want to be a cowboy.
Why are cowboys and westerns still attractive to people?
The self-image of rugged individualism. That whole idea that we did it all ourselves. The cowboy represents that better than any other figure. He’s a lone guy on a horse, and it doesn’t matter how many people are in town that want to beat him up – he beats them up. It fits how we see capitalism.
Talk about the evolution of what is now called western music. What role did the cowboy and the West play in country music after the 1950s and why was there a western music revival in the 1970s?
What we see after World War II is farm guys moving to town, where they want to wear a sports coat and have a cocktail – they want to be accepted into the middle class. The “Nashville sound” put a tuxedo on the music – it started with the Nudie suits and then the tuxedos. Then in the 1970s, all of the sudden, when the [United States’] 200th anniversary hit, we jumped back into cowboy. I think a lot of it had to do with demographics. The baby boomers who grew up on the cowboy shows lost all that in the ’60s – we were all on the street and smoking funny stuff. Then by the ’70s the cowboy came back because [people wanted to] capture that childhood again.
Who are some of the musicians that represent that revival era?
The biggest were Waylon and Willie, with the “outlaw” movement. It’s funny, they were cowboys, but they wore black hats instead of white hats. In terms of western culture, Riders in the Sky and Michael Martin Murphy were leaders. But a lot of country acts were dressing as cowboys and singing about the West or western themes. If you listen to the song “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” the cowboy loves little puppies and prostitutes – sort of like Keith Richards in a cowboy hat.
So with the outlaw country movement, the cowboy isn’t so clean and pure anymore.
Sex, drugs and rock and roll hit country in the ’70s. That’s what the cowboy was in country music [then] – sort of the hippie with the cowboy hat. Independent, individualist. That ’60s figure, the liberated person, had a cowboy hat and cowboy boots on by the mid-’70s.
In the book, you profile early artists such as Patsy Montana, Tex Ritter and Bob Wills but also more recent acts, including Asleep and the Wheel and George Strait. You say Strait is the most western of contemporary, mainstream country musicians. Why?
He actually owns a ranch and works on it. He does rodeos with roping. He sings some cowboy songs, and he certainly dresses as a cowboy – he’s the real deal. Strait is doing today what the old singing cowboys – the Autrys and the Rogers – did back then.
Do you notice other artists – including those outside mainstream country – embracing the cowboy image today?
Some of the alt-country artists do, but it’s a campy thing. Not like “I’m a real cowboy and I know how to ride a horse.” A lot of music is attitude. Cowboy is an attitude of “We’re basic, we’re down to earth, we’ve got values rooted in the land.”
What about younger musicians – are they interested in cowboy culture?
From what I’ve seen they may wear cowboy hats, but increasingly country performers are much more urban. I think they embrace the clothes more than they embrace the full culture. I mean, I grew up on a farm – you don’t want to take care of cattle.