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Image: Juanjo Menta

Have you ever heard a particular cowboy term and wondered what it meant or where it came from? Well, if so, you’re in luck. Cowboys have their own language that can often confuse and confound those who aren’t members of the cowboy class. And, the ease with which two cowboys will speak this mystical language-dropping in exotic words with common ones-is part of what keeps the iconic image of the cowboy perched high atop the list of those we admire.

I’ve been asked to select from my on-line cowboy glossary the five most interesting terms used by the cowboy class. And, since so much of the cowboy’s lifestyle and equipment comes from the Mexican Vaqueros and old Spanish traditions, where applicable, the Spanish language name from which each term derives in in italics. …


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Custom built spurs. Photo: Kerry Kelley Spurs

If there is one thing that defines a cowboy, it’s the jingle-jangle of his spurs “singing.” Yes, the western spur sings with a distinctive cling-clanggg that lets everyone ‘round know there is a cow puncher approaching. And, to most any person raised in the city, the cowboy’s jingling spur rowels might appear to be pure pretension, but the spurs to which they are attached are a very necessary part of his equipment. Not that the cowboy doesn’t enjoy the jingle, mind you.

But, what of these pieces of metal strapped to the boot of the iconic American cowboy? From where did they come, and for what is their purpose? …


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“The Legend, The Lore, The Law” by Dustin Payne. Photo: CowboyAccountant.com

When you read the words Texas Ranger or see an image of a Ranger, what comes to mind? The roots of today’s Texas Rangers trace back to the first days of Anglo-American settlement of the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas, in what is now Texas. And, while now recognized as one of the most highly-respected law enforcement agencies in the world, the early history of the Texas Rangers is one of economic expansion, rugged determination, taming of rugged land, and a complicated relationship with Mexico. And, as such, not unlike what can be said about Texas.

By the early 1820s, the Mexican War of Independence had subsided, Mexico was newly independent, and at the urging of the young Mexican government, some 60 to 70 families had settled north into land that would become known as Texas. Because there was no regular army to protect the citizens against attacks by native tribes and bandits, in 1823, Stephen F. Austin organized small, informal armed groups whose duties required them to range over the countryside from the Brazos River north to present-day Dallas, and who thus came to be known as “rangers.” …


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The Comanche are a proud people, not unlike other tribes of Native Americans. What separates the Comanche, though, from other nations is their meteoric rise to power because of the horse. No other tribe or nation in North America would surpass them in horsemanship, with many experts even going as far as saying that they were the best light cavalry the world had ever seen. …


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Photo: Pexels

The Old West conjures up all sorts of imagery, but most often the term involves imagery of prospectors, horses, pueblos, cattlemen, madams of brothels, and six-shooter-packing cowboys in small frontier towns — such as Tombstone, Deadwood, or Dodge City. And, while the term cowboy now enjoys almost universal admiration as one who lives by a code of conduct while preserving and protecting the heritage of the American West, the term cowboy had only begun to come into wider usage during the 1870s.

In that place and time, cowboy was synonymous with cattle-raiding rustlers. Cattle thieves frequently rode across the border into Mexico and stole cattle from Mexican ranchos, which they then drove back across the border and sold in the United States. Some modern writers consider them to be one of the first and earliest forms of organized crime syndicates in American history. …


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If you’ve ever wondered about those sturdy leather leg coverings you see cowboys wearing, well, you’ve come to the right place. Those are what we in the cowboy class refer to as chaps or leggings, and come from an early form of protective leather garment used by cattle herders in Spain and Mexico. Originally called armas, meaning “weapons”, they were two large pieces of cowhide that were used as a sort of protective apron. Attached to the horn of the rider’s stock saddle, they were spread across both the horse’s chest and the rider’s legs. …


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“Invocation to the Sun”, oil on canvas, 1922.

Charles Marion Russell, also known as C. M. Russell, Charlie Russell, and “Kid” Russell, was an American artist of the Old American West. Russell created more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States and in Alberta, Canada, in addition to bronze sculptures. Known as the “cowboy artist” because he was both a cowboy and an artist, Russell was also a storyteller, author, historian, advocate of Native Americans, cowboy, outdoorsman, philosopher, environmentalist, and conservationist.


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If you’ve ever watched a western movie, no doubt you will recognize a cowboy by their ten gallon hat, the jingle-jangle of their spurs, and a dusty bandana tied around their neck. And, in those very same movies, the bandit bank-robbers usually had a bandana pulled up to cover their face and mask their identity.

While this unique piece of fabric goes by many names — bandana, kerchief, mascada (scarf, in Spanish), or buckaroo scarf — I call mine, a “wild rag.” They were and still are one of the most valuable tools of a cowboy. …


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Hobbles date to at least the ancient Egyptians, who depicted their use in hieroglyphics. And while today they are most closely associated with Western culture and their use by working cowboys to restrain horses in lieu of trees or other tie devices, hobbles are also an effective training tool for horses young and old. Western-style hobbles are traditionally made from leather, rawhide, or braided rope. …


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Shortly after the Civil War, settlers began westward settlement to new lands and new opportunities, and with it, cowboys began to appear in America’s heartland and what would become known as the wild west. They were largely ranchers and ranch hands, raising cattle, horses and other animals. Cowboys herded the livestock across the plains to feed a growing American population.

It was a wild and sometimes lawless time. In the absence of the local rule of law, cowboys developed their own code to live by — known as a cowboy “code of conduct” or a “code of ethics” — the codes were simple and logical rules of behavior. Fast forward 150 years to the early 21st century, and in recognition of the enduring efforts of the cowboy, a group of individuals sought to find a way to recognize this group of American icons. …

About

Chip Schweiger

I’m the CPA who tells the stories of the American West. If I’m not accounting, or writing, I’m horseback. www.cowboyaccountant.com

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