July 22: National Day of the Cowboy
for Tri-State Livestock News
America recognizes the hard working men and women on American ranches this Saturday with the National Day of the Cowboy. It is one day set aside to honor the men and women who toil on America’s ranches raising cattle and putting food on the plates of many millions of people around the world. It is also a day designed to help to preserve America’s pioneering spirit and promote cowboy culture that is so woven into our country’s culture.
If you work on a ranch or know a cowboy you probably don’t understand all the fuss. Cowboy culture is already part of your life. However, the vast majority of Americans have only witnessed ranching life on TV or the silver screen and generally they have very little sense of what life is like on America’s ranches. Yet traditional cowboy culture is responsible in many ways for how our country has evolved in the past 100 years and it is still how much of the world views America today. Hard work, no nonsense, and strong values are pillars of the cowboy code and they also helped to define the American spirit.
Today’s cowboys and cowgirls bristle if you suggest their way of life is at risk and may give way to something more efficient, but also more cold and far less traditional. The thought of raising cattle and working the land without the same methods handed down to them from previous generations of cowboys is foreign to them. However, signs traditional cowboy culture is at risk are all around.
The art of roping cattle, for example, is gradually being replaced on ranches that use branding tables. Quarter horses are also being replaced with all-terrain vehicles, or as some call them, “Japanese quarter horses.” And experienced cowboys, who have represented the spirit and grit of the American West all their lives, are having their ranks thinned by hired hands and school kids who have spent more time riding around in the back of a pick-up than on the back of a horse. Sure, American ranchers will always raise cattle, but make no mistake; the traditional lifestyle of the American cowboy is in jeopardy.
Guest ranches offer the public a glimpse into the traditional American way of life, but far from the prying eyes of tourists are the real working ranches with real working cowboys and cowgirls. There are the men and women don’t get up at sunrise; they get up before sunrise. And they don’t dress for show; they dress for need. No, on real working ranches you can still see the gritty reality of life on America’s ranches. Hard work, extreme weather, and serving at the mercy of volatile markets just to make ends meet.
The last American cowboys may live today on the Great Plains in Kansas and the Dakotas, and in the mountains of Montana and Wyoming, and in the deserts of Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. It is a simple life to be sure. But it is nonetheless enriching. Luckily, the soul of America still burns on the remote rural ranches of America.
But for how long, no one knows.