Times sure have changed. Playing “Cowboys & Indians” outside has been replaced with playing “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in a darkened room. Heck, it’s probably so politically incorrect to even mention “Cowboys & Indians” that someone somewhere is having a tizzy. The American cowboy is an icon of grit, honor, independence and masculinity. Hard work, long days, and little pay except for the open sky, a horse to ride, a hot meal and a drink or two to wet your whistle. Maybe even a dance with a pretty girl if yer’ lucky– and don’t stink to high heaven.
The 1910s – 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move largely from a way of life, to ever-increasing faded memories and mythology. Our country was getting smaller. Technology and transportation were ushering in a new era of industrialized cities and advanced accessibility. The real jean-wearin’ cowboy lifestyle of days past were kept alive over the decades largely through the Western fashions worn by the stars of silver screen and music.
These images are some of my favorite captures of the American cowboy at the very end of his reign– many not surprisingly taken by LIFE photography giants like Loomis Dean, and Ralph Crane to name a few. Some, unfortunately, are uncredited. If you know the pic, give me a shout so I can give the photographer their due, please.
circa 1934– “Rear view of a man wearing chaps and spurs” –Photo McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas.
Lubbock, TX, 1940– Matador, A Texas Ranch: Seven cowboys sitting along corral fence draped w. their chaps (which they don’t wear while not working), as they wait for brand irons to heat up during cattle roundup at Matador Ranch, the second largest in the state. –photo by Hansel Mieth