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Cowboys of The Wild West

Historically called "vaqueros", cowboys were the heroes of the US Wild West in the 19th and 20th centuries. Discover photos of these cowboys taken in the United States from the 1800s through 1900s.

The word "cowboy" is a direct translation of the Spanish word "vaquero" - literally, cow man, referring to men who took care of cattle. In the Americas, the tradition of vaqueros dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish brought horses and domesticated cattle to the New World. In the American West in the 19th century, especially in Texas but also in California, the lifestyles of the Spanish and European settlers merged, giving rise to the cowboy of the West. An early settler of Texas described the region (not yet a part of the United States) as having " . . . countless droves of mustangs and wild cattle . . . abandoned by Mexicans when they were ordered to evacuate the country." The new settlers used these resources to create their unique lifestyle and cowboy ways.

The cattle industry expanded in the 1880's because of the greater demand for beef by the public and the building of railroad systems for distribution and into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas. Due to the colder weather in these areas, the gear and clothing of the cowboy changed. Depending on the area, this included most of the following: a bandanna, chaps, cowboy boots, cowboy gloves, jeans, and a cowboy hat. But cowboys were always involved in the same activities - taking care of cattle, branding them, rounding them up, and driving them to market. Many ex-Civil War soldiers, Native Americans, and freed African-American slaves were drawn to the freedom of the life and the ability to work in a less discriminatory atmosphere. But cowboy work involved long hours and low pay: usually $1/day, food, and - if near the ranch - a room in a bunkhouse.

The Wild West Shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries popularized and glamorized the cowboy image. The image was further etched into the minds of people who never experienced real "cowboying" by movies, beginning in the 1920's. Often, historic cowboys in movies have been portrayed as fighting with Native Americans but this was unusual. The local tribes did, however, often charge a toll for driving herds through their lands - usually 10 cents a head.

These are photos of the real cowboys of the early West - and some of those who portrayed them in movies.

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Taken in San Benito, TX United States of America .
Irvin Rolfe Phippeny, San Benito, Texas in the mid 1940's
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Shared on Nov 9, 2012 by
Taken at Jim Lafferty ranch on the arroyo Macho in Chaves County abut 20 miles out of Roswell., Rosewell, New Mexido USA in .
New Mexico, 1918, Father's day. Jim Lafferty holding son William Browning... more
Shared on Jun 17, 2012 by
Taken in Duncan, AZ USA .
Robert Sherman Stewart and Orson Pratt Stewart in Duncan Arizona in 1913.... more
Shared on Jun 15, 2012 by
Taken at New Mexico rangeland, NM USA in .
This is my grandfather Rollie Felts cooking at a chuck wagon in New Mexico in... more
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Shared on Feb 28, 2012 by
Taken in SD in .
A photo of Ned Coy, a famous Dakota cowboy.
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Shared on Jan 11, 2012 by
Taken in .
Thomas Edwin Mix was one of the very early Western movie stars between 1909 &... more
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Shared on Jan 11, 2012 by
Taken at Bar T ranch, Watkins, Adams County, CO.
This is a photo of Ted Connell, who he is ? but part of Callie Ballard's... more
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Shared on Dec 18, 2016 by
A photo at Gerendot Ranch. Do not know who the folks are, but someone Callie... more
Shared on Dec 18, 2016 by
A photo of Julian Ratowski
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Shared on Oct 4, 2016 by
Taken in MT.
This photo was in a box belonging to Andrew Franklin "Frank" O'Barr... more
Shared on Feb 4, 2016 by
A photo of unknown Youngblood or Wilson men. This is a old copy of a tintype... more
Shared on Oct 29, 2015 by
Taken in Woodward, Woodward County, OK.
A photo of Isaac "Peg" Thomas Reynolds. Photo taken early 1900s in Woodward,... more
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Shared on Oct 6, 2015 by
A photo of Carol Joyce Halverson Washburn McMahon Ewens (passed 1996)
Shared on Sep 9, 2015 by
A photo of Howard J. Parker, at right, with two unidentified men.
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Shared on Apr 21, 2015 by
Taken in AZ.
A photo of Kevin Robert Johnstone (1953 - 2010), aka cowboy, living his dreams
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Shared on Jan 4, 2015 by
Taken in Malta, MT.
A photo of Joseph Benjamin Moore
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Shared on Nov 21, 2014 by
Taken in .
Gifford doing his favorite thing...being a cowboy
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Shared on Sep 8, 2014 by
A photo of Lawrence R Gifford, April 9, 1945. - 2002. This was taken in a... more
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Shared on Sep 8, 2014 by
A photo of Captain Enoch Elmer Stubbs, my daughter in laws gr gr grandfather.... more
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Shared on Sep 7, 2014 by
Taken in AB Canada in .
Howard Diersch & others, Alberta Homestead: Early 1900s. Back caption says 30... more
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Shared on Jul 16, 2014 by
This is a picture of my Grandfather: James William Green. It is believed that... more
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Shared on Mar 23, 2013 by
Taken at Ranch in Yoder Wyoming., Yoder, Goshen County, WY.
A photo of Elizabeth Odessa (Williamson) Green, David, Dunkle. James William... more
Shared on Mar 13, 2013 by
Taken at Honey Ranch, NM United States of America .
A group of Honey boys (unnamed) heading out to form a posse in New Mexico in... more
Shared on Nov 15, 2012 by
Taken in Fairland, Ottawa County, OK United States of America .
Several of these cowboys in Fairland, OK. are the Blair brothers,sons of... more
Shared on Nov 11, 2012 by