Common elements of TV and Movie Cowboy Shows
| From watching TV westerns and movies, I have learned a few things about cowboys. (Reading cowboy literature is a different experience and won’t be considered here.) These things might heighten your appreciation of cowboy shows. Or they may ring a bell with your own observations.
Cowboys almost never bathe. Occasionally, they may throw some lavender scented water out of a common washbowl onto their faces. More rarely, some of the cowboys will tell another one he stinks. They resolve it by throwing him in the horse’s watering trough. Like plain water can wash away body odor and deodorize clothes. Even after a hard day of riding and roping in the sun in summer, a quick splash and cologne gets them ready for a dance in town. That will make the girls want them!
Cowboys never go to the bathroom. There are no outhouses or chamber pots. They never sneak behind a tree or into the bushes either. They just drink all that coffee and never have to go. And Blazing Saddles is the only movie I’ve seen that deals with passing gas. When have you known men, especially in an outdoor setting, to be together for long periods of time and not get into contests about that? These men are eating beans every day. Their digestion is perfect, huh. Not even the cowboys’ ladies require a toilet. Imagine that. (Indoor flushing was not commonly available until the 1920’s. Only the most skilled labor would have indoor plumbing and drainage, and it would be costly, too.)
They have unending energy. They can work from sunup until the end of the day, not an 8 hour shift, change shirts and make a 2 to 3 hour ride into town, play cards and get drunk and chase women, go home, sleep until just before dawn, and get up and do it all again. Normal men would be tired from being on a horse off and on for 12 hours, roping, branding, mending fences, or pulling calves out of holes in the ground, or whatever, and just settle for supper and sleep. Not a cowboy.
They almost always had a slice of bacon or a little fatback to cook in the beans, but you never saw pigs around. The big ranches had bacon for a whole bunkhouse, but even they never kept a pig. Where do you think that bacon came from? Where did the general store get their supply? There should have been a pig sty once in a while. Or lard for the biscuits made from the chuck wagon—where did that come from?
Ditto on chickens and turkeys. You almost never saw them. A rare exception was an important chicken scene in Ride The High Country. However, most stories that showed cowboys eating fried chicken never explained or showed where the chicken came from. On The Virginian, a girl made a turkey sandwich picnic for the handsome Trampas. Where did turkey come from? Did one just drop out of the sky to give her enough for a few sandwiches? There were no turkeys on that ranch, and there were no holidays in that story. For the cowboy and his girl, meat, cheese, whatever is required comes like manna from Heaven.
The cowboy could make things last a long time. A pound of coffee allowed them to keep a bottomless pot on the fire all day for a dozen cowboys, and still have some for company. A ten pound bag of flour could make biscuits every day for weeks on the trail and not run out. So economical.
The sheriff could cover the whole county on horseback. Granted he’d be gone from town for a few days at a time, but some weak person would be in charge of town while he was gone. Today, you have a whole force of cops with vehicles, on duty 24 hours a day, and they can’t cover a whole county as well.
Cowboys could get clonked on the head or the back of the neck with a gun butt or piece of wood and wake up in a few hours okay. Today, we’d have a stroke or seizures. We’re not as tough as cowboys. The good cowboys could get bush-wacked, pistol whipped, sucker punched, or dragged from a rope through the brush, and in the end still look handsome, no scars. Any temporary blood, scabbing, and bruising went away quickly.
The cowboy never got the girl, no matter how many times he fell in love or got engaged. If he fell in love or got married, he’d be written out of the show. The girl either dumped him when he chose virtue over money, or she died, or fell for someone else, or she was using him in some way, or he was just plain afraid of commitment (which depended on his mood from week to week).
Despite the myth that good guys wear white hats, the hero could wear a hat of any color. And a good cowboy was always close to his horse. A bad cowboy sometimes loved his horse, too. But a man who mistreated his animal or didn’t take care of him was always a villain.
There are many more things we could argue about cowboys. These are the basics. Saddle up and enjoy.