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  • Henry McCarty "Billy The Kid" (1859 - 1881)
    Billy the Kid Born Henry McCarty September 17 or November 23, 1859 (disputed) - New York City, United States Died July 14, 1881 (aged 21) - Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory Cause of death G...
  • Jesse James, American Outlaw (1847 - 1882)
    Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 — April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw, gang leader, bank robber, train robber, and murderer from the state of Missouri and the most famous member of the James-Y...
  • Butch Cassidy (1866 - 1908)
    Butch Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker and was the leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang.Parker's first offense was minor. About 1880, he journeyed to a clothier's shop in another town only to find t...
  • The Sundance Kid (1867 - 1908)
    Alonzo Longabaugh (1867 - November 6, 1908?), sometimes spelled Longbaugh, born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, also known as the Sundance Kid, was an outlaw and member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, in t...
  • Robert J. Brackenridge (CSA) (1839 - 1918)
    Robert J. Brackenridge, businessman and Confederate soldier, son of John Adams and Isabella (McCulloch) Brackenridge, was born in Boonville, Indiana, on December 28, 1839. The family moved to Texas in ...

Add professional cowboys, rodeo cowboys, and ranchers to this project. You can visit HistoryLink to find out which projects include your ancestors.

Overview

A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos. Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well documented historical role, but in the modern world have established the ability to work at virtually identical tasks and obtained considerable respect for their achievements. There are also cattle handlers in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, who perform work similar to the cowboy in their respective nations.

The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest European settlers of the Americas. Over the centuries, differences in terrain, climate and the influence of cattle-handling traditions from multiple cultures created several distinct styles of equipment, clothing and animal handling. As the ever-practical cowboy adapted to the modern world, the cowboy's equipment and techniques also adapted to some degree, though many classic traditions are still preserved today.

Rise of the cowboy

As English-speaking traders and settlers expanded westward, English and Spanish traditions, language and culture merged to some degree. Before the Mexican-American War in 1848, New England merchants who traveled by ship to California encountered both hacendados and vaqueros, trading manufactured goods for the hides and tallow produced from vast cattle ranches. American traders along what later became known as the Santa Fe Trail had similar contacts with vaquero life. Starting with these early encounters, the lifestyle and language of the vaquero began a transformation which merged with English cultural traditions and produced what became known in American culture as the "cowboy".

The arrival of English-speaking settlers in Texas began in 1821. Rip Ford described the country between Laredo and Corpus Christi as inhabited by "...countless droves of mustangs and...wild cattle...abandoned by Mexicans when they were ordered to evacuate the country between the Nueces and the Rio Grande by General Valentin Canalizo...the horses and cattle abandoned invited the raids the Texians made upon this territory. California, on the other hand, did not see a large influx of settlers from the United States until after the Mexican-American War. However, in slightly different ways, both areas contributed to the evolution of the iconic American cowboy. Particularly with the arrival of railroads and an increased demand for beef in the wake of the American Civil War, older traditions combined with the need to drive cattle from the ranches where they were raised to the nearest railheads, often hundreds of miles away.

By the 1880s, the expansion of the cattle industry resulted in a need for additional open range. Thus many ranchers expanded into the northwest, where there were still large tracts of unsettled grassland. Texas cattle were herded north, into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas. The cowboy adapted much of his gear to the colder conditions, and westward movement of the industry also led to intermingling of regional traditions from California to Texas, often with the cowboy taking the most useful elements of each.

Source: Cowboy at Wikipedia