Life Issues – Cowboys – The Old West – America
What was life like for cowboys back in 1800s America?
The cowboy’s life was full of hard work, low pay, and little sleep especially at roundup time or on a trail drive. He would rise before the sun, have a quick breakfast of bacon, beans, bread and coffee, then saddle up for another 18 hour day in the saddle. He might have caught a few hours sleep on his bedroll under the stars, but if it was his night to tend the herd, sleep would have to wait.
Cowboys/cattlemen/ranch hands came from many walks of life. They were often retired lawmen, civil war veterans, or outlaws, bandits and gunslingers looking for a change. They were a hard bunch of men, with many differing opinions and often didn’t get along with each other. Fights among cowboys were a regular occurrence and the trail boss needed to be tough to be able to deal with any uprisings without loss of human life or livestock.
Back at the ranch, the workdays were just as long, and the living conditions worse than out on the range. The cowboys and ranch hands shared a small bunkhouse, which was draughty and leaked in the rain. It was cold in winter and stiflingly hot in summer. The beds were plagued with lice. Then there was the smell! Imagine a roomful of men who had been working hard with horses and cows all day. They might wash once a week in the summer (if there was a lake or stream nearby or a tub big enough to bath in), otherwise they just wouldn’t bother. In the wintertime most would not even think about it until the spring.
Nights were a lonely time. If he wasn’t catching up on lost sleep, the cowboy would spend his free time playing poker, or holding Kangaroo court, where a cowboy was put on trial for some obscure charge like oversleeping and the fellow cowboys would hold a mock trial and carry out the sentence, probably involving throwing him in the horse trough.
On more remote ranches, the cabin door was left unlocked, and a cowboy passing by could help himself to a meal in return for performing a few odd jobs such as mending fences, repairing the cabin or chopping wood.
Many cowboys died young. Accidents on the trail drive claimed lives, as did Indian skirmishes and disease.
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