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The myth and reality were very different. Hollywood and television have portrayed cowboys in a very romantic light. In movies and on television, cowboys are all white, tough, and most are leaders of society in the West. Life in the Old West seems to revolve around them. In reality, cowboys were a diverse group of men including African-Americans and Hispanics. Most had only seasonal work during the spring round-ups for branding or working the cattle drives. Most cowboys did not own a horse. They usually did own their saddle because it was important to have a comfortable saddle on the long cattle drives. Driving cattle could be a very uncomfortable and dangerous job. When riding at the rear of the herd, one would be engulfed in the dust raised by the animals. Stampedes could take one's life. The pay was low and the food was basic. They ate a lot of beans and hardtack and drank a lot of coffee. While working they had almost no access to high quality foods including vegetables and fruit. Up to four months in the same clothes, without a bath, means their hygiene was severely lacking. When they got paid they often spent most of their money in the saloons. They spent money on clean clothes, baths, home-cooked meals and prostitutes - usually in that order. They also gambled and fought. The romantic image of gunfights over the honor of a woman or cheating at cards is also inaccurate. Most were not showdowns. The gunfights were usually a couple of really drunk men shooting wildly with little hope of hitting thier intended target. As a group, cowboys were not upstanding citizens. They were often drunken and foul-mouthed to the point where some towns started banning them.
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