Cowboys of the Wild West Critical Essays

Russell Freedman


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In Freedman’s biographical note, the author says that he “became a cowboy at an early age” while he was growing up in California during the Great Depression. As a boy, he was a voracious reader of dime novels about the cowboy. As a result, he thought a cowboy was a “fellow who says ‘yup’ and ‘nope,’ who never complains, who shoots straight and whose horse comes when he whistles.” A few decades later, when he began research for this book, he found that many of his romantic notions about the cowboy were contradicted by the facts.

Nevertheless, Freedman’s love of cowboy lore has clearly survived the correction of his misconceptions. He clearly admires the real cowboy who can be found beneath the veneer of the dime store novel and Hollywood Western. He writes with great respect about the realities of life on the range.

As a distinguished, award-winning biographer and historian, Freedman shows a concern with historical accuracy throughout the text. The book is like a documentary, and Freedman tries to let primary materials such as photographs and etchings, diary entries and interview excerpts, do most of the work of describing cowboy life. Despite the book’s factual tone, Cowboys of the Wild West makes history comes alive through personal stories and specific details that paint an engaging and complete picture of the cowboy’s world. The author pays scrupulous attention to the realities of the ranch and the range....

(The entire section is 476 words.)