Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Russell Freedman’s Cowboys of the Wild West describes the experience of cowboys during the days of the great cattle drives. These drives brought longhorns from Texas to the ranches and railroads further north, where the cattle were sent on to Chicago and the eastern meat markets. The era of the cattle drive lasted from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the mid-1890’s, when barbed wire, farms, and a more extensive railway system made the western cattle trail obsolete.

The book is divided into six chapters that explore various aspects of cowboy lore and life. Chapter 1 discusses the history of the cowboy trade from its origins in Mexico. There, in the sixteenth century, Spanish ranchers used skilled horsemen called vaqueros to look after their herds. The vaqueros (from the Spanish word vaca, or “cow”) developed techniques and tools such as lassoing and the lariat.

The next chapter features cowboy clothes and equipment, which emphasized function over style and were a far cry from today’s version of western wear. For example, few cowboys carried loaded pistols when they worked, and vests with deep pockets were a must. Denim did not exist until after the cowboy era. Following these two introductory chapters are fascinating sections describing the roundup on the open range, life on the trail, life on the ranch, and a poignant reflection on the legacy of the cowboy life. The book is rounded out by a useful bibliography...

(The entire section is 462 words.)