The lure of the Old West remained strong through the 20th century for small boys strutting around in chaps and oversize cowboy hats. Annie Oakley made it possible for little girls to join in the games as well, reining in the spirited outlaws and slapping them into the make-believe jail until their mothers called them in to eat dinner.
Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and all the other great cowboy stars of the silver screen in the 30’s and 40’s were roll models for these make-believe cowboys and girls. Saturday afternoon double feature movies were filled with kids dreaming of a Wild West they never knew. The horses played a big part in the Western fascination. Until Roy’s museum closed forever in Branson. MO in 2009, his great golden palomino Trigger, Dale’s horse Buttermilk, and their Wonder Dog Bullet, all products of the taxidermist’s art, were big attractions.
The TV Westerns otherwise known as horse operas of the 50’s and ’60’s were a phenomenon, with 26 Western shows playing in the same period. Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassiday, The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, the Cartwright family in Bonanza, Maverick starring James Garner, Gunsmoke, and who can forget Rawhide, with a young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Gates? These are but a small number of shows still playing on the smaller channels.
Willie Nelson’s song “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” about explains the life of a cowboy. “They’re never at home and they’re always alone”. They’re a different breed. They love animals, and a horse is part of their anatomy and their family. They don’t mind mucking out stables, shoeing, planting and baling hay, working in rain or hot sun, it’s all part of who he is.
I once told an teenage boy that no one could be a cowboy forever, but I was wrong. Sometimes the draw of the rodeo circuit and the love of what they do is worth the long hours, broken bones and time away from home.
We all have a second life filled with things we love to do; perhaps it’s travel, ball games, camping, fishing, and golfing; it all sounds romantic. But some people want to be a cowboy.