This Charley Russell Western Heritage Society award winning essay was written by Shar Puhallo (Kamloops, British Columbia). The society presents 2 scholarships a year for the best poem, essay or art work portraying the impact of "The Cowboy". on modern society. Shar is the first Canadian to ever win.
-by Shar Puhallo
It is the elusive dream of being a cowboy which lingers in the subconscious of today's society and asks us to examine what we truly want from life. Throughout the last century, as America began to grow up into a world of technology, the ways of the cowboy have been intertwined with the developments of society and have held her heart. The portrait of the working cowboy is that of an honest man, doing what he wants to do, answering to himself with all of the freedom and happiness that could be imaginable, an image captured by western music, western art, and the silver screen. The sociological impact of the cowboy on modern culture has far- reaching effects rooted in the past and lasting into the sunset that the whimsical heroes always ride off into.
The hard-as-nails heroes from the west, known simply as cowboys, were portrayed first through song, ballad, and western art before their lifestyle would be glamorized by the silver screen. The lasting works of Charlie Russell collectively serve as a detailed look into the life of the cowboy while the tall tale of Pecos Bill was one of the first offerings at another level, surrounding them with the romance and glory of heroes. People were inspired and entertained by the cowboy, as demonstrated by the popularity of Buffalo Bill's traveling show. The likes of William S. Hart, Will James, Roy Rogers and John Wayne would, in time, become icons of the cowboy way and household names that represented the institution which the cowboy became in society.
Eventually from within the cities, born through envy of the simple life and freedom of being a cowboy, there sprung a new breed known as the urban cowboy. Those who were unable to walk away from their jobs and move out west were inclined to celebrate the cowboy by abandoning their penny loafers after office hours in favor of a pair of cowboy boots and visit the local honky-tonk bar. That is to say, that while the dream of being a cowboy drove many towards the countryside and out of the city lights, there was a vast majority the maintained their own version of the west within the concrete confines of the cities by donning ten-gallon hats and riding mechanical bulls, while women swooned to romance novels written about cowboys on white chargers. At the same time, the tradition of rodeo began to take on a very public form, and events based on the skills of working class cowboys such as calf roping and saddle bronc riding drew enormous crowds who watched in wonder the rodeo cowboys - men who embodied the popular image of their heritage.
The cowboy has also had several more subtle effects on the everyday lives of the population today which are present in the subconscious. The honesty of the cowboy in all that he did is still aspired to by society as a whole. People strive to obtain employment that they'll enjoy and draw their pay from jobs well done. Men want to have control and freedom while women search for men who'll treat them with respect and build them a log cabin of their own.
Today, the working cowboy tells his own story, for the first time since the turn of the century, through the surge of cowboy poets and western musicians celebrating themselves at gatherings. The general public, still in love with the dream of being a cowboy, can share in this new wave of showcasing the cowboy way of life. Through the honest realism being portrayed by the men who carry the torch of the original working cowboy, all can be inspired.
The impacts of cowboy logic and the ways of the West on modern culture are still visible today. The romance between America and the cowboy has remained an integral element in society through time. People aspire to uphold the codes of the cowboy and apply them to their lives as they dream of the freedom that working on a ranch would grant them. This well-established dream, solidified by the movie industry, writers, and artists, not only draws a smile from society, but beckons her to believe.
Other articles by Sharlene Puhallo