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Did you know "Cowboy" was an insult in the 1880s?


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We talk about "the cowboy way" and cowboy this and cowboy that, but you might be surprised to learn that calling someone a Cowboy in the 1880s was an insult.  Legitimate cowmen were called herders, ranchers, cowhands, drovers, or stockmen.  Meanwhile, due to the crimes of the gang known as the Cochise County Cowboys, as Tombstone resident George Parsons wrote: "A cowboy is a rustler at times, and a rustler is a synonym for desperado-bandit, outlaw, and horse thief." A San Francisco Examiner editorial said, "Cowboys [are] the most reckless class of outlaws in that wild country ... infinitely worse than the ordinary robber."  In 1888, William Henry Bishop wrote: "The term cow-boy, once applied to all those in the cattle business indiscriminately, while still including some honest persons, has been narrowed down to be chiefly a term of reproach for a class of stealers of cattle, over the Mexican frontier, and elsewhere, who are a terror in their day and generation."  The most famous gunfight of the Old West, known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which actually happened six doors down the street from that location) was fought in 1881 by the Earp Brothers (and associates including Doc Holliday) "loosely" on the side of the law at the time -- and the Cowboys on the other.  That feud had started years earlier, and continued for years afterward, with numerous vendetta killings by, and of, members on both sides.

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"Cowboys [are] the most reckless class of outlaws in that wild country ... infinitely worse than the ordinary robber."  

Sounds about right...

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I believe cowboy was only a derogatory term meaning an outlaw in Arizona at the time. In other areas they were not considered bad but just working men, most were very young hence the term cow BOY! 
Charles Goodnight and John Chisum owned cattle and hired “cowboys “ to run them to market, they didn’t hire outlaws.

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8 minutes ago, Rye Miles #13621 said:

I believe cowboy was only a derogatory term meaning an outlaw in Arizona at the time. In other areas they were not considered bad but just working men, most were very young hence the term cow BOY! 
Charles Goodnight and John Chisum owned cattle and hired “cowboys “ to run them to market, they didn’t hire outlaws.

Goodnight, Chisum and Loving were cattlemen starting in the late 1850s and formed their major enterprise in the mid-1860s, long before the Cochise County Cowboys gave the the term its unfavorable meaning.  The term was derogatory in a far wider geographic area than the Arizona territories, as the San Francisco Examiner editorial shows.

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14 minutes ago, Nostrum Damus SASS #110702 said:

Goodnight, Chisum and Loving were cattlemen starting in the late 1850s and formed their major enterprise in the mid-1860s, long before the Cochise County Cowboys gave the the term its unfavorable meaning.  The term was derogatory in a far wider geographic area than the Arizona territories, as the San Francisco Examiner editorial shows.

I don't 100% believe the San Francisco Examiner, they're not the end all of information. That was probably a writer's opinion just we like we get opinions today from various writers. Editorials are opinion pieces not necessarily the truth!

Interesting read below:

 

https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/cowboys

Edited by Rye Miles #13621
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25 minutes ago, Nostrum Damus SASS #110702 said:

RM, I didn't say that what the SFE said was true.  But it is undeniable that the article was published in the 1880s by a widely circulated newspaper, and not just in Arizona.  That's my point.

Yes I agree. I also don’t think the term cowboy was derogatory all over the country which was my point!

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53 minutes ago, Larsen E. Pettifogger, SASS #32933 said:

When the left called Reagan a "cowboy" in the 1980s it was not a complement.  Some things never change.

 

Same with GW Bush.

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1 hour ago, Larsen E. Pettifogger, SASS #32933 said:

When the left called Reagan a "cowboy" in the 1980s it was not a complement.  Some things never change.

 

23 minutes ago, Dantankerous said:

 

Same with GW Bush.

They both took it as a compliment. So did Captain Kirk.

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3 minutes ago, Sgt. C.J. Sabre, SASS #46770 said:

 

They both took it as a compliment. So did Captain Kirk.

 

Well sure. It IS a compliment! :D

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2 hours ago, Rip Snorter said:

And there were folks with the Agency called Cowboys...

And some who weren’t. Like those snake eater types. :)

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In my part of the world, growing up in West Texas, there were cowhands and wranglers then there were cattlemen....The latter could be any and all of the forementioned but he usually owned the land.  

 

Cowboys were shiftless, lazy bums  who couldn't get any other meaningful job and generally were worked seasonally..   Thats the way it was.

Edited by Yellowhouse Sam # 25171
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1 hour ago, Abilene Slim SASS 81783 said:

You can be a deplorable cowboy.^_^

Better than a shiftless lazy bum. :P 

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A snotty kid asked me if I was a cowboy.  I told him I hadn't been any kind of a boy for more than 65 years, way back before his daddy was wearing three cornered pants.

 

He looked like I'd slapped him and walked away embarrassed.

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40 minutes ago, Forty Rod SASS 3935 said:

A snotty kid asked me if I was a cowboy.  I told him I hadn't been any kind of a boy for more than 65 years, way back before his daddy was wearing three cornered pants.

 

He looked like I'd slapped him and walked away embarrassed.

 

 ...... you could have told him you were a lesbian, ..... but then you'd have to explain the joke to him and that'd take time ........ 

 

       ....... probably a good thing that you didn't .........   :mellow:

 

;)

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Just now, Wallaby Jack, SASS #44062 said:

 

 ...... you could have told him you were a lesbian, ..... but then you'd have to explain the joke to him and that'd take time ........ 

 

       ....... probably a good thing that you didn't .........   :mellow:

 

;)

And an excellent joke in another venue!

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I asked my Dad, many times before he died, about his conversations with his grandfather, who was born in 1862. 

It seems his grandfather drove longhorns up the trail, in the mid to late 1870's, and 1880's, when he was very young....13, or 14. 

I asked Dad if he ever asked his grandfather what they called themselves. What terms did they use. 

It seems one of the terms was: "a cowboy". 

I did not think to ask Dad if his grandfather referred to that term as being derogatory, in some way. Dad simply stated it matter-of-factly.

So, my great-grandfather did refer to himself as a "cowboy". 

Perhaps the term can be derogatory to some, but not to all, and not everywhere. 

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks all for the comments.  This is obviously a good example of how the meaning of a word changes over time.  "Cowboy" came into use in the 1870s as the English translated word for Spanish "vaquero" -- generally, a cowhand, wrangler, drover, stockman.  (Land owners were typically called cattlemen or ranchers.)  But the word took on a much less favorable connotation at least in the Arizona territory (and likely much farther afield) as a result of the activities of the notorious Cowboys outlaw gang, whose activities were mostly concentrated in Pima and Cochise Counties, though occasionally in other parts of the territory.  Then, over time the derogatory meaning changed again and became less so -- at least in common usage, though certainly not everywhere -- to become what many of us think of as a cowboy -- a somewhat idealized and romanticized figure of the Old West.  Hollywood is probably at least partly responsible for this evolution.  This most recent connotation or meaning is what comes to mind, and is what we intend, when we talk about "the cowboy way" today, and it is not a bad thing.

Edited by Nostrum Damus SASS #110702
typo
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On 4/4/2022 at 5:32 PM, Buckshot Bear said:

Dirt farmers ...................

 

 

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That picture hangs in our local hardware store. :wub:

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On 4/5/2022 at 9:32 AM, Buckshot Bear said:

Dirt farmers ...................

 

 

266929448_288426096560890_7204661124054574414_n.jpg.65d2b75bd61c5fc8a1488210c94bec78.jpg

 

On 4/5/2022 at 9:37 AM, Sgt. C.J. Sabre, SASS #46770 said:

Some friends were at a "Dude Ranch". They noticed that all the crew there wore ball type caps. On their last day, one guy finally asked why they didn't were Cowboy hats. 

"We don't want people thinking that we're truck drivers."

 

 My guess is that these two farmers don't want to be mistaken for truck drivers either .....-_-

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When my wife winks and says "Hey, Cowboy" I don't find it derogatory at all! ;)

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Howdy,

Do you have any idea how difficult life is when you are a lesbian trapped in a mans body??

Best

CR

 

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1 minute ago, Chili Ron said:

Howdy,

Do you have any idea how difficult life is when you are a lesbian trapped in a mans body??

Best

CR

 

A burden I bear every day.....

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