Title: Cowboys of the Wild West
Author: Russell Freedman
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date: September 1993
A bibliographic recounting of cowboys in the "wild west", this book debunks the myths and legends surrounding cattle drives and cow punchers. In the approximately 100 pages, the author retells the stories of the young men who inspired legends by working the open ranges and performing cattle drives in the 1890s.
What I enjoyed most about this biography was the interspersing of interviews and quotations among the retelling of the events. One cowboy, Hiram Craig, described a cattle drive in vivid recollection, "finally forming one big herd, and then the fun would start." (p. 38)
The author breaks the information down into manageable parts. He discusses not only the physical make up of the cowboys who generally were African American or Mexicans by ethnicity but also the various aspects of cow punching and the lifestyle. The author discusses the dress, saddle, acoutrements, and spending habits of the typical cowboy as well as the life on the trail.
The author uses colorful description such as those to describe the events that might generate a stampede. "Almost any noise or disturbance - a flash of lightning, a rabbit moving through the brush, a cowboy striking a match - could panic a herd... All hands would leap from their beds, dash to their night horses, and gallop into the dark." (p. 57) This helps the reader to live in the story and experience it rather than be a mere observer.
Freedman's careful research and inviting texts have made his nonfiction can't-miss titles in homes and libraries. Here is a sequel to Children of the Wild and the author's other award winners. He has selected over 50 photos from the Library of Congress and state archives to illustrate his chronicles of life on the range. Cowboys, readers discover, were really boys. Many were teenagers, a few ``old hands'' were in their early 20s; and they were responsible for driving great herds across the plains in the 1800s. Freedman describes the buckaroos' clothes and equipment, how they passed the days on the ranch and on the trail, during the big roundups, etc. There were black and Indian cowboys as well as whites, all working hard together. Although these storied riders of the purple sage are different from the gun-totin', steely-eyed movie types, they are as exciting and interesting to meet and learn about here. One feels wistful when the book ends with a lament from a man who remembers: ``I would know an old cowboy in hell with his hide burnt off.'' He says the fellows punching cows today couldn't match their predecessors, independent and proud, who sang as they earned a tough dollar, ``I've roamed the Texas prairies,/ I've followed the cattle trail;/ I've rid a pitchin' pony/ Till the hair come off his tail.'' (8up)
Make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting a television or movie cowboy with the cowboy as presented in Freedman's book.