“Dade Tanner thought about how good it would feel to take his shirt off as he glanced at the sun that rose unsparingly above the horizon, fiery orange and punishing over what was quickly becoming the parched landscape of the twenty-thousand acre JW Tanner Ranch.
The overseer of the entire ranch and its various divisions, he still liked getting out on the land – and did indeed strip to his waist when working in the hayfields or swinging a hammer fixing fences – his broad shoulders, well-muscled chest and powerful forearms tanned to a deep bronze under the summer sun.”
That’s an excerpt from Gold Digger Among Us, and what better way to get that story rolling than with a cowboy.
Our love affair with cowboys goes back well over a hundred years to a colourful by-gone era, and that iconic symbol of the west is still alive and well today. Buffalo Bill Cody was perhaps the most recognizable figure of the old west, touring the United States, Great Britain and Continental Europe with his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World show, and in the years that followed, cowboys went on to be celebrated in motion pictures. From William S. Hart of silent movie fame to the first major sound western, The Virginian in 1929 starring Gary Cooper, and Tom Mix, Hollywood’s first western cinema star, cowboy heroes have proved to be an enduring phenomenon. Roy Rogers was called the king of the cowboys, while Gene Autry was well known as the singing cowboy – as was Tex Ritter, and all made their mark in both the movies and on TV. Box office stars, both past and present such as James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Alan Ladd, Henry Fonda, Randolph Scott, Lee Van Cleef, Marvin Lee, Glenn Ford, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner and countless others have lent their talent to keep the cowboy legend alive. Many consider John Wayne, who has been referred to as the quintessential cowboy, to be the greatest of them all.
Ben Johnson was an American film and TV actor and stuntman, and the real deal because he was not only a star in the entertainment industry, but a bona fide working cowboy as well as a world champion rodeo cowboy.
Cowboy country recording artists are as popular as ever and still strutting their stuff for their legions of fans. But it all began with musical pioneers such as Jimmie Rogers, often called the Father of Country Music and affectionately known as the yodeling cowboy.
In real life, besides competing in rodeos, modern day cowboys still do a great deal of their work in the saddle, driving or rounding up cattle or wrangling horses, and keeping the adventure alive. It’s in their blood, a way of life. Boots, jeans and a cowboy hat are all staples of the image - and of course a pick-up truck. Add a little boot polish for Saturday night along with tight fitting boot-cut jeans, a good hat, a western shirt – and the two-step, and you’ve got it just about right.
Cowboying is actually a worldwide phenomenon, although the US southwest is still considered the hotbed for this way of life. There are also cowboys aplenty just a little north of the border. That includes one of the most famous Canadian cowboys of them all, the late Ian Tyson, an accomplished singer and songwriter who worked his cattle and horse ranch, Tyson Ranch, near Longview in southern Alberta.
Cowboys have also been immortalized in print for well over a hundred years, and remain a favourite subject of authors. The Virginian (written by Owen Wister) was published in 1902, and aside from other short stories and dime novels of the day, is considered by many to be the first western novel. It went on to spawn a much-loved movie and a hit television series. And the storytelling continues. Maybe you’ve read these top ten cowboy books of all time (according to americancowboy.com):
Larry McMurtry: Lonesome Dove (1985)
Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses (1992)
Zane Grey: Riders of the Purple Sage (1912)
Elmer Kelton: The Time it Never Rained (1973)
Louis L’Amour: Hondo (1953)
Jack Schaefer: Shane (1949)
Glendon Swarthout: The Shootist (1975)
Frank Dobie: The Longhorns (1941)
Will James: Smoky the Cowhorse (1927)
Dorothy Johnson: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1953)
A good cowboy read is a beautiful thing, and western stories, a decades-old genre (bgsu.edu), remain very much in demand. I too love to write about cowboys, such as Dade Tanner of Gold Digger Among Us that you met at the beginning of this piece. Dade is a cowboy through and through … in any situation, including an overnight trail ride (a small portion of the 20,000 Tanner Ranch is dedicated agritourism):
“… the weekend cowpokes sang along around the campfire. Finding an empty spot on one of the logs, Dade settled into it and was totally taken by surprise when the bold brunette who’d earlier grabbed at his sleeve, plunked herself happily in his lap. He’d suffered worse fates. She was pretty and making it very clear what she wanted from him as he got an impromptu lap dance….
“Hey, Sarah,” she yelled to the woman who’d been sitting beside her on the log. “I got me a cowboy. Yahoo!”
“You go girl,” Sarah yelled back. “Woohoo! Ride’em, cowboy. Or should I say ride ’em, Claudia.”
He humoured her for a minute or two until she leaned in for a kiss, and he was finally able to extricate himself. He decided to head to bed, certainly not in the mood to party. Claudia was determined to accompany him, but he politely told her no. Rule number two - don’t sleep with the guests. Not only was it in poor taste, it was just plain stupid.
The staff tents were pitched a short distance away from the guests, and Dade climbed into his and zipped the front flap closed. He’d just unbuttoned his shirt, pulled off his boots, and undone his jeans and was about to push them down when the flap of his tent was suddenly unzipped.
“Want some company, cowboy?” the very persistent Claudia asked, clumsily crawling inside. “Don’t think you can get away that easily. I followed you.”
Dade sighed wearily as he quickly refastened his jeans, the woman already on his sleeping bag, her hands where they should not be. Oh Lord!”