Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cowboys

I grew up in Texas, as did my Daddy, and my Grand-daddy, and his daddy, and his daddy. I'm not sure about prior to that. I think some of them came from Missouri and some from Alabama.
Part of growing up was learning the myth of the Texas cowboy.

I grew up in the city, in Austin, not exactly cowboy country. My daddy grew up in town, in places like Alpine, Texas and Marfa, Texas. He wasn't living the cowboy life, but those places were certainly cowboy country. My granddaddy and grandmother had grown up on ranches in Gaines County, near Seagraves. One of the cowboy stories my grandaddy told me was about the one cattle drive he worked driving cattle from Seagraves to Amarillo right before a railroad spur was built to Seagraves in 1917. He was 11. That experience was enough for him to learn that whatever he ended up doing when he grew up, it wasn't going to be cowboying.

My daddy told me stories about his childhood on the wooden sidewalks of 1930's Alpine that made clear distinctions between ranchers and cowboys. The class differences were very real, in some of those stories the differences were those of life and death.

In the 8th grade we took Texas History. That 8th grade Texas History course very much creates Texas men. They talked about cowboys, yes, but they also talked about Heroes (Jim Bowie) and lawmen (Big Foot Wallace) and outlaws (Sam Bass).

So, I didn't grow up as a cowboy, but I grew up knowing what the cowboy myth was about, knowing it in a deeper sense than just watching John Wayne in the movies and Roy Rogers on TV and listening to Gene Autry records.

I don't live in Texas anymore. I didn't even graduate from high school in Texas. I graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Baton Rouge, then went to college at LSU and even Northwestern (when my grandmother told me, "there's Yankees living up there, Gary"). I did live back in Texas for a few years as an adult. But, I also lived in places like San Francisco and Seattle. Now I'm in Oklahoma. Rural Oklahoma. But once a 13 year old boy takes that 8th grade Texas History course, he's a Texan forever, no matter where he is.

Ten miles down the road is a town called Perkins, Oklahoma. They have a sign near the city limits that has puzzled me. "Home of the original cowboy". What the hell does that mean? I know about cowboys. And cowboys don't have much to do with Oklahoma, no matter how big a hat Garth Brooks might wear.

The cowboy era ran from just after the civil war to sometime before the end of the 19th century. It lasted 20, maybe 30 years, covering a time when the US was expanding into the West but the railroads weren't covering the continent yet.

Cowboys drove cattle from Texas to Kansas, travelling through Indian Territory, not through Oklahoma. Indian Territory lasted from the mid 1830's until 1890, when it was renamed Oklahoma Territory. The Oklahoma land rush was in 1889 and Oklahoma become a state in 1907. During the cowboy era of American Oklahoma was about Indians, not Cowboys.

What are they talking about? "Home of the original cowboy"?. That sign just made no sense to me at all and I just assumed it was some sort of attempt at revisionist history. Maybe they were talking about the birthplace of the first rodeo clown or something.

Then it finally came to me the other day. They must be talking about a football team mascot. That is one thing Texas and Oklahoma have in common. They get confused real easy and think high school football has something to do with real life.

Oklahoma State University is right down the road from Perkins, in Stillwater, and their football mascot is The Cowboys. Maybe the Perkins High School Cowboys predates Oklahoma State, or something like that.

It turns out that's not the case at all. The Oklahoma State Cowboys is named after a legendary Oklahoma Lawman (and gunfighter) who lived in Perkins.

These people can't even tell the difference between a cop and a cowboy. There's no hope for Oklahoma.

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1 Comments:

Blogger TenMile said...

Liked the story. As the maternal side, back a bit, were Sooners, you must have Cowboys if you have Indians. Hmm?

10:35 AM  

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