Sunday, July 15, 2007

WHAT WERE COWBOYS REALLY LIKE?

Well, we know they didn't look like Roy Rogers (above). It's an appealing image though, fine for Western singers. I can't help wondering if the future will submit hippies, goths and hip-hoppers
to the same kind of unhistorical design exaggeration.


In the Frank Sinatra era hat brims shrunk and history was rewritten so that the Wild West brims could shrink too.


Sergio said that cowboys wore long dust protectors. Did they?


Here's (above) the latest historical re-write. Cowboys in the old West are re-cast as modern urban cowboys with the now fashionable potato chip brim.



Apparently some cowboys used to look a little like hippies. That's not the way I like to think of them but it's that way on some 19th century posters so I guess I'll have to make the adjustment.

I have a feeling real cowboys looked like they do in this staged picture (above), though I'm not certain. Pictures like the one above were taken just after WWI when fashion was the worst it's ever been in this country. Maybe the shapeless fashion of the time influenced their perception of what cowboys looked like.
One of these days I'll do a blog about the mysterious decline of artistic taste in the U.S. just after the first world war. Fortunately it only raged for a few years but it was a horrible blight while it lasted. This dress (above) was designed in that period.


Just for contrast here's (above) the way people dressed in the 1890s. It was far better than what you saw on the street 20 years later.

19 comments:

Brian said...

From a history book called "The Story of America

(copy this stuff if you're interested in cowboys, folks. I've never seen this anywhere else)

Hats, Boots, and Saddle Cost Twice as Much as the Horse

Horse, $35.00 (usually provided by the ranch)
Single-ear bridle, $2.30
Swell fork saddle, $40.00
Saddlebags, $5.00
Braided leather lariat, $7.75
Winchester Rifle, $20.50
Colt "Peacemaker" pistol, $12.20
Cartridge belt with holster, $2.00
Flat-brimmed Stetson hat, $10.00
Kerchief, $.10
Leather vest, $3.00
Collarless cotton shirt, $1.25
Rain slicker, $2.75
Shotgun chaps and pants, $8.00
Leather boots, $20.00
Spurs, $.70

These are the prices a top hand might pay for his outfit, although a youngster or someone past his prime would get by for half this total of about $135. Any cowboy who had the money would buy the best hat, boots, and saddle he could find. Most of the other prices are from Montgomery Ward catalogs of the 1880's.

Brian said...

Weapons Cowboys Used (from the same book):

Two guns, a pistol and a carbine or rifle were the usual weapons.

These models were most popular:

Sharps Carbine, 1848 (single shot)
Henry Rifle, 1860
Winchester Rifle, 1873
Civil War Army Colt, 1860
Colt "Peacemaker", 1871

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>Colt "Peacemaker", 1871<<

I think the name of that gun is incomplete. The full name is the Colt "Rest-In-Peacemaker".

Ryan G. said...

>>Sergio said that cowboys wore long dust protectors.<<

Chuck Noris sure does.

Jenny said...

Couldn't disagree more. There was lovely fashion in the teens and 20s and that first dress you show is beautiful imho. I collect clothes from that exact era as well as others and some are delicious, clinging fabrics that are very flattering. maybe you have to see them worn and moving on a living person, not a flat photograph? I guess it's a matter of taste, but in that regard you are overruled, Eddie! ; )]
Oh well!

The subject of real history versus the movue version as regards costuming is always an interesting one(there's at least one really good book about it). Probably the least accurate examples of what real cowboys looked like was done in the glitz eras of the 40s-early 60s; by the late 60s and "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", etc. there was a return to costuming that was based heavily on period photographs, of whih there are loads. There doesn't have to be guessing about brims and such, for instance-there are many many extant photographs of what all that really did look like, and there was of course more than one style.

Anonymous said...

Each new generation remakes the past in its own image. Or tries to.

mike f. said...

...Stinky, I'll bet.

Kelly Toon said...

Uncle Eddie, Have you ever read any of Larry McMurtry's novels? Pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove and keep it by your bed or toilette, because you will want to keep it handy :) He writes the old west so you believe it and feel it and live along with the characters. Then get Blood and Thunder,(can't recall the author) which is a historical account of how the very very West was won (New Mexico and California). It chronicals the life of legendary frontiersman Kit Carson, and recounts the battles waged between the New Mexicans and The Navajo, and the White Man and everybody else! Absolutely fascinating!!!

BTW, I am kind of obsessed with that era in history. Brian, thanks for sharing those very interesting factoids!

Anonymous said...

From Thomas Pynchon's review of Oakley Hall's 'Warlock'

Tombstone, Arizona, during the 1880's is, in ways, our national Camelot: a never-never land where American virtues are embodied in the Earps, and the opposite evils in the Clanton gang; where the confrontation at the OK corral takes on some of the dry purity of the Arthurian joust. Oakley Hall, in his very fine novel Warlock (Viking) has restored to the myth of Tombstone its full, mortal, blooded humanity. Wyatt Earp is transmogrified into a gunfighter named Blaisdell who, partly because of his blown-up image in the Wild West magazines of the day, believes he is a hero. He is summoned to the embattled town of Warlock by a committee of nervous citizens expressly to be a hero, but finds that he cannot, at last, live up to his image; that there is a flaw not only in him, but also, we feel, in the entire set of assumptions that have allowed the image to exist. It is Blaisdell's private abyss, and not too different from the town's public one. Before the agonized epic of Warlock is over with -- the rebellion of the proto-Wobblies working in the mines, the struggling for political control of the area, the gunfighting, mob violence, the personal crises of those in power -- the collective awareness that is Warlock must face its own inescapable Horror: that what is called society, with its law and order, is as frail, as precarious, as flesh and can be snuffed out and assimilated back into the desert as easily as a corpse can. It is the deep sensitivity to abysses that makes Warlock one of our best American novels. For we are a nation that can, many of us, toss with all aplomb our candy wrapper into the Grand Canyon itself, snap a color shot and drive away; and we need voices like Oakley Hall's to remind us how far that piece of paper, still fluttering brightly behind us, has to fall.

Anonymous said...

Silent Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns probably had it the closest. It often could look like city wear, and black was still damn popular even when it was not the most practical for dusty outdoor jobs.

Plenty of photographs to be had from the civil war thru WWI, of real cowboys. And actors in the silents were often real cowboys as well, just using what clothes were available at the time.

And post spaghetti westerns, as noted earlier, there has been a bit of a tendancy to be more authentic. As space opera prince as the Sphetti westerns could be, they were still more authentic than Roy Rogers.

Somewhere there is an anecdote on what purpose fringe apparently served.

And cowboys really dressed like Nudie.

Anonymous said...

'Wyoming Bill' Kelso is my favourite cowboy...you really cant be a cowboy without your name bedazzled on your back.

Reg Kehoe

Pete Emslie said...

That sheriff in the second photo looks kind of familiar. I seem to recall his deputy had an idiot son...

Kelly Toon said...

I greatly enjoyed the costuming from TV's GUNSMOKE!!!

http://www2.una.edu/library/lindsey/gunsmoke2.jpg
http://www2.una.edu/library/lindsey/gunsmoke.jpg
http://www.audiemurphy.com/mov_1713/1713-46W.JPG
http://www.audiemurphy.com/mov_1713/1713-19W.JPG

What an awesome show, especially the really early stuff :)

Soos said...

I'm not sure I'd 100% agree that artistic taste in America ever recovered!

Brian said...

kelly toon said...BTW, I am kind of obsessed with that era in history. Brian, thanks for sharing those very interesting factoids!

You're very welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed the info!

Btw, I really like the new drawings on your blog! The caricatures are great. The drawing of the gator puppet getting attacked by the kitten is really cute too. :)

Anonymous said...

I like the Ronald Reagan cowboy the best, but there' something operatic and japanese about that long dust jacket....

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Brian: Interesting list! It's amazing that horses were so cheap and hats were so expensive!

Some of those guns were masterpieces of design. I have a peacemaker replica which I've fired only once but which I love having around the house so I can listen to the beautiful sound the springs and cogs make when the trigger is ratcheted back.

Jenny: You see them on Margeret Dumont in the Marx Bros movies. Hey, you invented a new type of smiley with a double chin! I never saw that before!

Kelly: I read the McMurtry book the Shirley McLane/Jack Nicholson film was based on and it was great...at least the first half was great. He seemed to meander in the second half. I'll look for the titles you mentioned.


Anon: Interesting. Is Warlock a graphic novel?

Kelly: TV's Gunsmoke was a well-done adaption of the radio show which was terrific!

Jenny said...

Oh, jesus, Eddie--of all the women to prove a point about fashion you choose Margaret Dumont? That's stacking the deck!

First of all, she was wearing "dowager"/olde lady-of-the-manor fashion from the late 20s, not the 'teens, and secondly--she was built like a Mack truck and was pushing 55! Gawd!

Watch "Dinner at Eight" and tell me which one would sell a man on bias-cut satin formal gowns from 1933: Marie Dressler--girdle and all, or Jean Harlow(wearing not only no girdle underneath but no anything else)?
Hmpf...I'll turn you around, you wait and see. I'll find some killer stuff from your hated era on a young and comely frame. They did exist! Don't slander he past unless it's really awful--like the 80s!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: A fascinating argument! Why not put some samples up on your sketch blog?