What Makes a Cowboy?

Of the enduring symbols of America, the cowboy ranks among the most memorable. But what exactly constitutes a cowboy? Who can claim to be one? For a technical definition, Webster states a cowboy is, “One who tends cattle or horses, a usually mounted ranch-hand.”

This we can all agree upon, however, is it a good definition? Would the cattle feeder who owns thousands of cattle and spends most his time in the feed truck or on a tractor be a cowboy? What about the nutritionist that sees cattle from his pickup seat? Obviously he’s caring for the cattle, but doesn’t own them or doctor them. And the trainer is a fantastic horseman, but never spends a minute of his time with a cow. Is he a cowboy?

Smoke of a .45 by Charles Russell

And can someone tell me exactly what having a shootout over a card game has to do with ensuring the health and well-being of bovines?

I would say these are valid questions. Rather than give my feelings outright, I thought I’d offer this little poem to voice my opinion.


What Makes a Cowboy?


As I was shopping for tires one day,

I felt a light tug on my sleeve.

I looked down and spied a fairly young lad,

Around eight years old I believe.


“Pardon me sir, but are you a cowboy?”

He asked in an excited voice.

“You have a big hat, western boots and a belt!”

But to answer him was a tough choice.


You see, I don’t ride on a horse very much,

I traverse this great land in a Ford.


And I only will rope when I’m stuck in a bind,

because a cow wants me to be gored.


I work with cows almost every day,

Which is a part of a good cowboy’s job.

But most of the time I wear bibs and a sleeve,

‘Cause I’m covered in dung like a slob.


It’s because I’m a vet, a “cow doc” they say,

I’ll preg all of the cows in your herd.

I can pull a stuck calf, while making you laugh,

If I slip and land right in a turd.


Instead of a six-gun in my right hand,

Implant guns have to suffice.

I brave any weather to tend to your cows,

Fearing not rain, heat, wind, snow or ice.


But gosh, a cowboy is what I look like?

I’m not sure I fit that grand title.

I always thought not being covered in crap

Or wearing rubber boots was considered vital.


On second thought, I suppose this young man,

Could help me answer his question.

So I looked down and asked his novice opinion,

“Buddy, could I have your suggestion?”


“Yes I am wearing this ten gallon hat,

a belt and heeled leather boots,

But surely there’s more that makes a cowboy,

Then dressing up in some fancy suit?”


The boy cocked his head and shut his left eye,

The gears in his head were a spinning.

Then his eyes lit up as he looked back at me,

The correct answer had him just grinning.


“A cowboy’s a man that spends his day with cows,

he cares for them all, big and small.”

I guess that definition would describe me,

Despite the manure, the rubber boots and all.


So I reached down and pat him on top of his head,

And told him the truth with a grin,

“By that definition then yes I’m a cowboy,

Now I’ll know my answer if asked again.”