Defining a cowboy

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

It’s the stuff postcards are made of.

A cowboy, lean and lanky, his face burnt by the sun and worn by the wind, stares into the slowly sinking sun. His eyes squint as he tosses his saddle over his shoulder and beholds the beauty of the land he loves.

He breathes in the cool mountain air, then turns slowly toward the bunkhouse.

He will sleep just a short time tonight, for tomorrow he will live the life he dreams of all over again.

The cowboy is a part of American lore. He thrills us on the big screen and croons our cares away in old country songs.

But what constitutes actually being a cowboy?

Andy Shirey III is a junior general agriculture major from Pray, Mont. He lives on a small ranch where his family raises Corriente cattle. In the summer he works on a 15,000-acre wheat farm and cattle ranch in northeast Montana.

He said it is not his place to define what a cowboy is.

“I don’t want to be the judge of what a cowboy is or isn’t,” he said. “It’s hard to define. You can’t judge if somebody is a cowboy by what he wears. Some are real cowboys and just don’t dress that way in public, or some dress that way and aren’t.”

Shirey said he believes that cowboys may be pressured to change with the times or environment.

“There are guys that could be cowboys at home and when they get here (SDSU), they change,” he said. “It’s like a conversion process.”

Matthew Knott, a sophomore Range Science major from Corvallis, Mont., is a different type of cowboy. Instead of riding the range rounding up cattle, Knott spends his summers high in the mountains of Idaho as a hunting and fishing guide and outfitter’s hand.

He acknowledges that some real cowboys may not necessarily always dress the part.

“It used to be that folks dressed like they worked,” he said. “It just made sense. Now, I think pop culture has changed some true cowboys and those who would be. Kids just don’t want to be cowboys anymore.”

Knott also points to the change in country music as another influence of pop culture.

“It’s turned into more of a softer rock or something. Traditionally, artists came from the country. That’s not always the case anymore. Thank God for old-timers like Chris LeDoux and Garth (Brooks).”

Cowboying is less a job than a calling, Shirey said.

“Some seem destined for it,” he said. “Others are drawn to it and sometimes even seem a little surprised that they’re still at it.”

Both Knott and Shirey said they wouldn’t give up their way of life for anything.

“It’s such a different, unique lifestyle. One totally different from any other,” Shirey said. ” I guess I would define a real cowboy as a guy who’s out working his a– off sun-up to sun-down, just his own man.”