Feature Cowboys

Learn more about the Wild West and Cowboys.

Cowboys

From Gene Autry to John Wayne to Heath Ledger, the cowboy is a staple of American culture, but that quintessential American icon has roots south of the border.

When Spanish settlers brought the longhorn to the Southwest, they also brought a centuries-old tradition of cattle wrangling.

The vaquero, the Spanish term for "cowboy," was a ranch hand who drove the cattle from Mexico into what is now the Southwestern United States.

Ranching, branding, and trail driving were long-established traditions in Spain and later in Mexico under the hacienda system.

Even cowboy garb has its roots in this unique culture. The wide-brimmed hat, pointed-toe boots, bandana, and chaps—short for "chaparajos"—all have their roots in Spanish and Mexican traditions.

In the early 1900s, railroad advertising for tourists created a new image of the cowboy as a clean-cut Anglo singing songs by the campfire. Hollywood movies popularized that image with Westerns in the 1930s and '40s.

The early history of the vaqueros in their culture is not just a footnote to the sagas of the Wild West. These were the origins of that all-American icon" the cowboy