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Movie heroes and their prototypes: the Hollywood myth about cowboys turned out to be far from reality

Elements of a cowboy image: hat, scarf, plaid shirt

The dashing heroes from American Westerns, scorching from two-handed colts, are nothing more than fiction, another Hollywood myth that significantly distorts reality. In fact, in the daily life of cowboys there was much less heroism, romance and firing from revolvers. What really were the dashing guys of the Wild West, who became symbols of American culture?

The screen image of a cowboy is a handsome macho man of European appearance, hung with weapons. In fact, a third of the cowboys were black, freed and sought work, and a quarter were Indians! Not all of them could afford weapons: a cowboy (that is, a “shepherd”) earned an average of $ 25 a month, and weapons at that time were more expensive.

Permanent skirmishes – an invariable attribute of any western

Revolvers were then too heavy to constantly carry them on their hips. In addition, the Colts were not self-cocking, and each hand required the participation of both hands. Therefore, firing from two revolvers at the same time was simply impossible. As well as a massive firing in saloons: cartridges were filled with smoky gunpowder, and after the first shots a thick smoke screen formed. Well, there couldn’t be mountains of corpses after the shootout for the reason that this weapon was not suitable for aimed shooting at moving targets and at long distances – it was possible to get only with a few steps. The weapon was needed rather in order to shoot in the air, controlling the herd.

The era of cowboys began in the second half of the 19th century, when in Texas there was a need to overtake herds of feral bulls. Until the end of the century, this short era ended. And already in the 1930s, a tradition of heroization and romanticization of cowboys appeared in America. In country music, cinema, comics, brave heroes were glorified, whose invariable attributes were lasso, colts, boots and wide-brimmed hats. Jeans and plaid shirts are just an element of the cowboys’ publicity image. Thus began the mythologization of the image.

The total number of representatives of this profession was very small – about 20 thousand. America has never been a cowboy country. And they themselves were not free and independent, as in the movies. These were horse shepherds who were hired by wealthy farmers. Their task was to drive cattle from Texas to the northwestern states. And wage earners can hardly be considered completely free.

The life of the cowboys was not easy and carefree. Driving cattle lasted from several months to a year, all this time the shepherds led a half-starved nomadic life. And then there was no time for songs and drunken shootings. As a rule, they did not have enough money or alcohol. Moreover, the cowboys did not make sense to fight with the Indians – many of them were Indians themselves, the rest preferred to negotiate with them: they bought things and products from them.

Another misconception was the assertion that cowboys appeared in America and existed only in these territories. Long before this, horse shepherds appeared in Spain, Portugal and the south of France.

Among the cowboys there were also a lot of unemployed white Americans, criminal elements who did not disdain robbery, robbery, rape and murder. They terrified the respectable Americans, and they breathed a sigh of relief when the herds grazing on the prairie began to decline and the need for cowboy services disappeared.

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