Real cowboys have never played the slightest political role in US history – because the cities that featured in the Wild West myths are not real cities or even state capitals, but seedy holes in forgotten god corners like Abilene or Dodge City are wild. horsemen in other countries played an important and sometimes decisive role in the history of their nations. Great peasant uprisings in Russia in the 17th — 18th centuries began with Cossack provinces, and later these same Cossacks became the Praetorian Guard of late tsarism. The ubiquitous Balkan haiduks, thugs, gangsters and rebels (I wrote about them) got their name from the Hungarian word meaning “drover”, that is, cowboy.
Gauchos in Argentina, once organized into partisan units under the command of their great leader Juan Manuel de Rosas, controlled the country for another generation after the onset of independence. Modernization of Argentina and its turn towards a civilized state were largely regarded as the city’s struggle against the prairies, the educated business elite against the gauchos, the culture against barbarism. Both in Scotland by Walter Scott and in Argentina Sarmiento the tragedy of this confrontation was obvious: the progress of civilization implied the destruction of values that were considered noble, heroic and admirable, but were doomed from a historical point of view. Victory was paid in losses. Uruguay as a country was, in fact, created by the revolution of the cowboys under the leadership of Artigas, from which originated the desire for democracy, freedom and popular good, which turned it into “Latin American Switzerland” for a time until the generals put an end to all this in the 1970s. Similarly, the riders of the rebel army of Pancho Villa in Mexico were descended from cattle and mining areas.
Australia, like Argentina and Uruguay, was rapidly urbanizing — probably the most urbanized society in the 19th century, outside of small areas of Europe. However, territorially the country consisted of the Wild West with a pair of large cities from one region; and economically it depended on the production of livestock farms to a much greater extent than ever before the United States. So it is not surprising that such populations gave rise to myths: for example, the Australian wilderness, with its migrant herdsmen, shears and other vagrants, is still the main national myth to this day. The song Waltz with Matilda (Waltzing Matilda), dedicated to one such tumbleweed field, is a kind of national anthem of Australia. But none of these myths achieved serious international popularity, let alone compare with the success of the North American cowboys. From what?
Before delving into the search for an answer to this question, I will briefly talk about the rest of the cowboy myths. Partly to reveal their common features, but mainly to recall the ideological and political flexibility of such myths, “invented traditions”, to which I will soon return in the American context. The general is obvious: firmness, courage, possession of weapons, readiness to easily endure adversity, independence, a large proportion of barbarism, or at least the lack of surface gloss, which smoothly transforms into the status of a noble savage. Perhaps, the top down view also plays its role: the rider’s view is on foot, the shepherd on horseback is at the farmer; dashing manners and costume, which emphasize the superiority of the first. To this should be added a distinct non-intellectual or even anti-intellectual. All this together attracted urban youths from the middle class. Cowboy – even midnight – a rude thing. But in addition, cowboys reflect the myths and realities of the societies to which they belong. For example, Cossacks are savages, but socially rooted and “attached to the land.” It is impossible to imagine the “Cossack Shane”.
The myth of the Australian wilderness — and its reality — is embodied in a class-conscious and organized proletariat: it is as if the Wild West were under the control of the Industrial Workers of the World. Farmers may well be not white, but natives, but the local analogue of the cowboys — the vagrant shears — were trade unionists. When a group of strigals was hired, choosing from a variety of vagrants traveling around the country on horseback, a mule or an old car, the first thing they did was organize a union meeting and select a negotiator to discuss conditions with the employer – and now everything is exactly the same. Far from being the case in the vicinity of the corral O. K. There, people clearly were not guided by left ideology. When in 1917, in the depths of Queensland, a large crowd gathered at a rally in support of the October Revolution and demanded the creation of councils, many were arrested, which was not easy, and they were searched, looking for subversive literature. However, the authorities could not find not only subversive, but no literature for these men at all, except for one brochure, which was found in many pockets. She was called: “If water spoils your boots, what will she do with your stomach?”