What redblooded woman doesn’t get tingly all over when a broad-shouldered man in chaps rides into town? And who wouldn’t want to read about him? :) We’re talking some drool-worthy characters here: Rowdy Yates, Paladin, Maverick, and of course the sexiest of them all, Cheyenne Bodie. How about John Wayne, Tom Selleck, and Sam Eliot?
But if you read or write historicals, there are issues. Yes, cowboys aren’t as simple and you’d think. We have a whole lot of mythology from the B-Westerns mixed in with our modern notion of what a cowboy really was. The heyday of the cattle era lasted from shortly after the Civil War until about 1890, although make no mistake about it—real cowhands do exist today. Just not many of them.
What Did You Call Me???
First of all, in the 19th Century, men who worked with cattle weren’t called cowboys. The term was in use, but was pejorative, usually referring to greenhorn, Indian, or African American cowhands. Preferred terms were cowhand, ranch hand, vaquero, drover, cowpuncher, or just plain rider, among others, a lot depending on what the job was and the location. But not cowboy. And anyway, in the dime novels, they wrote “Cow-boy” (much like we write “Web site,” which will change to “website” in a few years once someone ever figures out that “web” is a common noun). Ranch owners were called ranchmen or cattlemen.
How did the belt break the law?
It held up some pants.
But not before 1920!
Second, good luck finding photographs for a book cover if authenticity is important. First of all—no belt loops, so also no fancy buckles, except maybe for the gunbelt, but fancy things were only worn by dandies. Shiny objects made you too good of a target. Belt loops came on the scene in the 1920s. Before that, men wore suspenders if necessary.
Billie the Kid wore a derby.
About hats—lots of cowboys wore derbies or boaters. Stetson made the Boss of the Plains starting in 1865 but most cowhands who wore them didn’t the crease the crown or curl up the sides as did the B-Western cowboys, which influenced what you still see now. Of course, creases and curls happened with use, and a “broken-in” hat was prized. Batwing chaps were around but most working cowhands wore stovepipe chaps—that, too, depended on the area and the weather. Woolies were only worn in colder weather, and mostly in the north.
Need your neck warmed?
Bandanas varied depending on the area, but most were plain unbleached cotton or linen. Some cowhands wore more colorful bandanas, but the bandana wasn’t considered a fashion item until, you guessed it, the B-Westerns. Before that, the bandana was simply a tool. You could tie it around your head to keep the sweat out of your eyes, tie it over your head to keep your ears warm in the winter, or you could use it to strain drinking water, or for a washcloth. You could use it for a filter over your nose, especially riding drag on a cattle drive. And of course bandits found them quite handy as masks.
Collars and buck straps—not just for horses.
Most shirts came without collars—you had to buy a collar separately. Collars were usually saved for town wear, if a cowhand had one at all. Bib shirts were popular because of the extra protection the bib provided, plus, if the bib got dirty, they could just turn it around to the clean side. Trousers were high-waisted, had a button fly, four buttons on the front waistband and two buttons in the back to hook suspenders (sometimes called braces). Many had a buck strap across the back just under the waistband so skinnier men could tighten the girth.
See that scrawny feller over there?
Most cowhands tended toward the sinewy side rather than the buff look we love so much because a lighter-weight rider made for less wear and tear on the horses. And the men kept their shirts on; otherwise, their skin would be bloody shreds within minutes. I doubt many of them waxed their chests, either. Them’s fightin’ words.
But hey, it’s a real fantasy!
I’m not covering boots, spurs, dusters, and underwear, but you get the picture—a real cowhand just didn’t look as good as today’s romance cover models. But you know what? Romance is fantasy, so while the story has to feel authentic, I’m not so sure the hero has to meet the same criteria.
What do you think? What’s your ideal of the most romantic western hero?
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Much Ado About Mavericks (http://amzn.com/B008EDN9T4)
* FIVE STARS! Jacquie Rogers writes some of the best Historical Romances on today's market. Not content to simply write a plot and toss in a lot of bed scenes and/or filler, this author adds in subplots, humor, action, suspense, and some endearing strays. ~Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews
* When you read a Jacquie Rogers book, you know you're in for a fast, fun ride! ~BookwormForever
A sexy ranch foreman who just happens to be a beautiful woman
A Boston lawyer who wants to settle his father's estate and go back East.
Rustlers who have another agenda in mind
Mayhem endangers them all--but can the foreman and the lawyer ever see eye to eye?
Benjamin Lawrence is a highly respected attorney in Boston, but in Idaho Territory, they still think of him as that gangly awkward boy named Skeeter. When he goes back home to settle his estate, he's confronted with a ridiculous will that would be easy to overturn--but can he win the regard of his family and neighbors--and the foreman?
The Bar EL's foreman, Janelle Kathryn aka J.K. aka Jake O'Keefe, is recognized as the best foreman in the territory. But being the best at her job still isn't enough--now she has to teach the new owner how to rope, brand, and work cattle before she receives clear title to her own ranch, the Circle J. The last thing she expects is rustlers. Can she save her ranch without losing her heart?
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Jacquie is a former software designer, campaign manager, deli clerk, and cow milker, but always a bookworm. Reading is her passion--westerns, fantasies, historicals of any era, and all with lots of adventure and a dash of romance. If an author can make her laugh, she'll buy every book that writer ever wrote. One of the first western historical romances she read was Hondo by Louis L’Amour and she’s been hooked ever since. While a country girl by birth, she currently lives in the Seattle suburbs with her husband who knows if she’s on deadline, he cooks. Can you ever take the country out of a girl's heart? Probably not, and that’s why her stories often take place in Idaho where she grew up. Much Ado About Marshals (Hearts of Owyhee #1) won the 2012 RttA Award for Best Western, the CTRR Award, and garnered a NOR Top Pick. She owns the Romancing The West blog which features a western writer (all sub-genres) each week, started the Western Historical Romance Book Club on Facebook, and works hard at rekindling the western audience.
Romancing The West: http://romancingthewest.blogspot.com