"TIRED COWBOY" by Linda Kinney

"WOW! This dinner tastes great, Mom! Where did you get this steak?", the young man said as the family finished their evening meal. I imagine that if a survey were taken today, very few school-aged children know where our meat comes from, except to name a particular grocery store frequented by the shopper of the home. Economic history is rarely taught, leaving no concept of our past.

The truth is that cattle drives were the only means of providing the expanding population of the Eastern United States with beef between 1856 and 1896. during those years approximately 27 million cattle were driven from Texas to the railroad in Arkansas for shipment to stockyards in Louisiana and further east. Cattle was branded with the mark of the ranch that owned it. Then the herds were mixed and sorted out at the end of the drive, when time came for payments to be made by the buyers.

It was a very difficult life. One of the most famous trails was The Chisholm Trail, which was 1,000 miles (1,600 km) long. Generally, 10 cowboys, each requiring 3 horses, would 'push' 3,000 steers this distance and receive $25-$30 a month. Foremen would receive $50 or more and a trail boss was sometimes paid as much as $100 a month. If interested in getting an idea of what it was like 'Hollywood style', there was a television series between 1959 and 1965 titled 'Rawhide'. It starred Clint Eastwood and was his 'big break'. There are many other productions portraying these famous times of the American West.

As a little girl, I remember a large photograph of my great-uncle, Jesse Bradshaw, hanging on a wall in my grandmother's front room. Framed in an ornate wooded frame with beveled glass, it was the center of my attention. He was dressed in full cowboy attire with a cowhide vest and heavy tan work pants, covered by leather chaps.  His head was adorned with an over-sized cowboy hat, stained with sweat. He wore tall, rugged riding boots up to his calves with his pants tucked tightly inside. Jesse was leaning against the split-rail fence, the cattle in the background. The heel of his right boot barely hooked the bottom run and his left arm rested on the top rail. Necessary leather gloves protected his hands, and he was grasping a lassoing rope, a staple of every cowboy. On his hip was a holstered six-shooter, the choice weapon for defense and miscellaneous use.

Though it was many years ago, I remember that day vividly. I was standing alone in what seemed a huge room that was combination bedroom and living room. A large feather-bed was against the windowed-wall, open always for any breeze. The picture of a cowboy hung above the bed, and diagonally across the room in the corner was a Futon bed, that served the dual purpose of a couch. Above it was the same type framed photo of my grandmother's parents, who had migrated from Germany. In the corner was a small square table just large enough for the radio, which was the only means of news and entertainment. There were three doors in the room. One, next to the bed, led outside toward the road. Almost directly across from it was another door which led quite a distance to the outdoor toilet. The third door led through another bedroom to the kitchen, and the only plumbing, a cold water pipe at the sink.

Grannie Myrt entered the room. She was wearing a dress she had made from cotton flour sacks using only a needle and thread. Her wardrobe consisted of only a few, each with a different flower pattern, and she wore them in winter or summer.  A full apron with two pockets and a bib hung around her neck. It was just as necessary as the dress. She had just finished washing dishes and was wringing her hands in the apron, as she stood by me, quietly. I looked at her and said, "Who is that?" as I pointed at the photo. I had never known a cowboy. She told me Jesse was her younger brother. In the late 1800's, he had the opportunity to sign on with one of the local ranches for the cattle drive. He was very young and it was an opportunity for adventure. She said, "When he left, we never saw him again because he was killed in a gun fight. We never knew the circumstances, but he was a good boy. We are very happy he had this picture taken for us."

"Tired Cowboy" is a 20" x 24" (50.80 x 60.96 cm) oil painting on canvas dedicated to that time in American history, the people who lived and struggled during that time, and especially to my Uncle Jesse.