So you’ve learnt about the rise and fall of the cattle industry – but that’s not all, as you need to know specifically about who the cowboys were and what they did, as well as their equipment, etc. As a result, we’ve got this article for you – a guide to the ins and outs of cowboys.

Originally, the cowboys were Spanish vacqueros (interestingly, this is close to vaqueros, which is Spanish for jeans), in what eventually became Texas. However, the term “cowboy” didn’t come into proper use until the 1870s, to describe the men who worked on cattle ranches and on the long drive. Many of these cowboys were from the southern states, and often included large numbers of blacks and Mexicans.

Every cowboy had their own set of equipment, although they didn’t actually own any of it – most of it was borrowed from their employer. This equipment included:

  • A hat (known as a stetson) – protected the cowboy against the weather, such as sun, rain and snow
  • Gloves – protected cowboy’s hands, which could be rubbed ray using a lariat
  • A lariat (essentially a lasso) – made from thin leather and was essential for catching and working with cattle
  • A saddle – essential to their job, it was their most prized possession.
  • Six-shooter – a symbol of status, but most cowboys were terrible shots
  • Chaps – leather trousers that protected the legs from thorny vegetation, from chafing on a long ride, and from injuries in case of a fall
  • Boots – high heel to keep the foot in the stirrup, and always were worn with spurrs
  • Bandana – worn around the neck like a scarf. Was probably one of the most useful pieces of equipment a cowboy had – could be used to protect the neck from the sun, as a dusk mask, to protect parts of the face and head from weather, as a clothe, to tie a calf’s legs together, and more.


The cowboys had several jobs, including:

  • Line riding – patrolling the boundary of a ranch, herding stray cattle back onto the ranch and driving off strays from other ranches, as well as discouraging cattle rustling, treating animals, and killing predators. However, with the introduction of barbed wire, they became ‘fence riders’, who had to repair fences, and had to follow the fences of the ranch. 
  • Round-up and branding – in spring, the cowboys would have to round up the cattle to be identified by their brands, and young animals would have to be branded.


And that’s really all you need to know about cowboys – if you are asked to describe a cowboy in the exam, if you mention either a job or a few pieces of equipment and explain them in a way, then you should get your marks.

Hope this helped!

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