JF Ptak Science Books Post 1700 [Continuing a series on notes made while reading Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, part 5.]
The word “cowboy” (“cow-boy”, “cow boy”) was little seen in the U.S. in the decades before the great surge in cattle drives—prior to the 1870s. The word most commonly associated with America’s greatest folk heroes actually got its beginning in Ireland, and was commonly used in Britain from 1820-1850 where its meaning was quite literal, applying to the young boys tending the cows owned by a family or community. An earlier use by Jonathan Swift in 1725 also refers to nothing more than a boy tending cows.
[Source: Cowboy and a herd of cattle in Cherry County, Nebraska. Photograph by the great Solomon D. Butcher., 1889. Nebraska State Historical Society.]