JF Ptak Science Books Post 1706
The Cowboy West, from Ned Buntline to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett
I imagine that there have been significantly more people who have played cowboys in literature, on radio, in movies, on the stage and on television than ever cowboyed in the West. This doesn’t include children who have played at “Cowboys and Indians” over the past 150 years. The time of the classic cowboy-in-all-his-glory was short—maybe two generation. Probably less. And there weren't that many people to fill in those positions in that short period of time.
Certainly there are cowboys to this day, but the cowboy of our mind’s eye—that iconic cowboy of the expanding, post-Manifest Destiny West—was a victim of the great rush to land privatization in the 1880s-1890s: barbed wire and other fences took the cowboy's place. By 1895 there were more cowboys riding fences than herding cattle. As Faulkner wrote on the "last individual" in The Fable (page 204), “the cowboy was exterminated from the earth by a tide of men with wire-stretchers and pockets full of staples…” Of course Faulkner also saw the cowboy set among horse dung and "oxidizing cans" of sardines and tomatoes--a gemeinschaft/gesellschaft thing.
There are only 40 or 50 years that separate cowboys Texas Jack and Ned Buntline from the Chandler/Marlowe and Hammett/Spade modern detective West of San Francisco and Los Angeels, which is an extraordinary thing. There weren't cowboys stretching back forty years before Texas Jack, and there weren't forty years that they stretched into the future from him, either. The distance in time that the cowboy existed, all things considered, was short--from the Reconstruction free-roaming Texas cattle of 1866 to the appearance of barbed wire in the early 1870's to the refrigerated railroad car of just about the same time to the endless farming non-frontier of the 1890's, the cowboy enjoyed probably one full decade of not being molested by the present; the future caught up with them in a quick hurry.