Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Is A Real Cowboy? (to tuck or not to tuck)

October 16, 2012

It's interesting to me that almost everyone who sees someone with a cowboy hat on has an opinion as to the authenticity of the wearer. I grew up in Kingman, Arizona in the 1950s and when I once tried to tuck my pants legs into my boot tops like I had seen in old time photos, my mother admonished me not to do it because "only dudes tuck." She wasn't alone. Virtually all my Kingman cowboy cousins do not tuck, nor did anyone I saw at the annual Kingman Rodeo growing up. It was just not done.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a photograph of my cowboy grandfather Bob Guess standing in the corral at the Diamond Bar Ranch in 1912 with his pants tucked into his boots!

When I pointed this out to my aunt Sadie Pearl she scoffed that it was an exception and not the rule.

Here's my theory on the tuck. In the heyday of the Old West cowboy, most tucked. You see it in all the photographs. In fact, it's more unusual to see an 1880s cowboy with his boots UNTUCKED.

So what changed?

Well, when dude ranches became popular in the 1930s and the easterners started aping the styles of the cowboys, the hired hands on the dude ranches started dialing it back to disassociate themselves from all the flamboyant dudes. So the aversion to tucking, in my opinion, really started in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Today, it is so pervasive there are more cowboys who do not tuck, but there is a growing movement among younger cowboys to tuck. Here's a good example I saw last weekend in Ruidoso.

Now these Capitan Cowboys are the real deal. They work on ranches in the Capitan Mountains, north of Lincoln, New Mexico. One tucks, the other doesn't. Now, here's the irony of the deal. I didn't ask them, but I have a hunch they think this guy, below, is a dude:

Never mind that this guy is more authentic to the 1880s cowboy look than the two youngsters. This guy went to much trouble to get the shotgun chaps right and the hat and the vest. Both sides think the others are DUDES! This is quite amazing to me. Of course, on some level, the two Capitan Cowboys win by default because they are actually cowboys and the gentlemen in the Tombstone outfit probably is just dressing up like an authentic cowboy of the 1880s and may know how to ride a horse, but most likely has a non-cowboy job.

Personally, I agree with the statement that if you pay more than $500 for a pair of boots why would you cover them up and only show the toe? Would you buy a Porsche and put a cover over it so only the grill shows? That would be silly, no?

What we have here is the past and the present at odds with each other. You wouldn't look at a soldier in Iraq and say, "He's not a real soldier because he's not wearing a kepi cap." So, the same thing is true with describing someone who tucks as a "dude."

Real cowboys tuck and they don't tuck. And when you get right down to it, many real cowboys wear gimme caps more than they wear cowboy hats, at least on the range. Going to town, or a Cowboy Symposium, is a different deal. Some real cowboys wear overalls. In my opinion, the more adamant someone is about exactly what a real cowboy wears and doesn't wear, the less they know about jack.

And, full disclosure, I usually don't tuck, although I admire cowboys that do. And I'm not a real cowboy. I'm a cartoonist who wears a cowboy hat and is proud of it.

"I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy."

—Old Vaquero Putdown