Cowboys, Lawmen and the American Frontier - AMERICA and HER COWBOYS

AMERICA and HER COWBOYS (Illustration) American History African American History Nineteenth Century Life Legends and Legendary People

Stanley L. Wood (1866-1928) was a prolific English artist known, especially, for his drawings which illustrated adventure stories for boys. During 1888, he spent time in America, on behalf of the Illustrated London News, where he became very interested in the “Old West” way of life. This image depicts his painting, “Texas Cowboy.” Click on it for a better view. Public Domain.


America is a young nation. Compared to other nations, like Greece, America is still in her infancy.

Countries with roots extending back to ancient times have stories which inform their history. Some of those stories are legends. Some of those stories are true. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Take the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example. Did Homer report facts? Did he make-up stories? Was Homer even a real person? Scholars still debate these issues. 

One thing we know for sure about those ancient Greek works. They’re inspirational. The Iliad was so inspirational to Alexander the Great—one of the foremost leaders of all time—that he always had a copy with him, wherever he went.  At least ... that’s how history records it.

What about America? Do Americans have a national epic (like Britain’s Beowulf, Spain’s Don Quixote or Egypt’s Story of Sinuhe)? Do Americans have ancient characters doing heroic deeds, like King Arthur and his Round-Table Knights or St. George and his dragon-slaying feats?

Not really.  But what Americans do have are stories—sometimes more legend than real—about the "Wild West" and the "American Frontier." Some of those stories originated when the nineteenth-century U.S. media spun tales about heroic cowboys fighting-off Indians and animals in the "Old West."

With their reckless individualism, these cowboys drove cattle, braved all kinds of elements and sometimes got into serious trouble. When they did, fearless and heroic lawmen would take them down at high noon on a dirt-covered street in some western town.

In a way, this media-generated world became America’s Odyssey. The stories enticed more and more young men to "Go West," and to "Grow up with the Country."

When the film-making industry turned the tales into movies, most producers forgot about, never knew (or ... maybe ... ignored) one major fact. Many of those nineteenth-century cowboys, and some of the lawmen, were African-Americans.

And so ... as the myth-making machinery kept producing stories about white cowboys, who sometimes ran into trouble with white lawmen, part of the history was left behind. In this story, we’ll expand the playing field to examine a slice of life along the American Frontier.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 18, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"AMERICA and HER COWBOYS" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 18, 2015. Feb 19, 2020.
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