While I am excited to see tomorrow's release of Cowboys & Aliens, I thought I'd let you in on a Southwestern secret - make sure you know the local vernacular before you call yourself a cowboy.
I learned this the hard way while visiting Arizona.
In the 1880s, it was an insult in the Tombstone, Ariz. area to call someone a "cowboy," as it implied he was a horse thief, robber, or outlaw. Cattlemen were generally called herders, ranchers or punchers.
One loosely organized band was dubbed "The Cowboys," and profited from smuggling cattle, alcohol, and tobacco across the U.S./Mexico border. The Cowboys' activities ultimately ended with the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881.
The San Francisco Examiner wrote in an editorial, "Cowboys [are] the most reckless class of outlaws in that wild country...infinitely worse than the ordinary robber."
On the other hand, there is little doubt that women, particularly those on small ranches that could not afford to hire herders, worked with men and needed to ride horses and related tasks.
The largely undocumented contributions of women to the west were acknowledged in law; the western states led the United States in granting women the right to vote, beginning with Wyoming in 1869.
I highly recommend the books by Nancy E. Turner, starting with These is My Words. They're a fictionalized account of the author's great-grandmother Sarah Prine, who lived in southern Arizona at the time.
Now, what to wear to the theatre....