Legends of Gratitude... The Southwest Frontier
Etched Holiday Issue 2015
I recall the night well. It was in the fall of 1969. My mom packed snacks while my dad loaded the station wagon with blankets, pillows, and the three of us kids. Dad said we were headed off to a great adventure, something about the Old West, and cowboys. At seven years old, my mind envisioned a trip to Calico Ghost Town, or maybe Knott’s Berry Farm. But the short ten minute journey led to the drive-in theater. We merged into the huge line of cars who were all there to see the premiere of what would become the smash-hit of 1969. The film, achieving box office dominance, and winner of four Oscars was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie, captivated my attention. And it was Paul Newman and Robert Redford who gave me my first introduction to the “cowboy”.
But Hollywood’s valiant attempt to bring to the screen the history and people of the western frontier could never capture the true grit of forging the American West.
In the early 1970s I began to understand this when my parents built a home on the CRIT Reservation in Parker, Arizona, along the Colorado River. This massive body of water was the bloodline to the Parker Valley; a fifty mile stretch of land that had been under agricultural development since 1867. Through my friends who lived and worked on these farms, participated in FFA, 4-H, and competed in the rodeos, I came to know the “cowboy” of the times. Still, neither they nor my Hollywood heros were the cattlemen whose essence of lifestyle arose from the most lonely of lands.
The American West Cowboy is a result of infusion from varying cultures, ethnicities, and countries over centuries. In the shortest of terms, he was a cattleman. His life was that of his herd and the horses he rode. It was hard labor and often dangerous. While Vaquero’s preferred the reata and Americans preferred a gun, the American West Cowboy used both. The American West Cowboy’s language and music was identified with a time when Alpine yodeling met the African banjo, the Spanish guitar, and the byproduct of the Italian violin, the fiddle.
In the arid region of California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, cattle grazing was sometimes the sole economic prospect until dams and irrigation techniques were developed. Emerson Hough’s 1918 article, Cowboys On The Frontier described the cattlemen’s professional ‘hay day’ as such:
“Large tracts of that domain where once the cowboy reigned supreme have been turned into farms by the irrigator’s ditch or by the dry-farmer’s plan. The farmer in overalls is in many instances his own stockman today. On the ranges of Arizona, Wyoming, and Texas and parts of Nevada we may find the cowboy...but he is no longer the Homeric figure that once dominated the plains...when wire was unknown, when the round-up still was necessary, and the cowboy’s life was indeed that of the open.”
What I discovered in all of my research was that the southwest remains the home to many a cowboy. This rough, tough, dedicated frontiersman lives on despite the generations. The Holiday Issue of Etched takes a picturesque look into the lives of these modern day frontiersmen and women who live and breathe the western heritage as it was. The images fill our pages and our hearts with gratitude for the cowboy’s relentless commitment to preserving their heritage.
Though I’ve dispelled my Hollywood version of the old west, it’s legends are alive in my soul. What I appreciate most about the “cowboy” is the ability to hold true to his origins; his profession, despite technology, remains similar to that of a century ago. There’s something very special about that...
“Out from the tiny settlement in the dusk of evening, always facing toward where the sun is sinking, might be seen riding, not so long ago, a figure we should know...He would ride as lightly and as easily as ever, sitting erect and jaunty in the saddle, his reins held high and loose in the hand whose fingers turn up gracefully, his whole body free yet firm in the saddle with the seat of the perfect horseman. At the boom of the cannon, when the flag dropped fluttering down to sleep, he would rise in his stirrups and wave his hat to the flag. Then, toward the edge, out into the evening, he would ride on. The dust of his riding would mingle with the dusk of night. We could not see which was the one or the other. We could only hear the hoof beats passing, boldly and steadily still, but growing fainter, fainter, and more faint...” - Emerson Hough
May you and yours be surrounded by the legends of gratitude in your life.
Darci - Editor in Chief