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Home arrow Law arrow Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation
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The Cattle-Herding Cowboy and the Hostile Frontier

The Stockyards, the Bullock, the State Capitol Museum and the San Jacinto Monument Museum all employ the ‘frontier as hostile’ motif, although emphasis varies in related aspects. For example, the film played at the beginning of the walking tour in the Fort Worth Stockyards is—in part—about the cattle-herding cowboy. The audience are shown imagery of a barren, bleak landscape while the narrator states, ‘this was a thousand- mile journey, and as they loaded up on blankets, equipment, ammunition and food, they readied themselves for the lonely, three-month trek’. The narrator also tells us that

On the job he [the cowboy] had a very tough life. He worked up to eighteen hours a day, seven days a week and traveled up to eighteen hundred miles with no comforts other than a camp fire and blanket. Yet despite the hardships, most of them never complained ... The trail was dangerous and the men who made their living from it notorious ... They enjoyed all that the frontier town [of Fort Worth] had to offer before setting off on the arduous and lonely trail.

The ‘notorious’ men to which the narrator refers are the cattle-herding cowboys—by describing the trail as ‘dangerous’ the cowboy is consequently framed as brave; describing the journey as ‘arduous’ frames him as tough and bold. Much like other (re)presentations of the Old West memory, Texan historical sites employ masculine scripts of toughness to speak about their protagonists (see Kimmel 1992; Mitchell 1996) . Moreover, the stories told about the leisure pursuits of the cowboy in particular similarly construct his character with reference to hegemonic masculinity:

make no mistake, the cowboys were always happy to turn up a few days

early to enjoy the social amenities Fort Worth became famous for ... cheap

alcohol, loose women, high-stakes gambling and nightly brawls.

As Holt and Thompson (2004; p. 434) find in Western movies, within this Texan Old West story the hegemonic masculinity of the cowboy is constructed by presenting ‘women as sexual objects’, while simultaneously depicting the image of what Dorsey (1997; p. 454) refers to as a ‘two-fisted, faster-than-the-eye, gun-slinging cowboy’. However, while the Stockyards walking tour video does suggest that the cowboy would ‘enjoy ... nightly brawls’ and also romanticises (to some degree) their violence, the vast majority of stories told about the cowboy within Texan historical sites do not depict him with reference to any form of violent exchange. More often than not, the stories focus on cowboy attire, chuck wagon cooking, cattle branding techniques and the ways in which the cowboy learned herding skills. Narratives of Texan toughness in a hostile land are clear but stories specifically about combat and violence are actually notable by their absence. These are not narratives about lawmen, outlaws, bandits or cattle rustlers. Bonnie and Clyde get a brief mention in the Stockyards walking tour (because they stayed in the Stockyards Hotel) and visitors to all of the sites can buy Texas Ranger and Lone Star Lawman badges but these Old West characters are not developed in narrative terms. In short, while the cowboy is tough, in the vast majority of Texan stories he is not violent.

 
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