Cowboy Confidential – Old West Misconceptions

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Common Misconceptions

About Cowboys

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They’re the guys with the thousand yard stare. The one with six-shooters in their holsters, a broad-brim hat on their heads and enough jagged iron in their guts to break down even the toughest steak. They are the cowboys, and everyone knows they’re the coolest, calmest, most-heroic folk in America history.

 Or are they? What if we were to tell you that the cowboys you think you know are nothing like the real ones? That your mental image of cowboys could do with slightly less stoicism and gunfights… and more camels, examples of poor personal hygiene, and venereal diseases. Here are 10 little-known, crazy facts about the men who really tamed America’s wild west.

10. Most Cowboys Didn’t Carry Guns

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The gun-totin’ cowboy is the only cowboy most of us can picture. He’s Clint Eastwood on the way to a shootout. John Wayne blowing away bad guys. Yet take your Blu-Ray player back to the 19th century and show a genuine cowboy these films and he’d likely look at you askance. Why? Because real cowboys only rarely carried weapons.

Sure, you might need them when you were out on a cattle drive or whatever. But when you got to town? Check that baby at the door. Most towns in the wild west enacted strict gun control, just to make sure the sort of shootouts we see in movies didn’t happen on a daily basis. Even the infamous Tombstone didn’t let its cowboys walk round armed. The Gunfight at the OK Carrol only came about because Doc and Earp were trying to enforce gun laws.

The city wasn’t alone. Dodge City, Wichita, and others all stopped their visitors from packing heat. So how did cowboys solve problems without their pistols? We’re glad you asked…

9. They Almost Never Got in Fights

It’s said that “the true story of the American West is one of cooperation, not conflict.” Although 90 percent of westerns involve people getting shot, a barroom brawl, a violent posse riding into town, or (more likely) all three, the truth of the frontier was that acting tough was a good way to wind up dead. If you wanted to survive, you basically had to get on with your neighbors.

This meant no high noon showdowns, no thuggery, and no murders. Even in the roughest, toughest cattle towns, the murder rate was generally lower than that of most modern American cities. Bank robberies, too, were rare. In 2005, the University of Dayton calculated that there were more bank robberies in modern Dayton in a single year than there were across the entire Old West in a typical decade.

There were exceptions, of course. In the immediate post-Civil War period violence sporadically flared up, and Native American tribes often experienced the brutal side of the frontier. But these were the exceptions. Even notorious outlaws were less violent than their reputation suggests. Billy the Kid, for example, spent way more time rustling cattle than he ever did robbing banks or shooting people.

8. Many Were Ravaged by Venereal Diseases

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If your mental image of a cowboy is John Wayne acting all moral and clean-cut, you might not want to read this entry. The reality of cowboy life was dirty from beginning to end. Cowpokes often went days on end without bathing. They were smelly. Often covered in grime and stale sweat. But dirtiest of all was what was happening inside their bodies. Y’see, it’s now thought that many citizens of the frontier were crawling with venereal diseases.

Depending on where you were in the Old West, between 50 to 90 percent of the local prostitutes were likely carrying STDs. And since many cowboys liked to, ahem, avail themselves of these ladies’ talents, that meant a whole bunch of cowboys were riding around with a growing bacterial menagerie between their legs.

Although precise figures are hard to come by today, we know that new recruits to the US Army between 1876 and 1896 were frequently diseased, suggesting many of the general population were, too. Some have even suggested that crazy behavior by guys such as the Wild Bill Hickok might have been due to syphilis, making them act all eccentric.

 7. Plenty Didn’t Do Any Riding Whatsoever

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Close your eyes. Picture a cowboy. Got him? Right: What animal did he appear with?

Despite the name, almost none of you said ‘cow’. For a good reason. Cowboys in modern mythos are almost completely inseparable from their horses. The image of them riding across the high plains on a long cattle drive is one charged with romance and the spirit of adventure. For many cowboys, that was exactly what life was like.

But not for all of them. For a significant minority, their job description involved absolutely no riding whatsoever.

This was especially true at the end of the era, from about 1885 onwards. A dry summer and a terrible winter had convinced many ranchers to keep their cattle close to home. For a huge chunk of cowboys, that meant the romance of the plain was suddenly replaced with menial labor like mending fences and checking penned cows for disease. If they got to ride anything at all, it would likely be a haymow. Unsurprisingly, most hated such work.

6. Some That Did Ride Rode Camels

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Here’s a classic western scene. The sun stands at high noon, baking the lifeless city streets. A tumbleweed blows through the dust. A shadow appears on the horizon. It’s the cowboy. He emerges out of the heat haze, skin like cracked leather… and proceeds to ride into town on the back of his Arabian camel. Wait, what?

It’s true. In certain parts of the Old West, horses were as rare as they are in big cities today. Instead, ranchers had their cowboys ride on the backs of camels that had been imported in the 1850s, and accidentally released into the wild at the height of the Civil War.

Because of the harsh conditions on the frontier, it had been theorized camels would cope much better than horses with the heat. The US Government agreed. At great cost it imported hundreds of camels to Camp Verde, only for war to break out. When the Confederates seized the camp they released the camels. For the next few decades, enterprising ranchers occasionally caught a few, broke them in and gave them to their cowboys to work with.

 5. ‘Brokeback’ Encounters Were Surprisingly Common

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Remember 2005? That was the year Brokeback Mountain hit cinemas and Heath Ledgerproved he didn’t have to be in clown makeup to provide a magnetic performance. The movie was also controversial among some who thought it was grafting our modern notions of sexuality onto a historic setting (in this case, the 1960s).

Interestingly, this is the one criticism that can easily be refuted. According to historian and author Patricia Nell Warren, gay encounters were way more common in the Old West than we ever realized.

A lot of this is thanks to the conditions cowboys had to endure. Long stretches of time away from women, surrounded by other men, led to occasional ‘one-off’ trysts simply as a way of relieving sexual tension. Within that mix, you had a handful of genuinely gay cowboys, who’d often fled out West as a way of achieving anonymity. Because manpower was scarce, it was impractical for landowners to refuse to hire them due to their sexuality.

As social historians John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman noted in their book Intimate Matters, there are even surviving love poems written from cowboys to one another. It might have been frowned upon by the rest of society, but on the Frontier, homosexuality was relatively open.

4. Black Cowboys Were Also Surprisingly Common

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Quick: how many westerns can you name that feature black cowboys? Most of us can probably only get Django Unchained and Blazing Saddles. As a result, you might think African-American cowpokes were a rarity on the frontier. You’d be wrong. By some estimates, as many as one in four cowboys were black.

It makes sense when you think about it. Cowpunching, as it was often called, was a dirty, difficult, badly-paid, working class job. In the post-Civil War era, those were exactly the sort of jobs newly-emancipated slaves might be expected to do. And as we mentioned above, the Old West was one area where employers couldn’t afford to turn a good pair of hands away, no matter what the color of their skin was.

That’s not to say everything on the frontier was racial harmony. Way into the 20thcentury, black cowboys were expected to do the hardest, toughest jobs of all. They were the ones breaking in wild horses, doing all the cooking on wagon drives, and holding the cattle down at branding time. On the other hand, black cowboys often had a degree of autonomy and responsibility they would have lacked in other jobs. Perhaps that’s why so many ex-slaves chose to head out West.

3. Outlaws Were Shameless Self-Promoters

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When you hear that robbers today are live-Tweeting their own break-ins, it’s tempting to assume we’ve hit rock bottom as a culture. Such nonsense would never have happened in the stoic Old West, right? Kinda. Although photographs of Pat Garrett playing on his smartphone have yet to surface, outlaws of the cowboy era were just as narcissistic as today’s criminals. When conducting major crimes, they frequently handed out press releases.

Jesse James was notorious for this. When holding up a train, he’d pass witnesses a carefully-written note, boasting about his own exploits. He wasn’t the only one. Billy the Kid deliberately inflated his kill-count from 8 to 21, and boasted about his violent temper. In fact, the Kid almost never got involved with shooting, robbing or hold ups. The main reason the law went after him was because he kept rustling cattle.

On the other side, the good guys were equally image-conscious. Wild Bill’s nickname actually referred to his gigantic nose, similar in size to a duck’s bill. It was only by effort he made out it referred to his ‘wild’ and dangerous nature, thereby terrifying local criminals.

2. The Rest of the Country Considered Them Suspicious and Dirty

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The cowboy is enshrined in legend as the epitome of American values. While other eras and professions have their draws, it’s impossible to think of a historic figure today more beloved by the entire nation. Which just goes to show how times change. In the early days of the Frontier, cowpunchers were regarded as ill-educated vagrants at best, and dangerous carriers of disease at worst.

Around the Deep South, cowboys were considered trespassers who used public land for their own gain. The North generally considered them illiterate (they usually were). Even along the Great Plains, there was much resentment. Cattle drives routinely trampled the crops of farmers and Native Americans, and it was the cowpunchers themselves who got the blame. Many people even feared they would spread dreaded ‘Texas Fever’ throughout the land. It’s safe to say that, during the golden age of the cowboy, most of America regarded them as a smelly nuisance.

It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that pulp novelists and early Hollywood began to transform these tough, dirty, uneducated men into folk heroes. Fast forward to today and that’s the image that remains.

 1. Modern Germans Love Them

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Of all the countries in the world, which do you think has fallen for the cowboy myth the hardest (aside from the good ol’ US-of-A, that is)? Nope, it’s not Canada. Not Australia. Not even Great Britain. The country most obsessed with the cowboy today? Germany.

For some reason, Germans go nuts over cowboy-related stuff. Hundreds of clubs exist across this mountainous European nation, where people go on weekends to dress as cowboys and pretend they’re living in 19th century Texas. It’s estimated that several tens of thousands of Germans do this every single week, with many, many thousands more holding a passing interest in such exploits.

Nor is this a completely modern thing. Back in the 1930s, the Nazis venerated cowboys almost as much as they did genocide. Hitler himself was known to be a huge fan of westerns, often reading cowboy books between bouts of conquest and megalomania. For some reason, this very un-German tradition has taken deep root in a country far more ordered and rule-abiding than the Old West ever was. Which just goes to show, we guess, that you never can tell what the future has in store.


Cowboy Confidential

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– Old West Misconceptions

BS or Truth II – WIF Confidential

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True Facts

That Sound Like

BS

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In a world where fake news and false factoids are rampant, it is hard to distinguish what is true and what isn’t, especially when it sounds so unbelievable. We have gone through some crazy news stories and unbelievable tales from history and culled even more of the most interesting, unbelievable facts that sound like BS, but are completely true.

 10. There’s a Novel That Doesn’t Contain the Letter E

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In 1936 author Ernest Vincent Wright set out1 to write a book that did not contain the letter “E,” which is the most common letter in the English language. He got really excited about the project because other people said it would be impossible to do without ignoring the rules of grammar. Yet, Wright was able to bang out a 50,000 word novel,called Gadsby. To ensure he didn’t use the “E” key on his typewriter, he disabled it. He said that the hardest problem was avoiding words that ended with “-ed.”

 The plot of Gadsby revolves around the fictional city of Branton Hills, which was in a decline. The book’s main character, John Gadsby, leads a group of young people to help rejuvenate it.

The novel wasn’t successful when it was first released, but the book has developed a following in later years and a first edition is now highly collectable.

9. A Woman Paid $10,000 for Invisible Art1

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Oh James Franco, sometimes you seem all right. But other times it’s hard not to figure out where you live, travel there, and then hit you up the backside of your head. Case in point is his the Museum of Non-Visible Art, which, you may have gathered, is full of art that doesn’t physically exist. Instead, the artist imagines a piece of art and explains it to the audience. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, people can also buy the works of art. The purchaser gets a card with the piece’s name, and then the owner takes it and puts it on their wall. And then they have to explain the art to their audience. Basically, it’s the most pretentious-sounding endeavor you can probably imagine (and then you can sell that imaginary endeavor, if you’re James Franco).

Strangely, Franco is not the most pretentious person in this story. That would be the woman who bought a piece of invisible art for $10,000. Fresh Air was purchased by Aimee Davison, who says her title is a new media producer. We have to say, good choice of giving away your money to a rich movie star like James Franco; we don’t think there are any starving children who could have used that money to, you know, eat.

8. Saudi Arabia Imports Camels from Australia

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The first thing about this factoid that you may be surprised to learn is that Australia has camels. They were imported onto the continent in the 19th century from Arabia, India, and Afghanistan because they were well suited to Australia’s outback. However, when the combustion engine came along, the camels weren’t needed. So they were released into the outback, and today it is a huge problem. There is one roaming pack that has 750,000 camels.

Another thing you may be surprised to learn is that Australia also exports camels to Saudi Arabia, a place you’d think would be plentiful with camels. It would be like Canada importing beavers.

While there are plenty of camel farms in Saudi Arabia, their camels are bred for domestic uses and racing. The camels from Australia are mostly used for meat, which is a delicacy in many countries in the Middle East.

7. Cleopatra was Greek, Not Egyptian

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One of the most famous Egyptian rulers of all time is Cleopatra VII. When she was 18, in 51 BC, she became co-regent of Egypt with her 10-year-old brother and she more or less ruled for the next three decades.

While Cleopatra is a famous Pharaoh, she and the other Macedonian rulers of Egypt were Alexandria-based, which was the center of Greek culture. Cleopatra, like other rulers of the Macedonian dynasty, spoke Greek and observed Greek customs.

What made Cleopatra so beloved among the Egyptians was that unlike other leaders, she learned to speak Egyptian and commissioned art of herself in traditional Egyptian style. As a result, Cleopatra was one of the most beloved of the Pharaohs, even though she was Greek.

6. The Internet Weighs as Much as a Strawberry

You may be wondering how the internet can have a weight, since it is data. Well, it turns out that when you download something to a device, let’s say a song to your iPod, it increases the weight of the device. The reason the device gets heavier is because when data is added to a device, it results in something called trapped electrons and they have higher energy than untrapped ones, and the higher energy increases the weight. However, since the increase is so slight it is impossible to notice.

Using that information, the YouTube channel VSauce figured out how much all the data on the internet weighs. That includes all the cat pictures and pornography, and it is about 50 grams, or roughly the weight of a strawberry.

5. It’s Possible for Twins to Have Two Different Fathers

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The first case of two different men fathering a set of twins happened in 2008. A woman named Regina was on the show to see if her ex-boyfriend was the father of her twins, and he was only the father to one of them.

The second time was in 2011 when 19-year-old Alejandrina went on the show claiming that her boyfriend Jose was the father of her twins. She also emphatically deniedsleeping with anyone else but Jose. Well, the lie detector determined that was a lie, and the DNA test proved that Jose was only the father to one of the twins.

Both times it happened on the show, Maury and the audience were shocked. Mostly by the whole “twins by different parents” thing, but probably at least in part by the fact that Maury is still on the air.

4. The Voice Actors who were Mickey and Minnie Mouse Were Married in Real Life

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Wayne Allwine got his start at Disney in the mailroom in 1966. Over the next several years, he was able to work his way up to the sound department, and became the third man to voice Mickey Mouse, a position he held for 30 years.

In 1985, Disney was starting a new show called Totally Minnie and Russi Taylor was hired on to be the voice of Minnie Mouse. After a recording session, they met in the hallway and hit it off immediately.

The couple was married for 18 years, until Allwine’s death in 2009 at the age of 62. Taylor is still the voice of Minnie Mouse and she also provides the voices of Martin Prince, Üter, and Sheri and Teri on The Simpsons.

3. Guy Gets Heart Transplant from a Suicide Victim, Marries his Widow, Commits Suicide the Same Way

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In 1995, when Sonny Graham was 57, he needed a new heart or he’d die from congestive heart failure. The good news for Graham was that a donor heart had come available, because 33-year-old Terry Cottle had shot himself.

After getting the heart, Graham was grateful, so he sent thank you letters to Terry’s family. This led to Graham corresponding with Terry’s widow, Cheryl Cottle. In January 1997, when Cheryl was 28, she and Graham met. Graham said it felt like he’d known Cheryl his whole life.

In 2001, Graham bought a house for Cottle and her children to live in and three years later, Cheryl and Graham were married. 12 years after getting Terry’s heart, in April 2006, Graham committed suicide. Just like Terry, it was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

2. The1 Night Before his Execution an Inmate Escaped, but was Killed the Following Night in a Bar Fight

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On November 21, 1973, 20-year-old Troy Leon Gregg was hitchhiking. He was picked up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, by Fred Edward Simmons and Bob Durwood Moore and at some point, Gregg decided to rob the two men. In the process of the robbery, Gregg shot both men to death. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death in 1974.

After appealing the sentence, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and Gregg was scheduled to be executed on July 29, 1980. However, the day before Gregg was to die, he and three other death row inmates escaped by sawing through the bars of their cells, and then wore fake guard uniforms.

However, Gregg’s freedom was short lived. He was beaten to death on the night he should have been executed at a biker bar by James C. “Butch” Horne Jr. The other three escapees were arrested three days later, though it’s unclear whether they, too, met some Final Destination-like fate.

1. Hitler was Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

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One of humanity’s greatest villains was Adolf Hitler. It’s impossible to figure out how many deaths he and the Nazis were responsible for, but it is in the tens of millions.

Three months after starting World War II with the invasion of Poland in 1939, (and 16 months after being named Time’s Man of the Year), Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish politician Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt. Another nominee that year was Mahatma Gandhi.

What the Nobel committee didn’t get was that Brandt’s letter nominating Hitler was ironic. Brandt was anti-fascism and he wanted to provoke Hitler and the Nazis. When Brandt realized that the committee didn’t know it was a joke, he immediately withdrew his nomination. We hope in part because he realized that if you have to explain a joke, it’s just not funny anymore.

In the end, no one won the 1939 Nobel Peace Prize because of the outbreak of World War II. But we’re hoping it would have been Gandhi over Hitler.


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– WIF Confidential