For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture

by Allmendinger, Blake (1992)

Abstract

What are the connections between cattle branding and Christian salvation, between livestock castration and square dancing, between cattle rustling and the making of spurs and horsehair bridles in prison, between children's coloring books and cowboy poetry as it is practiced today? The Cowboy uses literary, historical, folkloric, and pop and cultural sources to document ways in which cowboys address religion, gender, economics, and literature. Arguing that cowboys are defined by the work they do, Allmendinger sets out in each chapter to investigate one form of labor (such as branding, castration, or rustling) in the cowboy's "work culture." He looks at early oral poems recited around campfires, on trail drives, at roundups, and at home in ranch bunkhouses, and at later poems, histories, and autobiographies written by cowboys about their work - most of which have never before received scholarly attention. Allmendinger shows how these texts address larger concerns than the work at hand - including art, morality, spirituality, and male sexuality. In addition to spotlighting little-known texts, art, and archival sources, The Cowboy examines the works of Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Louis L'Amour, Larry McMurtry, and others. Unique among studies of the American cowboy, Allmendinger's study looks at what cowboys thought of themselves, and the ways in which they represented those thoughts in their own prose, poetry, and artifacts. Richly illustrated with photographs of cowboys at work and at play, many previously unpublished, The Cowboy will interest scholars of American literature and history, and American Studies, as well as those interested in Western history and culture, folklore, and gender studies.

Keywords

American, Cowboys, Work Culture

Themes

Work in Literature, Work in American History, Historiography of Work

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