Role of cowboys in the book; The solace of open spaces by Gretel Ehrlich

Ehrlich views cowboys very differently as from what many people think they are and this is in an attempt by some individuals to idealize them which consequently makes us loose the true disposition of cowboys. Real cowboys as depicted by the author are homely, kind and gentle individuals, who work fifteen hours a day taking care of cattle. Therefore, the genuine cowboy does not possess a tough demeanor due to human confrontation; “rather it is because of his encounters with the elements of nature while he is out in the field”.

The author views cowboys as hard workers because a cowboy will already be at work at four in the morning and according to the author; “His part in the beef-raising industry is to birth and nurture calves and take care of their mothers.”

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He accomplishes this role daily for lengthy hours and he enjoys his job. Accordingly, Ehrlich perceives the courage expressed by cowboys to be of a unique quality. Courage means acting instinctively and selflessly to the aid of another rider or an animal. For example, according to the author;

“If a cow is stuck in a bog hole, he throws a loop around her neck and takes his dally and pulls her out with horsepower. If a calf is born sick, he may take her home, warm her in front of the kitchen fire and massage her legs until dawn.”

The author at one time witnessed a cowboy dive into a lake to save a horse that got stuck and swam the horse back to shore, supporting her claim that “cowboys are indeed caring individuals”. The author therefore acknowledges the fact that cowboys are required to strike an equilibrium between both the male and female qualities.

This is because they engage in different roles as they duly execute their duties. She states that “Cowboys will be the ones who will act as midwives when aiding a cow to give birth, taking on a feminine role”. At the same time, they will take on a masculine role when they go out hunting and when braving different climatic conditions.

Ehrlich points out that in a wider scope, cowboys are responsible for the sustainability of the ranches they work in. They work in teams and teamwork is essential for effective management of the large number of cattle they are responsible for. At first glance, the rugged outward appearance of a cowboy may be taken to mean his toughness. This nevertheless is not true; rather their looks can be attributed to the challenging nature of their jobs.

The author sates; “The physical punishment that goes with cowboying is greatly underplayed. Once fear is dispensed with, the threshold of pain rises to meet the demands of the job.”

They are required to work for long hours under different climatic conditions every day of the week. Their job takes more from them and they have to adapt to keep up with the strain on the job, considering it is a well paying job and the author in a way admires them for their tenacity.

Ehrlich states that “They spend most of their working days on horse back, and they will time and again be overpowered by their horses or battle extreme weather conditions”. Further, even with the kind of difficulty they experience at work, cowboys will rarely complain and often express dissatisfaction by laughing at themselves.

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