Can you spot the real cowboy? Only the photographer knew for sure.
Ever since the first camera studio was set up, men and women have posed as their favorite Western hero, but how do we know for sure if they were real cowhands or dudes a century or century and a half later?
About some, we will never know. For others, their life stories reveal the truth.
The name of this Wyoming cowboy is lost to history, but his photo is attributed to Cheyenne, Wyoming, photographer Charles D. Kirkland and is estimated to have been taken between 1877 and 1895. Charles D. Kirkland, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Don’t let the overalls fool you. Pedro Rios, a San Juan [Capistrano] vaquero of Orange County, California, was all cowboy. Courtesy C.L. Pierce Collection, The Huntington Library Digital Collection
Texas Jack Omohundro is considered one of the greatest cowboy entertainers of the 19th century, but before he ever put on the greasepaint and went on tour, he was a working Texas cowboy who drove a lot of cattle a lot of miles up to Kansas on the Chisholm Trail. True West Archives
Are Indians cowboys? Is the Colt .45 a six-gun? Shoshone Eddy Drink cowboyed on the Shoshone Bannock Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho in the early 20th century. In addition to his traditional cowboy clothes and gear, Drink wears a beaded ermine strip in his hair, beaded armbands and a beaded tie slide. Idaho Museum of Natural History, Ruffner Collection: 253274
Legendary cattleman John Chisum may look like a banker in his famous studio photograph but do not doubt that he could out-cowboy any man when in his prime. True West Archives
These three Basque buckaroos from Nevada were known as the Wild Bunch, circa 1910. L.-r.: Uncle of Jean Pierre Laxalt, Jean Pierre Laxalt and Frank Perarana. Courtesy University of Nevada, Reno, Library and Special Collections
Before Edmund Richard “Hoot” Gibson became a pioneer Western movie star, the native Nebraskan was a working cowboy, bronc buster, circus and Wild West show performer and rodeo star. In 1912 he won the Pendleton Round-Up’s all-around championship. After serving as a sergeant in the Army’s Tank Corps in France during World War I, Hoot returned to Hollywood and became a big Western star in silent and talking pictures. Courtesy Universal Pictures
William Levi “Buck” Taylor spent hundreds of miles in the saddle working and driving cattle in his native Texas and the Southern Plains before he hired on at Buffalo Bill Cody’s spread in North Platte, Nebraska, in 1880. Cody put him to work and made him part of his Wild West show, dubbing him the “King of the Cowboys.”
May and Gordon William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie adopted Oklahoma as their home in 1889, and he quickly became the state’s greatest booster and Old West entertainer. But before Lillie was known as Pawnee Bill, he was raised on the plains of Kansas, was a trapper and cowboy in the Indian Territory and a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. True West Archives
Across the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American Indian tribes established large cattle ranches on their reservations. Paiute Jim took time out from cowboying to have his photo taken in Wadsworth, Nevada, in 1911. Courtesy C.L. Pierce Collection, The Huntington Library Digital Collection