It’s harder to spot real cowboys than you might think.

If you think Tim McCoy, above, looks like a dude, or worse—a Hollywood wannabe cowboy—you will probably be amazed to see his real backstory (page 22) and the stories of all the other real cowboys who look like dudes (see page 24).


In my experience, nobody looks at a photograph of a welder and says, “That’s not a real welder.” So why do so many of us feel compelled to pass judgment on photographs of cowboys—old and new—and dismiss them as not being real cowboys?

The real reason may surprise you.

What Is Judgmental Dude-ism?

Here’s how we got to the current epidemic of Judgmental Dude-ism: After WWII so-called dude ranches proliferated in the West, catering to Eastern city slickers to come out West and live the cowboy lifestyle for a week or longer. Before their stay began, most of these tourists went into town and bought cowboy clothes to complete the fantasy experience, and as this phenomenom spread, the ranch hands who worked on these dude ranches began to pull away from the clothing styles the tourists preferred. (This is where the term “drugstore cowboy” came from.) One of the first casualties in this clothing aversion was the tucking of the pants legs into the boot tops. Never mind that literally thousands of photos exist of real cowboys in the actual Old West wearing their pants tucked into their boots, by the mid-1950s no “real” cowboy would do it. Thus, the pull to distance themselves from the dudes.

Add to that the fact that many real cowboys don’t match, or wear, the styles of the day. My Kingman cowboy cousin (and world champion steer roper in 1964), Billy Hamilton, told me the best cowboy he ever worked with wore farmer overalls and a gimme cap. So, not only is it next to impossible to judge a cowboy by what he’s wearing, it’s foolish to think we can spot them in photographs.

Not long ago, during the Prescott Frontier Days, I asked an authentic-looking cowboy on Whiskey Row if he worked at one of the neighboring ranches, and he told me he wasn’t a cowboy. When I asked him what he did for a living he said, “I’m a welder.”

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