Dogs and cats are as Western as six-guns and Stetsons—and a lot more lovable.

In the Old West, dogs were common—and necessary. Cats, not at first, but soon were as essential to day-to-day living as fresh water and a cooking fire

Dogs have been roaming North America since at least 10,000 B.C., and were the most important domestic animal on the continent until the Spanish arrived with the horse. 

Cats, on the other hand, didn’t arrive in the Western Hemisphere until they chased some rats off Christopher Columbus’s Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria somewhere in the Caribbean.  

Whether chasing rats, raccoons, bears or mountain lions—or pulling a travois, sled or cart—dogs have truly been everyone’s best friend in the West for time eternal. 

Cats—now they are a different story.

Let’s just say the Old World cat became essential because the European invaders also brought rats. So all you cat haters out there—say a little thanks to the toms and tabbies who saved not just the West but the larders and granaries of nations from
Canada to Mexico.

If you’ve got a bit of the humbug about this pet history stuff, sit back and soak in the smiles from all these men, women, boys and girls with their beloved frontier pets. We bet you might soon remember the joy of the season—and the wonder of a brand new puppy or kitten.

A Couple and Their Dog Near the Las Vegas Creek • Las Vegas, Nevada, circa 1904-1905 Helen J. Stewart, Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


Anna Bracken and Friend Sitting on the Porch With Cats and Dogs Las Vegas, Nevada, circa 1900-1925 Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


Woman and Pet Dog Location Unknown, 1910 Harrison Putney, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art


Paula Hubbard With Dog on a Horse Drawn Buggy Possibly Nevada, circa early 1900s Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


Charging Thunder and Dog Location Unknown, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, circa 1900 Gertrude Käsebier, Courtesy Library of Congress


Private George Hansell, First Chickasaw Infantry Regiment, aka “Hunter’s Indian Volunteers,” and Unknown Friend with Two Scouting Dogs Location Unknown, 1863 Courtesy Library of Congress


Two Couples with Dog Location Unknown, 1880s Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art


Dogs Pulling a Boy in a Cart Dawson City, Yukon Territory, circa 1894-1905 M.W. Goetzman, Courtesy Beinecke Library, Yale University


Farmer Squirting Milk From Cow to Mouth of Cat Location Unknown, 1900 C.L. Wasson, Courtesy Library of Congress


Four Men on a Rocky Ledge With a Dog Las Vegas, Nevada, circa 1900-1925 Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


Yokut Children and Basket Weavers with Puppy Tule Reservation, n.d. Courtesy Huntington Digital Library


Esquimaux Dog and His Master Edward Lind, Alaska Trader Bethel, Alaska, 1884 Courtesy Huntington Digital Library


Pioneer Hunter with Dogs Location Unknown, n.d. True West Archives


“Having good time, don’t you think?” The image of the unknown girl with her dog, donkey and cart was taken by A. Frank Randall, a well-known frontier photographer of the Apache people in Arizona and New Mexico between 1883 and 1887. The location of the photo is unknown, but it was known that there was a tennis court at Fort Apache. Courtesy Huntington Digital Library


General George A. Custer and Mrs. Elizabeth Custer Camp Headquarters Tent, With Pet Greyhound, Fort Hays, Kansas, 1869 When it looked blurry in the original image, photographer W.J. Phillips drew the dog’s head onto the negative. W.J. Phillips, Courtesy


Maurine Hubbard Wilson With Puppy Colorado or Missouri, circa 1900-1902 Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


Schoolteacher, Students and Dog at Schoolhouse Springdale, Nevada, 1908 Courtesy UNLV Special Collections and Archives


A Man, His Homestead and His Dog Colorado, 1880s W.A. White, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of Art

Related Articles

  • Clyde A. Milner II & Carol A. O'Connor, Oxford University Press, $34.95, Hardcover.

    Seven years after his death in 1918, Granville Stuart’s second wife published his two-volume pioneer…

  • Samantha Fallon is one of those Tombstone characters who hasn’t gotten much attention. She arrived…

  • pioneer woman in a field holding a basket true west magazine

    There’s an old folk song titled, “The Waggoner’s Lad” and the first lines were, “Hard…