Western novels often use the term “drifter,” but did cowboys use it?

O. J. Hurst

Otis Orchards, Washington

The term was quite common among cowhands, who were mostly young, footloose and fancy-free. They wanted to do and see a lot before they settled down. Being a cowboy afforded them that opportunity. During the heyday of the open range (1866-86), they had their pick of jobs, giving them a chance to work for outfits from Texas to Montana. If you read the autobiographies of men like Andy Adams, Charlie Siringo and Joe Fussell, you’ll find they never stayed in one place for long.

Other drifters might have been on the dodge from the law. Still others were rangeland beggars and saddle bums who took advantage of Western customs of giving food and tobacco to people passing through.

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