What did a cowboy do to get by when they got too old to ride herd and work as a cowboy?
Utah Phillips wrote a great song on that theme The Goodnight Loving Trail. The first verse pretty much says it all:
Too old to wrangle or ride on the swing,
You beat the triangle and you curse everything.
If dirt was a kingdom, then you’d be the king.
On the Goodnight Trail on the Loving Trail
Our old woman’s lonesome tonight….
When a cowhand got too old for the grind, if he’d been a good, loyal hand while “ridin’ for the brand,” the boss might keep him around the ranch doing odd jobs like chopping wood. Oftentimes a good cowhand might elevate himself to being a chuckwagon cook,.the second most important man on a trail drive. Or, yikes, he might have to move to town and find work.
Two good books and films about cowboys getting “too old to wrangle or ride on the swing” are Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin, Jack Palance and Will Penny with Charleton Heston.