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Before the Mexican-American War concluded inAmerican traders who traveled to the Western frontier encountered Spanish vaqueros of northern Mexico. The arrival of railroads and an increased demand for beef during the Civil War drove the need for the cowboy. The earliest known photographs of these iconic Americans are tintypes, taken as early as the s, most likely captured during a trail drive or at an end-of-trail town.
A big reason why some enthusiasts will celebrate "National Day of the Cowboy" on Saturday is the idea that "cowboy culture" needs preserving. And it turns out that's not a new feeling. Nearly seven decades ago, that same idea — that a particular Western lifestyle would not survive much longer on its own — was already looming.
Ever since the idea of the cowboy entered the public consciousness, people have been fascinated with them. Here are some vintage photos of cowboys that show what day-to-day life really was like for these horse-wrangling icons. Once again, all photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.
In the late s, the prospects in the western part of the United States drew thousands of new residents yearly, seeking to stake their claim on unexplored, undeveloped territories. Over a century ago, however, moving wasn't as easy as calling up for a U-Haul and putting down a deposit on a new apartment. Along the way to Utah, Colorado, California and the like were bandits, giant swatches of nothingness, and natives of the land not eager to give way to new settlers.
The love that people have for horses has existed for generations. While nowadays it might be simple to take a quick selfie with your four hooved best friend, back in the day it was a luxury to have any photo taken, let alone one with your horse accompanying you. Putting on your finest gown to pose with those you cherish most is a truly amazing moment to capture.
Nearly seven decades ago, that same idea — that a particular Western lifestyle would not survive much longer on its own — was already looming. But in that fact, LIFE acknowledged, lay one of the more subtle truths about the past and future of the cowboy lifestyle. Even as C. Long was a living embodiment of a beloved, but endangered culture, he was already part of a myth forged by Hollywood and dime-store novels, not reality.