I was looking through the Sunday paper, and came across an interview with Timothy Oliphant, an actor whose work I became familiar with when I was an addict of the TV series “Justified”, in which he starred as Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal somewhat on the edge. He is now portraying a country music and movie star in a play in New York (apparently another “cowboy” role), entitled “Hold On To Me Darlng” So I looked through the article, and once again, found a statement similar to ones I have often seen or heard that has always confused me. It was “Mr. Oliphant, a California boy without a western bone in his body......”.
Seems to me that in the U.S. California is pretty far west, along with Oregon and Washington. In fact, the only U.S. states further west are Alaska and Hawaii. It is also interesting that California was early into cattle ranching and cowboys. According to Wikipedia, the early vaqueros that worked cattle came to California in 1687 and were reinforced by many others through the 18th century. Although California then was part of Mexico, these were arguably the first cowboys in the U.S. territories.
So why do people in states such as Texas continue to refer to themselves as “the west” and act as though they invented cattle ranching , cowboys, and country western music? It is true that in the past there were somewhat heroic cattle drives from the Texas/Oklahoma area to railroad destinations such as Abilene, Kansas, but these occurred only over the 20 to 25 years after the Civil war, before railroad destinations closer to ranches were built, and open range began to be fenced. And why are cowboys and outlaws so romanticized, since from what I understand, being a cowboy was hard and low paying work, and outlaws did not live easy lives or do the country much good? Country Western music seems to draw heavily from the South rather than the true West (although Bakersfield, California does well —historically Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, and Merle Haggard, and a large number practicing the art now), and looking at a map, Texas is if anything slightly to the east of the middle of the country, and acts more like the South than the West.
During my visits to Texas, I have also been confused by the key role played by costume elements such as ten gallon hats (should be ten galón hats —Spanish for the narrow hatband on them—they clearly don’t hold ten gallons of water, and the hat would become fairly weird in shape if it were used as a bucket ) and cowboy boots, often made of exotic hides (Ted Cruz’s favorites are apparently alligator hide) . The hats have wide brims to protect one from the sun, but are hot and heavy, and the boots are made to be easily stuck into stirrups, (pointed toes, Cuban heels), but neither seem to be consistent with working in corporate offices or eating lunch in Dallas. In fact the boots don’t work with me at all, since my feet seem to be fairly square across the front, having five toes on each, and I drive motor vehicles rather than horses, both of which are probably true for most citizens of Texas.
I assume that much of this is a remnant from when Texas joined the U.S. slightly before other more western territories, so the phrase “old west”, is perhaps meaningful. But when the term “West” is used to describe Texas and neighbors, ignoring the 13 states further west than it, it seems like good marketing, but bad geography. And after all, the U.S. did not discover much of this land, but rather took it from Mexico by a combination of war and money. During the 4 year presidency of President James Polk, Texas was annexed in 1845, the Oregon Treaty was negotiated with Great Britain in 1846, and the Mexican-American War concluded in 1848, which ended with the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. A busy four years indeed.
These events brought within the control of the United States the future states of Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Oregon, as well as portions of what would later become Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. U.S. behavior during a land grab of this extent was probably not all above reproach. And since Texas joined the Union in 1845, and California in 1850, Texas was the “West” or the U.S. for only five years. When Hawaii joined, we were all in trouble, because not only was it further west than the rest of us, but it was early into big cattle ranches and cowboys. Check here.