"If it wasn't for gravy and coffee, we'd starve to death": Interview with a cowboy

In 1937, someone from the Worker's Project Administration interviewed an aging cowboy, L.M. Cox of Brownwood, Texas, as part of an effort to record America's oral history.

At the Ptak Science Books blog you can read the full interview with Mr. Cox and get a rare, inside look at what life was really like in the Old West. This is why oral history is interesting to me. It's a chance to capture what life was really life, without the varnish (or at least as much of the varnish) that you'd find in a novel, or a movie, or even a formal letter. It allows us to consider someone else's everyday life, outside the mystique of their time. Cool stuff.

"The usual ride was sixteen hours per day. No Union hours for them. It was from daylight until dark with work, and hard work as that. One cowboy complained of having to eat two suppers, so he quit, packed his bed and left. In about three months he returned, carrying only a bull's-eye lantern, saying that where he had been working he needed only the lantern and had no use for the bed.

... "In the late 80's and early 90's came the covered wagons and then the sheepman. We stood the covered wagons pretty well but it took a long time to get on friendly terms with the sheepman. They were sure enough trespassers in the cowman's eye. One sheepman got his flock located on some good grass and the cowmen came along and ordered him off their premises. 'I can't go now,' the sheepman complained, 'I have lost my wagon wheel.' Cowboys always had a heart and tried to be lenient but they also hated deception. One of the cowboys who had heard this gag before, looked around a bit and found the missing wheel hidden away in some mesquite bushes. The sheepman was hustled away in a hurry."

..."Boiled beef and Arbuckle Coffee was our standby. The boys used to say if old man Arbuckle ever died they'd all be ruined and if it wasn't for Pecos water gravy and Arbuckle Coffee we would starve to death.


  1. This gets a ‘like’ from me…

    I just read Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead; good read about Pershings men vs. Villa and the end of the old west…literary but short, beautiful descriptions of nature and a land long gone…

    I most likely would have been kicked in the head by a horse or laid low by botulism at an early age; but man oh man the old west would have been something to see…

  2. Interesting, but I take oral histories with a large dash of salt. We tend to remember the highs and lows, but not the everyday mundane things.

  3. what life was really like in the Old West

    You mean … I can’t just watch old reruns of Bonanza?

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