Cowchips: It’s Worse than You Thought

Harnessing the land; that was the way during the expansion across the prairies–and still today. With few trees in the landscape but lots of wind, early ranchers and cowboys did what they could to build houses and create a sense of home.

The National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock Texas takes visitors on a journey through the evolution of housing of the Wild West. Down the road(s) a bit is the American Windpower Center and Museum, home to a collection of beautiful and powerful windmills–the source of water for humans, animals, and crop.

Cowchips: Blech

Children were assigned the task of collecting the cattle manure–lucky kids. Why? To burn for heat and cooking–because there were no trees. Oh My. Think of the smells endured–in the collecting and in the, err, use. For cooking. Them thar’s dire straits. There was a special building, about the size of a closet, just to dry out and store the, umm, booty.

The Baseball Dugout isn’t Far from the Truth

With limited wood, homes were built into a hill, when found–or created. Dig out the living space; hold the “roof” up with whatever you’ve got, and build a front. Dugout Sweet Dugout.

Ranchers Dugout

Photo courtesy of

Living not merely on top of the ground but within it meant a host of unwanted guests: snakes and critters. Heebie Jeebies!

Once a family could either afford to move to a freestanding home, or the wood became available,  the dugouts were used by cowboys as bunk houses or line camps–somewhere to stop along the journey.

The Genius of the Commissary

You’re working in these wide open spaces–there’s not a 7-11 or General Store in site. Much less for many miles. Given the significant distance to town, essentials were bought in bulk and distributed to line camps via the commissary.

Gun Shooting as Dispute Resolution?

We all know this is a rather bad idea, and sadly continues today. But once upon a time it was the de facto way of settling arguments. First there were fencing foils, then rapier swords, and then the dueling pistol.

The goal was more to prove that you’re man enough to defend your honor by risking your life. There was no real intention of death. Oh, well, that makes it better. There were rules, of course, and despite what the movies show us, firing in the air or intentionally missing your opponent was bad form.

Dueling pistol sets were sold together so there was no technical advantage–only human skill would determine the outcome.

Dueling Pistols

Photo courtesy of

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I would love to talk to the person who first thought of a water well–such brilliance.

The windmill pulls the water out from its hiding place. There’s ample wind on the Texas prairie, so yield its power to generate power for your use. The wind turns the wheel, which makes some sort of pulley move up and down in a cylinder called a mast pipe. The pressure pumps water to the surface.

The size of the windmill diameter (and therefore height) depended upon how deep you needed to drill and your purposes. A single-family home would use a garden mill with a five-foot-diameter wheel. A 25-foot-diameter wheel is 55 feet high, goes 350 feet deep, and pumps 350 gallons per hour–this is for crop irrigation with leftovers for cattle.


Weights on a Windmill?

It may seem counterintuitive, but it was to counterbalance. The structure itself is side-heavy, so to speak. Add wind and you’ve got more of a whirligig than a windmill. Weights balanced against the wind’s power, and kept the mill facing in the direction where it could yield the most wind. Some weights were obvious, others looked like fins (called governors), and yet others were critters. They ranged from 1-120 pounds!

windmill weights

Enjoying the Collection

With roughly 150 windmills housed inside and out at the Windpower Museum, you can relish the beauty, charm, and workhorse ways of windmills.

windmill collection

windmill collection

Old and new. Although the old aren’t so old–they still dot the landscape for water to sustain cattle. The ones that look like they’re from outer space use the wind for electricity.

water and electricity windmills


Do you think you would have been a fortune seeker in the Wild West? Could you have lived like this? Or would you have stayed in the “city?”

Disclosure: Thank you to the Lubbock Tourism Office for the complimentary ticket to the Windmill museum.

One Response


Since I originally thought you wrote fortune teller and not seeker, I am guessing I would not have survived 🙂

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