A Cowboy’s Heirloom: It’s not What You’d Expect

Given the stunning tooling on a saddle and the engraving on a gun, either of these would be a coveted gift from father to son. But no, it’s the utilitarian spur that is handed down between generations. Perhaps because of the pure function it conveys a coming of age?


The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City tells of the life and hardship, the skill and ingenuity, the clothing and competition in the cowboy world.

While I had learned much of what they were telling when visiting museums in Wyoming, they had a lot to offer that I didn’t know, and two things that I didn’t expect.

First, an awesome logo.

cowboy museum logo

Second, the priceless reality of finding horse manure in the parking lot. You can’t make this up!

horse manure in the parking lot at the cowboy museum

The Origin of the Name “Cowboy”

Mexican “vaqueros” taught those white boys a lot out west. And those boys thanked them by muddling the Spanish pronunciation and changing it to “buckaroos.”

Cowboys themselves were/are the skilled hand. “Ranchers” and “Cattlemen,” while also deft, owned the land and the cattle, so clearly they had to have a different name. And those workers had to have slightly belittling titles, hence “boy.” Although truth is, a lot of them weren’t much older than a boy.

Cowboy Fashion

It started out with only practical purposes. And then women showed up, and so did fringe (why did they think that was a good idea?).

Heels on the cowboy boot? To keep the heel from falling out of the stirrup–a fella could get dragged by his horse if he fell off.

cowboy boot in stirrup

Bandanas covered the neck because there was a belief than an exposed neck brought on fever.  And the hats were made to withstand wind, weather, and still hold their shape. While Stetson didn’t invent the cowboy hat, he did set the standard.

cowboy hats in stockyards city

 Rodeo, Rodeo, Where Art Thou Rodeo?

As with most competitions, rodeo was simply a way to show off what you already do for a living. They turned everyday work into a contest–and it was evidently a good idea. Today, it’s a multi-million-dollar sport with 700 events each year.

Clowns were a way to occupy the crowd between events while the riders and animals got ready. Sometimes the performers were from the circus, but usually they were riders in between events, making extra cash. Clowning around became serious business when bulls were introduced. These ferocious animals will attack a downed contestant, so the clowns distract the bull. Sounds like clowns could be helpful in packs of teen girls…

Buying Cowboy Gear

Across town, Stockyards City is a district of stores to clothe and supply the modern cowboy. Plus it’s right next door to the slaughter houses–I’m sure that a good time is had by all, but for some reason that’s not on the tourist route.

Stockyards City sign

Photo courtesy of Flickr

You want boots? They got boots. And seriously, they’re so adorned that I didn’t know which were male vs female. They’re magnificent. And expensive. Minimum in the low $200s, up to the $800s. More than Manolo Blahniks, people!

cowboy boots in stockyards city

I was tempted: they’re soooooo pretty. But they’re also really hot, and at this moment I don’t mean in a sexy way. Plus the two pairs that caught my eye were made in Italy and Indonesia. That just felt wrong. See, I was fixin to buy cowboy boots in Oklahoma. So I passed.

Trying on Cowboy Boots

As with all outfits, you start with the shoes and work your way up. Now that the boots are done, we’ve got to get some Wranglers.

cowboy clothes in stockyards city

Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy*

You’ll need a saddle, so off you go to the saddle and tack shop. There are several in Stockyards City, so see whose work you like. The guy didn’t take a shine to me, however, and wasn’t interested in answering my questions. So, I know nothing about saddles except that they are fitted to both the horse and to you (hence the saddle not being passed down from father to son).

* This is a song by Big & Rich. Watch the video and enjoy the lyrics.


saddles in stockyard city

Saddle making tools in stockyards city

Saddle-making tools

Got some roping to do? Well, you’ve come to the right place. It costs (a stunning) $33-43 per rope, and feels like it’s dipped in wax. There are different loops for different situations: weather, animal, terrain. Plus different ropes for the same factors, with variations on thickness and stiffness.

rodeo rope

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.

I ate steak. Which is no big deal to most of you, but my family will be shocked. I don’t care for red meat and because I rarely eat it, get quite ill when I do. But Cattlemen’s Steakhouse was all anyone could talk about. So I went. And told the waitress I didn’t know what to order. She chose the smallest steak for me (I don’t even know what it was), and I still could only eat half. It was good…but nothing to write home about. Although I suppose I am writing about it in a public blog… Hmmm.

Cattlemans Steakhouse

Photo courtesy of Flickr

What heirloom has your parent passed down to you? Is it like a spur? Does it prod others along so you can get your work done?

5 Responses


Thank you for the sharing the origin of buckaroo coming from vaquero. I love etymology. So if there was a Sex and the City version (Sex and the Ranch), Carrie would have tons of these boots. I wonder if generations now have new things that become heirlooms. I don’t have anything that is an heirloom – just more of possessions that deceased family may have had. If I give that to another generation of my family, does it become an heirloom or just a hoardloom?

Jef – to me an heirloom doesn’t necessarily have to be passed down with specific intention. Sometimes it is, and that’s lovely. But I think in today’s era of (relative) wealth, more often it’s something that a relative collected or simply had, ans that item has sentimental meaning to someone from the next generation. My Grandfather collected bottles. Just basic medicine and alcohol bottles that folks would toss in the privvy when they were done (privvy is Southern for outhouse). Once the outhouse were obsolete, he went digging through that rich soil to collect thousands of bottles. Now every member of our family has a collection. I consider it our legacy more than an heirloom; maybe they’re the same thing. And BTW, if you pass something down it’ll be an heirloom. If Jake does, it’ll be a hoardloom. 🙂


Who was the first cowgirl?

I’ll let you know after I go to the Cowgirl Museum in Ft Worth; in the meantime…google it! 🙂


You had Jake at “outlet” 🙂

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