This paper is about negotiations and strategies for implementing cowboy identity and masculinity. I’ll argue that this have to be seen in a multi-dimensional light. For this purpose I have divided the cowboy into three analytical dimensions: the Factual cowboy, who enfold the cowboys that lived in the 1800’s, the Imagined cowboy, which comprise the common representations of the cowboy derived from Western movies and literature, and finally the Performed cowboys, who comprise the individuals that identifies themselves as cowboys. American history, ranching history, common generalizations and imageries about the cowboy, and different practices - all have to be taken into consideration when talking about cowboy identity. This paper is based on a research period of seven months in Texas. I also find it necessary to bring in other sources of information in the discussion, like American history and western film and literature, which is significant in the formation of the Imagined cowboy.
I’ll argue that the hegemonic imagery of the cowboy is a figure that never has existed other than in myths and legends. He came into existence in a time when America was experiencing great changes, and he came to stand as a symbol for manliness and highly valued virtues, like freedom, individuality, rationality and progress. I argue that these virtues were abstracted from history, and together with certain symbols, like the horse, the hat and the spurs, they formed what I call the cowboy template. This template is a structure, a caricature, which can be filled with almost anything by anybody who wants to utilize its repertoir to relate to the cowboy identity. This template has no contact with history, and constitutes the structures of the cowboy myths. By introducing the notion of the cowboy template, I have opened up for an explanation of how anybody can utilize some of the templates’ repertoir to connote to a cowboy identity. To be recognized as a cowboy by other cowboys demands more than putting on a cowboy hat and ride a horse; it also requires knowledge of practice, and a degree of habituation of these practices. Through these practices the individual cowboy can find a way to communicate his own identity as a cowboy, and the hegemonic masculinity that is attached to this identity. Male-to-male relations are important in this regard; in such relations the men can challenge each other and assess their identity.||nor