Page 10


drive is only a small part of the exhibition, for it’s only a small part of the history of the cowboy. The generation of the trail drives lasted no more than a generation 1866-1886. Here photographs present us with the unadorned original: dirty, tired, unarmed men in work clothes and soft, flat hats. Even Charlie Goodnight’s style-setting chuck box the real thing not a photo is a plain, practical affair. Those of us who grew up in Texas have already happened upon lariats, spurs, barbed wire, and branding irons, whether in museums or in the field. \(As a city kid, I garnered most of my Western exteresting to me out of all this real-cowboy paraphernalia was a photograph of the three Becker sisters branding a calf on their father’s Colorado ranch wearing full-length, full-skirted, 19th-century dresses. What remained of the exhibit’s two spacious floors was devoted to the development of the cowboy off the range: in or on dime novels, Wild West shows, posters, paintings, books, plays, movies, radio, television, pop art, and cereal boxes. In my mind the highlights here were the musical offerings. In salute to traditional cowboy song, a push of a newfangled button brought forth a 1941 radio broadcast of John Lomax, accompanied by a few recordings of untrained and unpaid cowboy voices he collected in the welcome by this time \(my feet generally American Cowboy Cafe, a recognizable replica of a honky-tonk booth equipped with its own jukebox. The “Musical Menu,” yours for the taking, provided commentary on the twenty selections from Carl T. Sprague to Patsy Montana, and a push of the good old-fashioned butwith the good old standard of your choice. \(It must be admitted, though, that when one of our comfortably lounging group pushed #7 for Jimmy Rodgers’ “When the Cactus Is in Bloom,’ we were treated to the Beverly Hillbillies’ “When the Bloom Is on the Sage” well, cacThe music is all that’s missing from the American Cowboy catalog. In fact, though the exhibit is just another exhibit, the catalog is more than a catalog it’s a book. The best of the photographs and photographs of the best are all here, about 150 of them in color, along with the commentary you never have the time or patience to finish reading standing up. The only thing that suffers in reproduction is the sculpture particularly Marisol’s typically whimsical and facetious John Wayne and a pot-bellied folk art cowboy made of chainsaw-carved wood and house paint by Lionel Adams. But you get more than a rehash of the exhibit for your $18.95. The catalog includes four essays, all worth the reading. “THE AMERICAN COWBOY” An Exhibition at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., March 26, 1983-October 2, 1983; The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, December 1, 1983-January 31, 1984. THE AMERICAN COWBOY Studies in American Folklife, no. 2. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1983. In his two fully competent essays, “The Open-Range Cowboy of the Nineteenth Century” and “The Cowboy Hero: An American Myth Examined,” Lonn Taylor, the exhibit’s guest curator and himself a Texas boy currently associated with the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, gives us the current state of cowboy scholarship. Not much news here, but the essays are a succinct and useful rehashing or introduction, depending on your familiarity with the subject at hand. It’s all there, from the scores of nameless trail drovers and cattle punchers to Buffalo Bill, Frederick Remington and Owen Wister, Theodore Roosevelt and Will Rogers, Tom Mix and Gene Autry and Gary Cooper, back around to the scores of nameless cowboy models pushing everything from canned corn to cologne. Taylor outlines the progression as one from cowboy to romantic cowboy to acrobatic cowboy to cowboy entertainer, leaving us at last with our current hero, the commercial cowboy. The only side of all this that Taylor and the exhibit as a whole omits is the role of the Western lawman in our mythologizing. True, he wasn’t a cowboy, but he did ride a horse and he does help explain why the mythical cowboy has less to do with cows and more to do with distressed maidens than Lonn Taylor can otherwise account for. The Lone Ranger, after all, wasn’t a romanticized cowboy but a romanticized Texas Ranger, and the same or similar goes for a lot of other “cowboy” heroes. The mythic figure is finally a mish-mash of cowboy, rancher, Ranger, sheriff, and outlaw. For my money, B. Byron Price’s essay “Modern Cowboy Life on the Texas Plains” is more informative and more distinctive. Aside from offering, in a smooth and non-academic prose, a good look at the life of real-life cowboys, Price has a couple of unconventional ideas to throw out. In fact, he contradicts what most of the other authorities, Taylor included, are telling us: not only is the myth still with us, so is the real cowboy: As fashions change, the most recent siege of cowboy mania must surely pass away, but this is not true of the subject of its ardor. The reality of the American cowboy remains intact, just as resilient and a great deal more malleable than the heroic image that often obscures it. Though their course is yet uncharted, cowboys seem destined to continue to evolve rather than to disappear. Today’s real cowboy, Price warns, should not, however, look to his historical or imaginary colleagues for his identity. The modern cowboy will have to find his own trail. We come to the last entry, this one by Texas writer Dave Hickey. \(The exhibit made a good show of including Kansas and Missouri and New Mexico and Montana, but the catalog reminds us that at least as far as Texans are concerned, Texas is the cowboy’s true home, be it “Bubba & Virgil: Cowboys Again! A Dialectical Inquiry into the Recurring Fantasy of the Equestrian Herdsman conventional contribution in the catalog in fact, it’s the most unconventional contribution in any catalog I’ve ever seen. Actually a dialogue between Hickey’s Good Old Boy spokesmen Bubba Burkette and Virgil Childress, this crusty and perceptive inquiry into current cowboy mania may well be worth the whole $20 if only as an example of how long it’s been since John Lomax had to bowdlerize traditional lyrics for publication in Cowboy Songs. The originals from Lomax’s notebooks which Lonn Taylor obligingly discloses turn out to be lukewarm compared to Bubba and Virgil’s contemporary cowboy banter. Bubba and Virgil manage to discuss all manner of related and unrelated subjects ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512 1153-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19