Lookin' For a Cowboy
Luisa Kay Reyes
When my brother moved from our hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Austin, Texas and my mother decided to follow in his footsteps, after all, the lure of the adorable little grandson is a strong one; I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to look for a cowboy. Especially since everything I had ever heard about Texas indicated to me that it would be the perfect place to find a real life livin’ breathin’ all-American cowboy. My friends and acquaintances would laugh at me when I explained what I was going to look for in Texas. But I figured that after the Stars and Stripes and Uncle Sam, the Wild West cowboy was one of the de facto symbols of America. And it would be an enormous amount of fun to actually meet one in person. So when we drove to Texas and the massive lone star flags waving in the wind began to appear, I immediately began my quest of looking for a cowboy.
The first thing I noticed when we moved into our new place in Austin, Texas was that there wasn’t a single Baptist Church on our street. Coming from Alabama where there is a First Baptist Church on main street, another First Baptist Church off of the main street, and still another First Baptist Church on the off of main street street; this took me by surprise. What was even more disheartening, however, was that there wasn’t a single cowboy Church around either. I had seen some cowboy Churches advertised in North Alabama, so I had reasoned Texas would be filled to the brim with them. In Austin, I soon found out, it was not to be. Consequently, we started going to the Methodist Church where we met some sophisticated looking airline pilots and some expert jewelers. But the rugged all-American cowboy, was nowhere to be found.
After asking around in Austin for the hidden location of these famous horsemen of Wild West lore, I was promptly informed that nobody in Austin was Texan. In fact, it had become a haven for California expatriates. And all of the men in Austin were upscale California hippie metrosexuals. They likely knew more about which moisturizer to use than the makeup saleslady at the Estee Lauder counter in the mall. And since I had taken Equestrian 101 in my very proper Southern women’s college, I probably knew more about how to saddle a horse than they did. Undeterred, I consulted a friend of mine from back home in Alabama. He originally hailed from Texas and had moved to Alabama and even become a University of Alabama football fan. He informed me that I should go to San Antonio to find a cowboy, so I did.
My mother and I took a day trip to the Alamo in San Antonio and also saw the beautiful riverwalk that highlights any visit to that city. We had a lovely time seeing the Cinderella-like lit up horse drawn carriages driving past. And we also enjoyed listening to the Mexican Mariachi bands along the river. But the pistol packin’ saddle men of the West, were nowhere to be seen. I asked some locals where a cowboy could be found and they informed me that I would stand a better chance of finding one in Houston.
As fate would have it, I did have the occasion to go to Houston a few times. And while I met a lovely German couple there, some pleasant enough Bostonians, and a smattering of citified locals; none of them qualified as genuine rough and ready cowboys. “Dallas” they said. That was where I could find a cowboy. Although, they couldn’t fathom why on earth I would really want to find one. Then I had the opportunity to meet some Dallas natives. Quite puzzled, they explained to me that Dallas didn’t have any cowboys. In fact, other than the professional football team, whoever heard of a cowboy anywhere around Dallas. But, if I was really determined to find one, I might stand a chance during the one weekend out of the year when a rodeo festival comes to Dallas. They hadn’t ever seen a cowboy there, but it was the best chance I probably had of finding one. I decided to consult another friend of mine from back home.
The second friend of mine from back home whom I consulted regarding my mission of finding this hearty symbol of America, was also a Texas native turned ‘Bama boy. A bit frustrated by this point, I wrote him and told him I was beginning to think cowboys were “Gone With The Wind.” He promptly informed me that I was looking in all the wrong places. That the only cowboys I would find in Houston and San Antonio were “rhinestone” cowboys. I needed to go to places like “Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Stephenville, and Graham” to find the real thing. I almost felt like writing him back and explaining that I hadn’t even seen a fake rhinestone cowboy thus far, but I decided instead to focus on my hunt for this elusive mythical creature of the 1950s Wild West shoot ‘em up tv shows.
While I didn’t make it to Lubbock, I actually drove through Lockhart a number of times. And I even visited several rural outlying towns in Texas such as Burnet and never once saw a cowboy. For Christmas one year, we went to an historical ranch a couple hours outside of Austin. And while we sipped on some hot chocolate by a campfire and gazed at the stars overhead, they informed us that most of the cowboys back in the day were actually really young lads. The average was between thirteen and sixteen years of age since it was a rough life and not many older people could endure it. Furthermore, a good number of them were African-American since it was a field anybody could enter who had a willing hand to offer. And, according to them, the origin of the word “cookie” comes from the cooks who would prepare the meals for the cowboys during the cattle drives. I’ve since read others who claim it comes from an old Dutch word that means “cake.” With all due respect to their wooden shoes, somehow a cookie from a cattle drive sounds more appealing.
After a while, I started volunteering at the local historical pioneer farms. With the first event we volunteered for being their presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We had so much fun, that we volunteered for several more events at the farms. Which involved me portraying everything from Snow White, to the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe from Mother Goose, to a colonial girl for the Fourth of July. We got to meet some of the other volunteers at the farms such as the blacksmith, the events coordinator, and the head of the farms who was a tall fellow and would occasionally dress up as a cowboy. He was actually quite a nice guy and well liked by everybody who was involved with the farms. So when we moved back to Alabama after living in Texas for two years, I concluded that he was the closest thing to a real life livin’ breathin’ Wild West all-American cowboy I was going to find.
About eleven months later we were talking to him on the phone regarding the kitty kat we had adopted from the farms. He informed us that his parents were from Minnesota and he was more of an expert in deer than cows. Dispelling my one claim of finding a genuine Texas cowboy even more, he explained that he was actually more of a “deerboy” than a cowboy. I sighed . . . lookin’ for a cowboy is certainly no easy task.
Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in the "Fire In Machines", Hofstra University's "The Windmill", "Halcyon Days", "Fellowship of the King", "Enchanted Conversation: A Fairly Tale Magazine" and other literary magazines. Her piece, "Thank You", is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of "The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature". And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest.