The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture

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9780195072433: The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture

What are the connections between cattle branding and Christian salvation, between livestock castration and square dancing, between rustling and the making of spurs and horsehair bridles in prison, between children's coloring books and cowboy poetry as it is practiced today? The Cowboy uses literary, historical, folkloric, and pop cultural sources to document ways in which cowboys address religion, gender, economics, and literature. Arguing that cowboys are defined by the work they do, Allmendinger sets out in each chapter to investigate one form of labor (such as branding, castration, or rustling) that cowboys perform in their "work culture." He then looks at early oral poems that cowboys recited around campfires, on trail drives, at roundups, and at home in their bunkhouses, and at later poems, histories and autobiographies written by cowboys--most of which have never before been studied by scholars. He discovers that these texts not only deal with work but with larger concerns, including art, morality, spirituality, and male sexuality. In addition to spotlighting little-known texts, art, and archival sources, The Cowboy examines the works of Twain, Steinbeck, Cather, Norris, Dana, McMurtry, and others, and features more than 60 historic photographs, many of which have not been published until now.

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About the Author:

Blake Allmendinger is at University of California at Los Angeles.

Review:

"In this path-breaking work, Allmendinger looks past the colorful cowboy of pulp fiction and film to investigate the equally colorful world that actual cowboys constructed for themselves. By assessing the workaday world of the cowboy with a mixture of exhaustive scholarly knowledge and
intellectual brio, he reveals a set of sustaining myths to the stories, songs, and poems that cowboys themselves have written--myths by which they instilled their otherwise menial work with transcendent meaning and urgency. Branding read as "skin grammar"; livestock castration as a masculinizing
activity; square dancing as intense moral drama; the lonesome cowboy as labor's ideal: these and other provocative insights emerge from this wonderfully innovative study--a study that not only gives us the cowboy as a serious cultural and laboring figure, but provides an interdisciplinary model in
its combination of folklore, history, popular culture, and literary analysis."--Lee Mitchell, Princeton University

"Innovative and solid, Allmendinger throws a graceful rope around cowboy work culture. Rich in documentation, The Cowboy surmounts the idiosyncratic nature of many historical studies by offering a vibrant and realistic portrayal of workers often clouded in myth. Emerging from this sensitive
treatment is a tough, yet dignified, picture of life on the American range."--Keith Gallagher, University of California, Santa Barbara

"At once provocative and speculative, The Cowboy offers fascinating new approaches to some of the defining ideas and myths of the American West."--Eric J. Sundquist, Vanderbilt University

"Blake Allmendinger has enhanced enormously our perspective on the historical cowboy."--The Western Historical Quarterly

"Thought-provoking....Persons wishing a fresh, new perspective on this most venerated of American symbols will be richly rewarded by reading this book."--South Dakota History

"Well-conceived and welcome."--Western American Literature

"This is a sensitive book by someone who searches deeply for meaning. His record of that search contains many nuances of meaning in cowboy culture that should become a part of broad American culture. The book is therefore of considerable value."--Journal of American Culture

"This volume by Blake Allmendinger proves again there is no end to fresh ways of examining familiar topics....Uniting provocative insights with interdisciplinary and wide-reaching research, Allmendinger has produced an important study of a subject often smothered in stereotypes,
sentimentality, and cliche....All readers will be impressed with the author's broad, varied research. He supplies probing readings of numerous cowboy songs and poems, he uses well new photographs of work scenes and cowboy artistry, and he has scrutinized many important novels by noncowboy authors.
And he makes good use of the works of theorists and cultural commentators to broaden the meaning of his findings....Overall this is a wonderfully suggestive monograph."--American Historical Review

"Well worth reading for its fresh and absorbing insights into a particular American work culture."--The Journal of American History

"Allmendinger's interdisciplinarity should be applauded, for students of literature, folklore, and popular culture will doubtless find much of value in his work....The Cowboy will appeal to anyone desiring an insightful and frequently entertaining reading of selected cowboy texts."--Journal of
Social History

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