dialog on Pride

03 – Queer Cowboys in the Nineteenth Century

While the mythologized cowboy is seen as “hardy and self-reliant,” the historic cowboy would have actually had to rely on his partners to survive. In the nineteenth century, not only could cowboys express homosexual desire while still maintaining their masculine status, having such bonds in a predominantly-male sphere allowed the cowboy to maintain his independence while still forming meaningful emotional bonds.

Author James Fenimore Cooper, often cited as the starting point for the myth of the American Cowboy, wrote deeply intimate, romantic, and at times erotic bonds between cowboys, such as the relationship between Natty Bumppo and his “fri’nd” Chingachgook in The Leatherstocking Tales.

Two black American cowboys shaking hands, taken c. 1913. (Source unknown.)