Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cowboy culture is important, but don't forget about the vaqueros, Native-Americans, railroads, dinosaurs, and so on

Nifty staff editorial in this morning's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. It argues that the city's Downtown Development Authority should follow the recommendations of the national Main Street group. Main Street urges Cheyenne: "Do not adopt a theme, like cowboys, for its downtown."

The writers launch the editorial with this quote from the paper's comments section:
"Oh Please! Enough of this stupid cowboy stuff. It's past time for this ... town to grow up!"
Here's another one:
"Cheyenne is Western. It is cowboys ... Most citizens of Cheyenne do not need newbies to make non-Western decisions for the rest of us who love the Western way of life."
Just what is the "Western way of life?" Hard to say. The West's cowboy culture spawned a world of film, TV shows, books, handcrafted saddles, rodeo, storytelling, and song. That's a rich trove of material. It's celebrated in rodeos, such as our own CFD in Cheyenne, and in events such as the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Wyoming boasts a number of talented cowboy poets and musicians, many of whom actually spent time working on horseback -- Mike Hurwitz, Jared Rogerson, Andy Nelson.

Celebrate the cowboy but don't forget the Native American. The roots of the Western tribes go back much farther than the cowboy's. The dominant culture has just begun to appreciate this world. Much of what makes up cowboy culture was borrowed from The First Peoples and even The Second Peoples -- Spanish vaqueros predated the Wyoming cowboy by centuries. The term "buckaroo culture" is used by Hal Cannon, founding director of the Western Folklife Center in Elko. Folklorists contend that "buckaroo" is an Americanization of "vaquero."

And what about horse culture? Long before Lakota and U.S. cavalry clashed on horseback, the Mongols, Cossacks and Arabs used horses as weapons. Forget about Hollywood-style cowboys for a second. We should celebrate many centuries of horse culture in the West. It's a shame to carve out a few decades of Western history and declare this the theme for all time. We have a rich and varied history. And I haven't even mentioned railroads, energy booms-and-busts, politics, dinosaurs, weather, geology, immigration, the military and agriculture.

Let's not have one theme to our downtown. We are a complicated people. Let's reflect that in the ways that we revitalize our city.

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