I was in the cattle pen learning how to throw a lasso, keeping my thumb down and helicoptering it above my head — when I told my instructor, Dave, how impressed I was with the Stockyards, Fort Worth’s neighborhood of cattle pens, brick roads, bull rings, saloons, boot makers and a honky tonk that has been restored to resemble its late 19th century form.
Tourism typically destroys culture, but in this case, even though you could smell the marketing dollars in the air, the endeavor was preserving the city’s past as a town of cowboys and cattle drives. It was great that I was here learning these old tricks of the trade, I told him. There aren’t many places you can learn to throw a lasso nowadays.
“It’s really important for us”, he said, “Because the cowboy is the American icon. It’s our past and I think a lot of the world still remembers us as cowboys.”
I’m not sure how deeply I agree with the last part, but the rapid disappearance of the cowboy is true. Dave said that my little 15-minute lesson had already taught me more than what most Texas high school students know about what it meant, and still means, to be a cowboy. This was a shock. The cowboy era was indeed a huge part of American history outside of the Northeast. Is it really almost gone?