Buffalo Bill, a real life Colonel who had fought in numerous battles, created a traveling show merging his own experiences with fiction. This show and others helped spread and popularise the image of the ‘Wild West’ and the cowboy. Buffalo Bill’s wild west and congress of rough riders of the world – Circus poster showing cowboys rounding up cattle and portrait of Col. W.F. Cody on horseback. c.1899
Robb Walsh’s Texas Cowboy Cookbook is one of his many great cookbooks that bring together history and food in a wonderful volume. The Texas Cowboy Cookbook has simple recipes with plenty of photographs and stories about the history and origins of the food.
Mention a Texan cowboy and most people will think of similar images: gathering around a fire with cactus silhouettes in the background, gunfights at high noon and playing poker in dusty saloons with swinging doors. While some of those things did happen, they are only a fraction of the story, and the image of the Texas cowboy that so many have comes from a 20-year period where driving cattle through dangerous territory was common.
African-American cowboys on their mounts ready to participate in horse race during Negro State Fair, Bonham, Texas, ca. 1911-1915. Photo: Erwin E. Smith
After the Civil War ended, Texas was not a state only populated by white gun-toting cowboys and small frontier towns, as many books, TV shows and films would have you believe. There were thousands of newly-freed slaves (25% of all cowboys during this time) and a large minority population from Mexico (which Texas had been part of only 20 years before). In fact, the primary origin of Texan cowboy culture is rooted in the Mexican vaqueros, which originates on the Andalusian plain in Spain. The food traditions associated with these different groups as well as the mix of American and European immigrants moving into Texas shaped the foods eaten there, as well as the practicalities of eating on long trips rounding up wild cattle.
The Longhorn cattle were released by the Spanish in the 16th century and had become feral and plentiful in central and western Texas by the mid-19th century. Photo courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co.
Post Civil War many people needed new jobs – and the wild longhorn cattle could fetch $30-$40 a head. From 1866-1886 millions of cattle were rounded up and driven to railhead towns to be shipped to Northern markets. This could be dangerous work with little pay – there were storms, rattlesnakes, stampedes and raid by Comanche and other Native American tribes. The lifestyle became popularised and romanticised, as well as the associated food. In reality beans, sourdough biscuits and black coffee would have been common on the trail; fortunately however this cookbook has recipes for more than just that! Venison tamales, stewed baby okra, coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, butter pecan ice cream, jalapeño corn bread and chicken-fried steaks are just some of the recipes on offer.
The Texas Cowboy Cookbook (Broadway 2007) Texas cowboys are legend — immortalized in rugged images from Madison Avenue to Hollywood. Robb Walsh digs into the culinary culture of the Texas cowboys, starting with the chile-based cuisine of the Mexican vaqueros and then gives overdue credit to the largely unsung black cowboys and the role played by cowgirls and finishes with the modern Urban Cowboys.