Mary Hockenbery (reddirtrose)

Cowboy Kelly

Why are cowboys called cowboys? It’s not because of the cows; it’s because of the horses.

For centuries, cattle and other stock animals were tended and herded by cowherds on foot. That worked pretty well when both farms and herds were small, but it got awkward when herds and farms grew larger — as they did in Spain. A man who herded cattle on horseback was called a vaquero (which, by the way, was later anglicized into buckaroo). The English term ‘cowboy’ came into use during the western expansion in North America.

Even then, there were variations on the term. A cowhand was a ranch hand — a manual laborer — who occasionally mounted a horse to help out with a herd. A cowpoke was a mounted stock handler who used long poles to prod cattle into railroad cars for shipping. A wrangler was, in effect, a cowboy for the horses ridden by cowboys. But a cowboy could do it all — protect the herd from predators and thieves, drive the herd from place to place, round up strays, spend all day on horseback if necessary, even sleep in the saddle. A cowboy was special.

Odds are Cowboy Kelly spends more time behind the wheel of a pickup truck than in the saddle. But look closely at those eyes. There’s experience in those eyes, there’s competence and a certain casual confidence. Those are a cowboy’s eyes.

Blog photograph copyrighted to the photographer and used with permission by All photographs used on are stored on and are obtained via the flickr API. Text is copyrighted to the author, greg fallis and is used with permission by Please see Show and Share Your Work