REAL WORKING COWBOYS
This series of photos represents a time sequence. This image, taken by Edward Curtis, captures a cowboy on the Chisholm Trail, about 1885; his Cayuse is a smooth blend of “Billy” and Mustang.
An African-American cowboy attends a ranch rodeo and roundup on his day off. His horse is almost pure “Billy”— very close in type to the modern registered Quarter Horse, with straight neck and huge muscular hindquarters. A little Spanish influence shows through the head. Note the high-bowed saddle with two fully functional cinches ( this cowboy was smart enough to tie them together with a safety strap).
Mat Walker sits atop his famous cutting horse “Doodle Bug”— note that his mount has as much Spanish character as it does “Billy.” Cow sense in the Quarter Horse largely derives from that breed’s Mustang heritage.
A Californian with hair chaps and a mohair “saddle duster” rides a horse who is a long-backed Cayuse similar to those in “Army Issue,” page 55.
A Mexican cowboy in 1908, poses on a horse with overo patterning and a bald face.
Movie star Tom Mix poses atop “Old Blue.” In the handwritten inscription on this “fan card,” Mix says somewhat wistfully that the grulla Cayuse was the best horse he ever rode: “We grew old together.” This animal was never featured in Mix’s movies but was likely a horse he owned before his turn in Hollywood, when he was still a working cowboy. The tack is Hollywood-Spanish. This head shape, with a high “dish” and long needle-nose, is characteristic of some Mustang herds.
This fellow with movie-star good looks worked for the Spur Ranch in Texas. His mount shows Southern Saddler or Mountain Horse influence, which blends Hobby and Thoroughbred ( discussed in previous installments). This is the kind of horse represented by the foundational Quarter Horse sire Traveller, who was foaled at about the same time ( much more about Traveller in our next installment). Note the 60-foot braided leather riata, curb bit, bridle with no noseband, removable buck rolls, narrow-tread oxbow stirrups and, unusually, a single cinch.
The clothing, tack and choice of mount of this ranch manager photographed in 1908 New Mexico are all purely practical. He ropes with the long riata, his horn is of slick metal so he can easily “play” the cattle he ropes after dallying (“dally” is an Anglo-American corruption of Spanish
da la vuelta meaning “to wind something up”). The horse is a Cayuse with Spanish head, legs and hindquarters, but showing Thoroughbred influence through the shoulders, neck and thighs.
This is a ranch manager in Bonham, Texas, in 1920. By this date, the days of the great cattle drives were over and the Cayuse was being replaced everywhere, either by handsome, smoothly-conformed, muscular horses like this one which are of a type certainly ancestral to the modern registered Quarter Horse— or by automobiles and farm machinery.
Henry Lyman, range boss of the LS Ranch in Texas, overlooks the Canadian River in 1910. His horse is much heavier and shorter through the neck and more substantial and muscular generally, than any of the others in this article. My guess is that this animal represents a blend of Spanish and Morgan with a touch of Thoroughbred. Cayuses of this type certainly did contribute to the foundation of the American Quarter Horse when it finally came to be a breed.
maintaining fences were not Quarter Horses but small, compact and tough Plains Cayuses, a type adapted to the country and to the conditions of early ranching. There are numerous representational paintings of Colonial Spanish horses from before 1840 and hundreds of photos of Plains Cayuses dating from the 1860s to the 1920s that give a very clear idea of what they looked like. The photo galleries presented here allow you to follow their story with a whole array of “western” characters, including Theodore Roosevelt, Texas Rangers, mountain men, working cowboys and even Tom Mix, a movie star who had once been a real working cowboy.
Coming next: The Modern Quarter Horse Emerges