Over at Outsports, The Front Runner author Patricia Nell Warren has written an engaging piece on the history of the gay cowboy, which follows the cowboy’s evolution from the explosion of the livestock industry following the civil war to today’s modern gay rodeo.
She details the quite common practice of cowboys pairing up for economic reasons, a situation that sometimes evolved intimately: “To combat the loneliness of this life, male-male friendships sprang up like the spring grass. Even heterosexual bonding tended to be strong. In frontier times, Western men used the word “partner” for these bonds. Two single males would pair up, living in close association, sharing everything, maybe starting a business together.
There was also an economic reason for partnership: the low pay. In those days, society expected a man to own a house, and prove his ability to support a family, before he got married. But a dirt-poor cowboy could hardly afford to feed a wife and kids on $40 a month…You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in sociology to realize that some of these rawhide partnerships extended into discreet sexual intimacy.
I’ve come to think that gay cowboy love was silently accepted by many livestock owners as an unavoidable result of the circumstances. They let some of the boys have it because it made the loneliness and hardship bearable – as long as two partners were discreet and did their jobs. Ranches who treated men well got their pick of the best men, and that could include two buckaroos who were an item. The policy of not asking questions was conveniently invoked here.” More at Outsports…