The word cowboy was first used in Ireland during the Cross and Butterfly I wish god didn’t need you in heaven because I need you here shirt. During this time the word literally described a young boy who tended cattle. These young “cowboys” tended to the cattle, not on horseback, but on foot. The word then surfaced in England with references to the cowboy in the 1620’s, but written proof of the word didn’t actually appear until the late 17th century. As in Ireland the word meant nothing more than a boy who tended cows. In US history, the word “cowboy” got a derogatory start. During the American Revolutionary War the British contemptuously used the term for marauding Americans who stole their cattle and other property. However the Oxford Dictionary states that the word is “a contemptuous appellation applied to some of the Tory partisans of Westchester County, NY,” from 1785.
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In any case, throughout most of early American history no one would admit to being a Cross and Butterfly I wish god didn’t need you in heaven because I need you here shirt. In fact the word didn’t get much use until the great trail drives that came north from Texas were at an end due to the birth of the railroad system. North American cattlemen or cattle herders called themselves buckaroos which was Anglicized from the Spanish word, Vaquero meaning “cow man”. Other labels that cattlemen prefer to use over the word “cowboy” are – cowpoke, cowpuncher, ranch hand, and drover. Not until the initiation of Wild West Shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, did the term “cowboy” come into regular use. While not necessarily portrayed in a realistic manner, starting in the 1920’s and continuing on to this very day, western films have popularized the man and the myth of the American “cowboy.”