Why you didn't call cowboys cowboys 150 years ago
Cowboys in the Old West were mostly young men, some as young as 12. It was, and it still is, brutally hard work to spend your day on the back of a horse, tending cattle. It attracted the same type of strong young person who would have been a lumberjack, or a firefighter. And these young people did not like to be called "boys". Calling them a "cowboy" was a degrading expression. Even at a young age, the people who did this work called themselves ranch hands, or just hands. In fact, to this day, that's the best compliment that you can give a "cowboy", calling them a "hand".
And if your image of a cowboy is a white, anglo-saxon man with a white hat, well, that's to be excused, too, as most of us have only seen "cowboys" in movies and on TV. Ranch hands were of all races and ages, and yes, it even included women. All you had to do was to be good at your job.
Posted by Brad Hall