Book Review: Cowboy - American Icon

book review cowboy american icon, author daniel pruitt, cowboy: american icon. a short history of wild west culture

By Daniel Pruitt

Firefly Books, 2023, ISBN 9780228104490, 240 pages, hardcover

Reviewed by Tania Millen

The cowboy was not born in a vacuum; he was molded by the fusion of Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and Anglo cultures, as Daniel Pruitt explains in his glossy, photo-rich book Cowboy: American Icon. A Short History of Wild West Culture

Breathing life into the myths and realities that define the cowboy mystique, Pruitt’s narrative stampedes across the vast plains of cowboy culture. From early vaquero days to the Hollywood glitz of John Wayne, he captures the grit, glory, and gallantry of these American icons. Meticulous research is evident in the blend of historical facts and anecdotal gems. Whether he’s narrating the evolution of the cowboy hat or dissecting the art of cattle rustling, Pruitt paints a vivid picture of the Old West. He explains how the cattle drive was a ballet of chaos, vividly describing the cacophony of hooves, dust, and restless cattle under the vast Western sky.

What sets this book apart is its dexterity in avoiding Hollywood clichés and cowboy tropes. Pruitt notes that the cowboy is a mirror reflecting the complexities of the American frontier and prompts readers to confront the multifaceted legacy of these American horsemen. He delves into the complex origins and multicultural influences that shaped the cowboy persona and doesn’t shy away from controversies surrounding the cowboy image. Pruitt skillfully navigates the murky waters of cultural appropriation, acknowledging the complexities of a symbol that embodies both rugged individualism and a dark history of dispossession.

Although well-described as a “short history,” a touch more exploration into the modern cowboy could add a contemporary layer to the tale. The concluding chapters feel like the dust settling after a thunderous cattle drive, leaving the reader yearning for a glimpse into how the cowboy spirit persists today. Perhaps a peek into the lives of current rodeo stars or ranchers would have added to an already stellar narrative.

Regardless, Pruitt’s commitment to authenticity and his knack for unraveling cowboy mythology make Cowboy: American Icon a must-read for Western enthusiasts. The photos and graphics alone are worth the price of admission for those hankering to take a riveting ride through Wild West culture. 

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Book Review: Cowboy - American Icon