Cowboy Realities: The total number of men who worked a range as cowboys was about 35,000 people. The cowboys had their heyday roughly between the end of the Civil War and the mid 1880s, a period of about twenty years is all. Of those 35,000 men who from time to time worked in the occupation of "cowboy," about 25% were black. About another 12% were Mexican. Black cowhands were particularly numerous in Texas, along the Gulf Coast, and in the Indian country. In many areas of Texas, a number of cattle ranches were worked exclusively or nearly exclusively by black cowboys. It would be naive to think that those black cowhands were treated with the same full equality as their white counterparts, but nonetheless they enjoyed a camaraderie with their fellow workers that was rather rare in most parts of post Civil War America. .
But again, it's not the black or Mexican cowhand that has emerged in our folklore. It's the tall, white, Anglo-Saxon, the hard drinking, sort of "noble savage" who tamed the west, who saved the girl, who probably never kissed her; he, if he kissed anyone, kissed his favorite creature in the world--his horse--and then he climbed in the saddle and rolled off into the sunset to save another town from the vicious monopolists or evil gamblers and prostitutes. In point of fact, even the white cowboys were, for the most part, short, stumpy human beings. They lacked teeth, they had skin the quality of tanned leather, they were, as one newspaper account put it, describing a Wyoming roundup at 1875: "rough men with shaggy hair and wild staring eyes in butternut trousers stuffed into great rough boots.".
Many of the cattle towns that have lived on in our lore and legend as the places of gunfights and wild unsocialized activities were also part of our myth. Towns like Dodge City, Kansas, Abilene, Kansas, were not centers of brothels and bar rooms. They had dance halls, they had a few brothels.