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Horseman skilled at handling cattle in the U.S. West. From c. 1820, cowboys were employed in small numbers on Texas ranches, where they had learned the skills of the vaquero (Spanish: cowboy). After the Civil War, their numbers rapidly multiplied as cattle raising evolved into a lucrative industry throughout the western territories. Cowboys rounded up and branded the cattle, kept watch over the herd, and drove those ready for market to railroad towns. As the agricultural frontier moved west, the open range was transformed into farms, and by 1890 cowboys had been forced to settle on ranches. The romance of their image lived on in U.S. folklore and through movies and television.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on cowboy, visit Britannica.com.