The American West in the 21st century was generally considered to comprise of the states which included the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin. In addition to being a geographical division, the West is symbolic to its specific culture with cowboys being its focal point and icons. Western movies were very popular since the early 1920s, and they contained one common and popular theme of a cowboy who erased the entire evils single handedly and in the end won a beautiful girl. Films which featured black cowboys failed for many reasons, and the foremost being that the white population did not want to see them. Moreover, the movie houses were mostly owned by whites who were not interested in filming black cowboys. Younger Americans idolized cowboys, and any film containing a lead role of a cowboy simply meant sure success. Cowboy movies were extremely popular among the Eastern audiences who flocked the cinema houses to see the myths of the West on the big screen.
1. Rooster Cogburn
Rooster Cogburn is the most identified movie cowboy of all time. He was originally portrayed by John Wayne in the fim True Grit. Characterized by coarseness, an eye patch, and distinguishing personal traits, this movie cowboy is synonymous with John Wayne who played the role of U.S. Marshal Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn. On account of his excessive drinking and improper use of firearms, the U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn had been deprived of his badge. After the attack of a gang of violent and ruthless criminals on an Indian village, he is given a chance to regain his lost reputation. The gang had killed Rev. George Goodnight. His daughter Eula Goodnight makes Rooster a partner to track the criminals. Rooster had to be extra careful because the gang led by Hawk and Breed had stolen a shipment of nitroglycerine. Rooster Cogburn is a classic movie cowboy.
2. Will Kane
Will Kane is one of the most remembered movie cowboys in the history of American movies. Gary Cooper won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for his portrayal of Will Kane in 1952. Will Cane is a fictional character and the hero of the film High Noon. His courage and bravery in the face of extreme adversity and almost sure death has made this character an Americam iconic cowboy. He has also been portrayed by Lee Majors in its TV sequel High Noon Part 2 and by Tom Skerrit in 2000’s High Noon. Will Cane is a town marshal who is about to leave the town on his wedding day with his bride Amy. It is his last day in office, and he gets the news that a man whom he sent to prison has been released and is coming by train to avenge himself against the marshal. He faces him and four killers alone.
3. Ennis Del Mar
Ennis Del Mar is one of the two movie cowboys playing main characters in a famous and popular film Brokeback Mountain. In addition to the conventional traits of a cowboy, the characters in this movie reveal an unusual aspect of the relationship between the cowboys which may be called a soul mate relationship or to some it appears like a gay relationship. Ennis and Jack, two 19-year-old cowboys work on Brokeback Mountain, and one bitterly cold night they share an intense, brief, sexual encounter.
4. Josey Wales
Josey Wales is a movie cowboy portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the 1976 western film The Outlaw Josey Wales. This fictional character was created by the novelist Forrest Carter for his novel The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales. Josey Wales is mostly known for his refusal to surrender after the end of the American Civil War. His skills as gunman are matchless, and he carries two guns holstered on his belt with another inside the gun belt and a smaller one inside his coat. He bears a permanent scar on his cheek caused by a saber cut. He wears a cowboy hat and a shortened trench coat. He is a man of few words with a catchphrase ‘I reckon so’¦’ He is used to tobacco chewing and spitting.
5. Ethan Edwards
Ethan Edwards is a fictional cowboy and the character is played by John Wayne in The Searchers a 1956 American western film directed by John Ford. It was based on a novel by Alan Le May and reflected the Texas Indian wars. The film was a great commercial success and was named the ‘Greatest American Western of All Time’ by the American Film Institute in 2008. It ranked #12 on AFI’s 2007 list of the ‘Top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.’ The success was obviously due to the inherent quality of the cowboy Ethan Edwards and his excellent portrayal by John Wayne.
6. Roy Rogers
Roy Rogers, also known as the King of the Cowboys was born Leonard Franklin Sly to Andrew and Matty in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 5, 1911 and died of heart failure on July 6, 1988 in Apple Valley, California. He formed a western cowboy music group with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. The group called The Sons of the Pioneers was a big hit with its songs like ‘Cool Water’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds.’ Roy Rogers performed a supporting role as the Singing Cowboy. After his lead performance in Under Western Stars, he suddenly emerged as an American idol and competitor to the nation’s favorite singing cowboy Gene Autry.
William Andrew Lamoreaux, best known as Buzz Barton, was the biggest child star in the world. He was born to Floyd and Myrtle in Gatlin, Missouri on September 3, 1913. He spent his last days on Corky Randal’s Ranch as a wrangler and died on November 20, 1980 in Reseda. Wearing a cowboy hat, he looked like Huck Finn. He was a freckled-faced, handsome, athletic kid and drew the attention of people wherever he went. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Newhall known for cowboys and as one of the top western filmmaking areas in the world. Jack Perrin, a leader in that area, became his mentor and introduced him to the stage. He became one of the most famous actors of his time by 1927. His dexterity in riding and skillful roping were comparable with any top cowboy actor of his time.
8. James King Aurness
James King Aurness was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S on May 26, 1923 and died in Los Angles, California on June 3, 2011 at the age of 88. He was best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. He became famous with his role as mountain man Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won. He was decorated with the Purple Heart and a Combat Infantryman Badge, the World War 2 Victory Medal, and many other honors.
9. Gene Autry
Orvon Grover Autry, also known as Gene Autry and The Singing Cowboy, was born in Tioga, Texas, U.S. on September 29, 1907 and died in Studio City, California, U.S. on October 2, 1998 at the age of 91. After John Wayne, he was one of the first singing cowboys. He became famous as a singing cowboy through his performance on radio, TV, and movies. He was a wealthy person and owned the Los Angeles/California Angels major league baseball team, a television station, and many radio stations in California. His most popular songs include; ‘Back in the Saddle Again,’ ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ Gene Autry is the only person who has been awarded stars in all five categories for film, TV, music, radio, and live performance, and has been inducted onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
10. Tom Mix
Tom Mix was born as Thomas Hezikiah Mix in Mix Run, Pennsylvania, U.S. on January 6, 1880 and died in Florence, Arizona, U.S. on October 12, 1940 at the age of 60. He was Hollywood’s first Western mega master who defined the genre for cowboys. For his contribution as a movie cowboy, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His cowboy boot prints, palm prints, and his famous horse Tony’s hoof prints are preserved at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame posthumously in 1958.
More than a profession, a cowboy was an American West tradition, known for its symbolic dress, amazing agility, gun handling skills, fearlessness, and the will to achieve the goal regardless of its being wrong or right. Movie cowboys are like the living fossils that played a vital role in keeping the image of the cowboy as fresh and real as it was in the historical period of their existence.