Before barbed wire, stockmen couldn't fence enough acreage to support their livestock. Instead, a system of open range grazing evolved. Cattle were turned out on public land and left to graze wherever they found grass. Limited in their roaming only by rivers, rough country, or waterless stretches, the cattle might spread over a million acres. Cattle from many owners mingled, leading to the establishment of round associations and grazing districts. As the open range system expanded north from its roots in the Southwest, American cowboys learned herding, roping, and other skills from the Spanish vaquero, even adapting that word to buckaroo.
Did You Know?
Crusty old cowboys were mainly an invention of movies. Most cowboys were young, some only eleven or twelve. By the time they were in their mid-20s, most had taken up ranching on their own or found a less strenuous way of life. Yet, some kept cowboying as long as they could stay in the saddle.