Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009
K-State experts for Kansas Day:
DAYS OF CATTLE DRIVES IN KANSAS AND ACROSS THE GREAT PLAINS LEFT INDELIBLE MARK ON AMERICAN CULTURE, SAYS K-STATE RESEARCHER
MANHATTAN -- When you wear blue jeans or call someone a "stinker," you have a cowboy to thank.
Those are just a few of the cultural holdovers from the days of cattle drives in Kansas and elsewhere in the Great Plains, according to a Kansas State University professor. Jana Fallin, professor of music education, researches cowboy music and other folk traditions of the culture.
"I love folk music and I'm also interested in folk art," said Fallin, who grew up in Coleman, Texas. "Growing up I heard stories about trail drives."
The cattle drives on trails like the Chisholm Trail took herds from grazing lands in Texas to the stockyards and railroads in places like Abilene, Kan., where the cattle could fetch higher prices.
"The Civil War had introduced beef as a common meat for many Americans," Fallin said.
The cattle drives pumped money -- and vice -- into local economies.
"Kansas and the Midwest owed a lot of their economy to these drives," Fallin said. But they only lasted for about 20 years, Fallin said. When the railroads came to Texas, there was no need to drive herds north.
"It's interesting how something that lasted such a short period of time influenced our culture so much," she said.
Fallin said the first cowboy boots were made in Olathe at the request of a cowboy who wanted his Civil War-issued boots with toes pointy enough to fit easily into stirrups and slanted heels that wouldn't get caught in the stirrups.
"Garments like bandanas and jeans -- the way we dress -- we owe to the cowboy," Fallin said.
Cowboy culture has influenced the way we eat, Fallin said, noting that in Kansas and elsewhere it is possible to find a place that serves a chuck wagon supper.
Cowboy culture lingers in language, too. To call someone a "stinker" came from a term used to describe the people who skinned buffalo hides, Fallin said. The term "red light district" is thought to have originated in Dodge City, she said.
"The railroad workers carried red lanterns and would hang them on the front porches when they visited 'ladies of the evening,'" Fallin said.
People from all parts of the United States became enthralled with cowboys thanks to dime novels that told tales glamorizing the West.
"It was good versus evil, and a lot of drama," Fallin said. "There is so much drama in the true events of the West the writers didn't really need to make up stories."
Fallin said a fascination with the cowboy also lives on in Europe. She will present at the Arts and Culture Conference, July 27-31, in Venice, Italy.
"I think cowboy culture has made a huge impact on Kansas and the world," Fallin said.