DEAR SUN SPOTS: About cowboys. Cowboys are cattle men. They drive herds, ride horse, play at rodeos, but we never see them milking cows for a living. That’s a dairy farmer’s job. So why are they called cowboys?

My thoughts are that the name refers to a location rather than a trade. So I think the COW in cowboys is an abbreviation for Country-Western. What y’all think, readers? Excuse me, it’s time to play some COW music. — Dick, Lewiston

ANSWER: Sun Spots is pretty sure that Dick is pulling her leg, but she is still going to share what Wikipedia has to say about the word cowboy:

“The English word cowboy has an origin from several earlier terms that referred to both age and to cattle or cattle-tending work.

“The word ‘cowboy’ appeared in the English language by 1725. It appears to be a direct English translation of vaquero, a Spanish word for an individual who managed cattle while mounted on horseback. It was derived from vaca, meaning ‘cow,’ which came from the Latin word vacca. Another English word for a cowboy, buckaroo, is an Anglicization of vaquero. At least one linguist has speculated that the word ‘buckaroo’ derives from the Arabic word bakara or bakhara, also meaning ‘heifer’ or ‘young cow,’ and may have entered Spanish during the centuries of Islamic rule.

“Originally, the term may have been intended literally — ‘a boy who tends cows.’ By 1849 it had developed its modern sense as an adult cattle handler of the American West. Variations on the word ‘cowboy’ appeared later. ‘Cowhand’ appeared in 1852, and ‘cowpoke’ in 1881, originally restricted to the individuals who prodded cattle with long poles to load them onto railroad cars for shipping.

“Because of the time and physical ability needed to develop necessary skills, the cowboy often did began his career as an adolescent, earning wages as soon as he had enough skill to be hired, (often as young as 12 or 13) and who, if not crippled by injury, might handle cattle or horses for the rest of his working life.

“Names for a cowboy in American English include buckaroo, cowpoke, cowhand, and cowpuncher. ‘Cowboy’ is a term common throughout the west and particularly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, ‘Buckaroo’ is used primarily in the Great Basin and California, and ‘cowpuncher’ mostly in Texas and surrounding states.”

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I’m hoping one of your many readers can help. I’m looking for the “Pine Tree Warriors” soft-cover book celebrating their 39th anniversary. I’ve lost mine through no fault of my own.

It’s very possible there’s a copy in someone’s attic or garage I could purchase if they want to part with it. I have talked to Bert Dutil in hopes he could get his hands on one old book but to no avail. Thanks in advance. — Prets Simion, Auburn, [email protected], 786-0073

DEAR SUN SPOTS: You have been so much help in the past. I have misplaced the name of the from from whom we used to go to buy pure honey drops in Bowdoinham. He also had a booth at the Fryeburg Fair. I would be very appreciative to receive his name and phone number. Thank you. — No Name, Lewiston

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be e-mailed to [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.