I spent twenty-seven years of my life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so cowboys are not a new phenomenon to me. In Tulsa, I saw them everywhere--well, at least I saw men wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots everywhere. They sauntered into grocery stores, and politely removed their hats at movie theaters and restaurants. But, being a California girl originally, cowboys remained a unique characteristic of Oklahoma, kind of like the heat and humidity of Oklahoma summers, or the southern twang of "y'all." I watched from afar, but never got to know a "real" cowboy.
But last weekend, I had the honor of attending the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Surrounded by hundreds of cowboy peers, my friend and writing mentor, Dusty Richards, was presented an award for Outstanding Western Novel for his book, The Sundown Chaser.
Before and during the ceremony, we were surrounded by cowboys and cowgirls--most were real, but there were certainly some "wanna-be" cowfolk, like me. What a community I found -- ranchers, horsemen, performers, artists, writers -- all with a love of cowboy culture.
I have to admit, I was surprised to feel so "at home" with a group that in the past, I had only watched from "afar." But their warmth, patriotism, determined self-sufficiency and down-home charm drew me in.
In some of the presentations, I sensed concern that cowboys may become a thing of the past. There are fewer western movies and fewer novels these days. I overheard one rancher talking about the "cowboy way" not being the most efficient way to ranch anymore. But, in the hundreds of people present that weekend, I also saw a determination not to let that happen -- a determination to keep the cowboy alive.
When I left Oklahoma City to return home, I thought a long time about the cowboys I'd met and listened to, and I hoped more people would get to know a cowboy, and wouldn't simply watch this symbol of American culture from afar.