When Cowboys Grow Up

Double holster cap guns

I have no guts for guns.  I find fire arms of any kind frightening and am a staunch advocate of gun control.  If you had known me as a child you would be quite surprised to learn this.  Like so many other boys of my era (see more about my era in “Generational Limbo…..” ) I spent much of my early childhood wearing a cowboy hat, packing a couple of Roy Rogers signature six-shooter cap guns, and constantly practicing my quick-draw skills against imaginary bad guys.

Andy and Hugh cowboys copy

My younger cousin has the drop on me.  Circa 1950.

AndyHugh cowboys kittens

Even the toughest cowboys are soft on kittens

The most exciting addition to my arsenal of cap guns came when Santa (in whom I believed for an embarrassingly long time) left a sparkling new Daisy Red Ryder BB gun under our Christmas tree – long before the release of the classic 1983 comedy hit A Christmas Story.  I went through countless packs of BBs in my back yard shooting at outlaws in the form of tin cans and, when my parents weren’t home, bottles.    

My obsession with cowboys and guns was understandable given the radio, TV, and comic book fantasy world available at that time, not to mention the annual super-exciting Christmas toy addition of the Sears Catalog which would devote up to a dozen tantalizing  pages to cowboy gear.   

My favorite radio (and later, TV) heroes  included the likes of the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Wild Bill Hickok, Hopalong Cassidy, and the Cisco Kid. 

To this day, the opening chords of the William Tell Overture bring back vivid images of the Lone Ranger with his horse Silver and sidekick Tonto.  Click below to relive the dramatic introduction:

The Lone Ranger rides again!

As an aside, I was somewhat chagrined to discover via Wikipedia that the term “intellectual” can be defined as one “who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger.”   So much for my professorial pretenses. 


During my cowboy time my older sister Helen was obsessed with the hit recording  Gee by the Crows.  It included lyrics such as “Hold me, Baby, squeeze me, Never let me go.”  On the other hand, my favorite radio hit song at the time was Tex Ritter’s Blood on the Saddle.  I liked it as much as I liked “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” which is saying a lot.  I don’t think I ever paid attention to the lyrics and was stunned when I looked them up on line recently.  “There was blood on the saddle and blood all around. And a great big puddle of blood on the groundhe never will ride any broncos no more.”  At least it was not blood and gore from gunshot wounds.  Evidently a cowboy’s horse fell on him and bashed in his head – great song for an 8-year old.

Even though my cowboy heroes were perpetually shooting at bad hombres, they seldom, if ever,  killed any of then.  Roy Rogers was such a crack shot that in a split second he was able to whip out his gun and shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand from twenty yards away – or, worst case scenario, wing him in the arm. 

Of course, as time passed I outgrew my cowboy phase.  Somehow I sensed that it wouldn’t be cool to show up on my high school campus wearing a cowboy hat and packing a pair of Roy Rogers 6-shooter cap guns, even though ironically we were the Chino High School Cowboys  (something I have already discussed elsewhere in BLM).  As I moved on to my adult life, that passion of my childhood became a dim memory.  Then our son Travis came onto the scene.   


Travis, the barefooted cowboy.

As a sociologist I should know better than to think that there is a cowboy gene for boys.  But it’s a tempting thought, especially since Travis went through a similar period in his early childhood.  We recently chatted about this and he reminded me that he loved to watch old re-runs of cowboy shows; two of his favorites were The Rifleman and The Lone Ranger. I can guarantee that Sara was not into the cowboy scene. 

Sara travis gender diff

Sara and Travis decked out in their gender-specific outfits.   Where did their parents go wrong?

Travis also reminded me of the childhood incident that has become part of our family folklore.  Our Baton Rouge next door neighbors’ son, Sechan, who was about the same age as Travis, would occasionally come over to our house to play.  Sechan’s parents were staunch pacifists and forbade him to have any form of play gun or other toy weapon.  So, naturally, as soon as Sechan came through our door he would make a beeline for Travis’s room with its stash of weaponry and cowboy regalia.  He and Travis would then stalk one another around the house and do a lot of “shooting” and “gotchas.”  That is, until Sechan’s mom showed up early one afternoon to pick him up for some appointment.  When I opened the door, not expecting to see her there, Sechan was standing behind me with a roguish grin, packing twin guns and wearing a cowboy hat.  We didn’t see too much of Sechan after that.

I am pretty sure that if we were raising our kids today we would not encourage toy guns. Even with the make-believe gun-toting world of my favorite cowboy re-runs, there would be something off-putting about allowing 8-year-olds to run around play-shooting their buddies.  But that may be only my curmudgeon elder self over-analyzing the effects of play.  After all, the overwhelming majority from a couple of generations of former devoted child cowboy gunmen (like myself and Travis) have turned out to be decent, nonviolent citizens. Maybe it’s time to dig out my twin holster Roy Rogers gun kit and ride off into the sunset.  Or, maybe not.

ride into the sunset


  1. Carolyn Hall says:

    When it was Buck’s turn to put Jenny to bed, his favorite “lullaby” to sing her to sleep was “Blood on the Saddle”! No joke. It doesn’t seem to have done her any lasting damage 🙂


  2. tricia53 says:

    Santa brought me an Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit, complete with six-shooters, when I was five. I wore it constantly, protecting my little sister from the “bad guys.” And my grandkids are gobsmacked to learn that I was taught to shoot a Daisy rifle in a junior high PE class (in Arkansas, which maybe explains it.) I have had zero gun experience since then, though!


    • theRaggedys says:

      I would bet that you were one tough cowgirl. I am impressed that Daisy marksmanship was taught in your junior high. Were there any outdoor lightbulbs left in the school? (I had a neighbor who would shoot out streetlights with his bb gun).


  3. Deb Pool says:

    I really enjoy your columns Andy. Ronan just turned 8 and Papa and Memah gave him, per his mothers suggestion, a Halo energy sword and a set of combat goggles, vests that hold bullets, and bullets for his birthday….it continues, just with different heros!!!


    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks Deb. Maybe there’s hope for upcoming generations. It’s probably more healthy to play with a Halo energy sword than be obsessed with politics or other adultly crises that seem to overwhelm us. Maybe we all should invest in a Halo energy sword (I’ll pass on the goggles and bullet vest).


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