Political Myth No. 2:  “Cowboy State” and “Equality State” are contradictory nicknames

There’s been quite the flap over the University of Wyoming slogan about the world needing more cowboys. Phil Roberts wrote this perspective in this piece in Wyoming Almanac.

The new University of Wyoming recruitment slogan “The World News More Cowboys!” has caused quite a stir among Cowboy Nation.

On its surface, the slogan is exclusive to men which has caused the uproar. The Wyoming mainstream seems to think it’s another liberal and politically-correct fake-news conspiracy and no big deal.

Maybe I’m just old school and think that a slogan or logline needs to stand on its own without explanation or rationale.

Apparently, along with the slogan, are images of non-stereotypical cowboys, who would be an Asian student smiling at the camera while at the library.

Maybe a woman signing up for a class at the registrar’s office.

Cognitive dissonance.

That’s a little heady. Whether or not one ad campaign touting the least populated state in the nation gains any traction is anyone’s guess. The negative pushback has received more national media attention than the UW administration hoped.

Particularly since the story is now about the provincial Wyoming mentality about western expansion and Native American genocide vs. whatever image the school is trying to project about there is “no such thing as a cowboy” except in myth.

osu cowboys slogan

Oklahoma State University’s alumni and friends are the epitome of loyal and true. With a love of all things orange, you can help share the spirit of OSU with the next generation of Cowboys and Cowgirls! 
If you know a high school or transfer student that would make a great addition to the Cowboy family, please consider passing along his or her information.

The other aspect about this strikes me as weird. Oklahoma State University (OSU) also are the Cowboys and came up with the same “The World Needs More Cowboys” slogan. Apparently OSU and UW came to an agreement that Wyoming could use the slogan, too.

I want to know the backstory about the Boulder, Colorado ad firm that co-opted the OSU slogan and paid $500,000 to “develop” it.

Just a coincidence?

OSU came to fisticuffs in 1993 over the Pistol Pete trademark infringement. OSU prevailed in that one and Wyoming can use Pistol Pete, but I haven’t seen that logo used in recent times. New Mexico State University recently settled with OSU about it’s Pistol Pete logo. NMSU has since moved on from Pistol Pete.

It takes academic analysis to explain the Wyoming slogans. Retired UW history professor gave a very thorough vetting of the issue in 2007:

Cowboy State? Equality State?

By Phil Roberts

The new Wyoming quarter, officially unveiled in September 2007, shows Wyoming’s license-plate bucking horse and next to it are three words: “The Equality State.”

It’s not the only place where the seemingly contradictory nicknames seem to joust for dominance.  The legislature designated the state officially as “the Equality State” back in the early 1900s, but even Wyoming Public Radio refers to Wyoming with the more “tourist-friendly” nickname, “The Cowboy State.”

The cowboy is an image that has been with us for a very long time. The bucking horse went on the license plate in 1935—the first logo on any license plate in America.

If a state has a “self-image” (something I often question), are we more drawn to one than the other?  “Cowboy State?”  “Equality State?”  Doesn’t one cancel out the other? Are these contradictions?

I say the two nicknames represent remarkably compatible concepts.  In modern times, the image of the cowboy has taken a beating, becoming stereotyped, for good or bad, as a term denoting reckless foreign policy, for instance, or fiercely intolerant and destructive acts against the environment.  Cowboys, in Hollywood film, have been gun-toting, fighting, hard-drinking white guys who showed educated sophistication when it came to dealing with women, the law and the community–the ones wearing white hats anyway.

But like all stereotypes, this one is mostly wrong when you look at history.  Open-range cowboys in frontier Wyoming came from every racial and ethnic group. Most didn’t have anything except a saddle and a backpack—and sometimes, his own horse. Few had even rudimentary education. They were mostly the floating transient population of their day.

That is not to say they lacked understanding of their environment. Unlike farmers who tried to change the landscape by clearing land and digging irrigation ditches or miners that dug big ugly holes in the ground, the cowboy lived with the environment. He put on a slicker when it rained, tied his hat down tight with a bandanna to keep the winter winds at bay, and tried to protect his charges from thirst, snow-blindness, and wolves. He knew he couldn’t change the environment; he just had to live with what it dealt him.

And the equality part?  Mostly, he judged other cowboys by how well he rode, whether he paid you back if you loaned him a quarter for cigarettes, how hard he worked, and whether you can count on him to watch your back in a fracas. Every man had to prove himself, regardless of race or ancestry. It didn’t matter how great one’s family was. It was what he was that counted. As my grandmother used to say, “Every tub sits on its own bottom.”

But there are awful lapses in how Wyomingites have dealt with “equality.” From the Rock Springs massacre to the Black 14 and Mathew Shepard, some would say “equality” isn’t a nickname Wyoming deserves. I disagree.

“The cowboy state” ought to reflect the non-stereotypical past—when being a cowboy meant honor, capacity for hard work, and respect for the individual. In some ways, it is “historical”—a touchstone to look back to for inspiration. It is retrospective—even a mythical way for us to identify with the past.

And the “equality state”—that nickname is aspirational—a goal toward which we ought to be striving. While we likely will continue to come up short, being mindful of striving for equality ought to continue to make us not only a more humane society, but conscious of our state’s reputation for friendliness to visitors, for dedication to community, for tolerance of other’s views—and for valuing individual differences.

And the two nicknames aren’t contradictory. As we aspire to greater equality, we need to remain true to the “cowboy” way that brought us this to this point—not just the Hollywood version, but what came from the reality of the Wyoming cowboy of the open-range days.

After all, they are both on the same coin.

Advertisements

Cheyenne Frontier Days life phases

Cheyenne Frontier Days changes, but stays the same.

There is now an extra parade since Cheyenne Frontier Days expanded to add the additional weekend. Still huge crowds and still kids selling ice cold soft drinks along the route. Two CFD mainstays, the Hitching Post Inn was out of business for many years before it was torched and the Mayflower burned, came back and then went out for good. It’s now a sushi place of all things.

cfd rose garden bob

Bob Larue and yours truly filming Rose Garden at the CFD parade in front of Marv’s Pawnshop.

The Daddy of ’em All comes to town on Thursday night with bull riding. Friday is the first CFD night show, and another huge crowd, as usual, will descend on the Magic City. All businesses either make or break their year based on CFD trade.The night show entertainment is taking over as the big draw these days. CFD numbers are up, not because of the rodeo, but because of the party atmosphere promoted during CFD. The standing room seats are the primo tickets and a prty zone for young people.

Back in the good old days, the popular shows were family acts like Doc and Festus from “Gunsmoke” and the chuck wagon races. They don’t do those anymore either due to liability issues.

Being a Cheyenne native, some people are surprised to learn that my family and I were city people and didn’t get much into the rodeo part of Frontier Days.

Despite that, I figure I’ve been through four, going on five phases in my CFD lifespan, not counting my very early years I chased pieces of candy in the street at the parade. That’s not allowed now. Who picked up those plastic ducks from the water raceway at the carnival?

Parade Pop Sales – When I was in the fifth and sixth grades, one of my golfing pals,  Pat Higgins, my sister Lori and cousin Matthew from Salt Lake City sold ice cold pop along the parade routes.

cfd alan lori

My sister and I getting ready to ride the hay wagon in the CFD parade.

Two months ahead of time was spent hoarding all the cheap off-brand sodas like Shurfine and Cragmont to sell at each of the three parades that wound through downtown Cheyenne.Although my dad worked for Coca Cola, we opted for a higher profit margin. Besides, thirsty parade goers weren’t interested in brands, they just wanted something wet and cold. This was well before bottled water. I think it was before flip tops and we had to open them using a can opener.

The first year, we ran out of pop and wasted at least a half an hour running over to Brannen’s Market on Carey Ave. which is now a Wyoming state government office.

During subsequent years, three red wagons were dispatched and cars with additional supply strategically parked along the parade route. My cousin saved the bag of loose change from his first take as a reminder of his first entrepreneurial project. I wonder if he still has it?

These days, kids have to get a permit and be accompanied by an adult. Plus there is no selling in the street in front of potential customers, only on the sidewalk behind them.

Sheesh – talk about over regulation.

Learning Human Nature at an Early Age – The Hitching Post Inn was the most popular CFD party spot. When I was in junior high school my first job was working as a bus boy there during the summers of 1966 to 1968. It gave me an early education about human nature – I hadn’t run into as many jerks and a**holes as I did during those days and nights at the Hitch.

hitchingpost

The Hitching Post was one of the CFD hot spots. It was my best job.

My favorite shifts during CFD were 7pm to 3am and 11pm to 7am. There was always plenty of action for a 14 year old kid – running booze and glasses to the smoke filled Coach Rooms for the Son’s of the Pioneers Show, shooting the breeze with fun-seeking cowboys and their girlfriends at the counter in the coffee shop.I was in Phoenix Books and Music the other day and noticed a record by Jody Miller. She used to play in the Hitching Post lounge. I delivered room service to her. The only other famous person I met was Victor Jory, who sat at the coffee shop counter in a tan safari jacket smoking cigarettes.

Just before sunrise one morning another busboy named Mark Samansky – God rest his soul – and I went into the Coach Rooms and played the drum solo from Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. I don’t think the boss – Kenny Ahlm – ever figured out who was making all the racket. I kept in touch with Mark until he graduated high school. He was a few years older than me and we lost contact. He, not surprisingly, went into radio broadcasting as a well known DJ. He died a few years ago.

High School Parade Rides – I’d ridden in the parade before as an elementary school aged kid. My mom was in a singing group called the Dearies through her women’s club. All the members had kids – Murrays, St. Clairs, Nichols, Lummises –  and we all hung together during the summer. Many of us still keep in touch through facebook.

cheyenne frye

In high school, I rode in the CFD parade with Ed Frye in the ambulance.

I can’t remember who had the pull, but all of us kids from the neighborhood rode on the hay wagons during the CFD parade. That was sort of an initiation for kids to get involved with CFD – turns out it was for me since I’m still involved.The mom of one of my high school classmates, Janice Benton, was a volunteer on the CFD Parade Committee and for three summers through high school we rode in the horse drawn field ambulance wagon.

Two girls dressed up as Civil War nurses and two guys moaned in pain with bandaged limbs hanging out of the windows. For my shift, it was Jan, Eddie Frye and Tad Leeper.

We had messy jugs of red colored water and let it run out of the corners of our mouths – pretty graphic for CFD – but the crowd loved it.

We also had this “bed pan” schtick, but I don’t need to go into any of the details about that!

Old Enough to Drink in Public – As far as I’m concerned, Frontier Days started to go downhill when the Mayflower Bar on 17th Street went rock and roll. It was nutty back in the late 70s and early 80s. I was living in Gillette at the time and one year, we packed way too many people in a room at the Atlas Motel.

Brammar Neg 4036, Mayflower Cafe dance hall interior, Cheyenne Frontier Days, nd

The second Mayflower went out of business the year I made my Kerouac movie. This is the original Mayflower interior.

The police would block off 17th Street between Capitol and Central Avenues and walk down the sidewalk wielding night sticks banging beer cans out of the hands of pseudo-cowboys wearing huge gold and silver fake trophy buckles.

The obligatory circuit was flowing along with the mass humanity from the Mayflower then to the Elks Club then back to the Mayflower where I would bump into Cheyenne friends I hadn’t seen for years. The Pioneer Hotel was taken over by bikers.

The Cheyenne Club opened on Capitol and was the big cowboy hangout for a few years until it went out. It’s been through several iterations and now empty when the Drunken Skunk went out.

All the CFD gathering points are now out of town at the Cadillac in east Cheyenne. and the Outlaw in south Cheyenne. When the parade ends, downtown turns into a ghost town with tourists and locals heading to the rodeo and the carnival Midway in Frontier Park.

cfd jill bill

CFD parade watch 50th birthday July 19, 2003 with Judy Gilmore, Susan Keenan, Jill Jensen, Steve Gilmore, Jeff Tish, Bill Keenan.

The Plains Hotel has had an identity crisis over the past few years. One of things I’d wanted yo do is watch the parade from a corner suite there. In 2003, Bob Jensen, Al Wiederspahn – God rest his soul – and Mick McMurry rennivated the Plains into a show piece. It wasn’t ready to open, but for my 50th birthday, I rented the room and invited 100 of my closest friends over for Bloody Mary’s and the parade.

Downtown Cheyenne has been unstable since JC Penney moved out to the mall 40 years ago. The Plains changed hands again. The restaurant is separate from the hotel.

Under the previous management, the Wigwam 2 – an homage to the original Wigwam Bar sort of worked.. It was kind of small but fun. I don’t know what will be in there this year, but it’s a great place to eatch the parade. I imagine the bar hopping circuit will be the much smaller: Albany – Crown  – Elks.

Movies – I’m now in my fifth CFD life. I’d generally get media credentials when I was in the newspaper business. I remember doing a pretty good story about Indian Relay Races. CFD doesn’t have those any more.I’ve made a couple short movies in Cheyenne using CFD as a back drop – “On the Trail: Jack Kerouac in Cheyenne” which is about the night Sal Paradise spent in Cheyenne during CFD on his way to Denver; “Rose Garden” which happens at the parade and in Frontier Park. I’m working on a documentary about the wild horse race, but I’m having a little trouble coming up with a story.

I also did work for the CFD Old West Museum and make the CFD Volunteer Crisis Fund annual tribute video.

CFD 2016 begins on Friday. I’ll be over at the media trailer picking up credentials and talking to people I see once a year there.

Incidentally, my CFD handle is “Bud” which is one of my best kept secrets.