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A classic image of the American cowboy, as portrayed by C.M. Russell

A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend.<ref name="Malone1">Malone, J., p. 1.</ref> A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos. Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well documented historical role, but in the modern world have established the ability to work at virtually identical tasks and obtained considerable respect for their achievements.<ref name="Cowgirl Hall of Fame website">Cowgirl Hall of Fame website.</ref> There are also cattle handlers in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, who perform work similar to the cowboy in their respective nations.

The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest European settlers of the Americas. Over the centuries, differences in terrain, climate and the influence of cattle-handling traditions from multiple cultures created several distinct styles of equipment, clothing and animal handling. As the ever-practical cowboy adapted to the modern world, the cowboy's equipment and techniques also adapted to some degree, though many classic traditions are still preserved today.

Cowboy sections
Intro  Etymology and mainstream usage  History  Culture  Cowgirls  Regional traditions within the United States  Canada  Outside North America  Modern working cowboys  Rodeo cowboys  In popular culture  See also  Notes  References  Further reading  

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