Cowboy Tropes in the Media

The western genre was one of the most popular genres in the 1900s. Movies, books, television shows, games, and other forms of media were capitalizing on the western lifestyle. The most recognizable image in the genre is the cowboy. The cowboy is the most important aspect of any frontier piece of media. When one thinks about the wild west, the cowboy is most likely the first thing that comes to mind. Not all cowboys were depicted in the same way. In my research, I have found multiple interpretations of the cowboy. The hero, the gunslinger, and the hard worker are common tropes of the cowboy.

The Hero

This picture is a shot from the television show called The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger originally aired from 1949 to 1957. The show was about a cowboy and his Native American friend fighting off evil outlaws. In this depiction of the cowboy, he is a hero. The Lone Ranger, also known as John Reid, has many heroic details attached to him. He wears a mask to hide his identity. He has a sidekick figure who helps him fight outlaws named Tonto. He rides his trusty steed who can be compared to Batman’s vehicle named the Batmobile. He even has a tragic backstory where his friends and brother were murdered. To understand this trope, one must first understand characteristics of what a hero is. The Lone Ranger was the superhero for many children at the time. Children in the 1900s wanted to be a cowboy while children today want to be a superhero. To me, this image of the Lone Ranger can possibly be the inspiration for the modern superhero.

The Gunslinger

This is the original movie poster of the film, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. The film originally aired in 1966. It is about the story of a gunslinger, a hitman, and an outlaw. These three characters team up in order to find a stash of gold. The movie is full of plot twist and intense movements. The main character we want to examine is the gunslinger who is played by Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood is well known for his cowboy performances. He really pioneered the tough, honorable, lone wolf, gunslinger depiction of the cowboy. The gunslinger archetype roams the frontier looking for an opportunity to gain wealth and they are usually alone. Just by looking at this poster we can see the violent aspect of the frontier. The red orange fires and the red words/border enforce that this is going to be violent. These characters are not afraid to show their guns. Looking specifically at the cowboy, he looks very rough, like he has been through a lot. He also looks tough because of his facial features. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” does a great job reproducing the intense and violent gun battles that many people believed happened in the west.

The Hard Worker

This is the 2003 cover art version of the book named “The Cowboy at Work” by Fay E. Ward originally published in 1958. This vision of the cowboy symbolizes the hard-working nature that a cowboy embodies. Cowboys original job was to take care of their land and their animals. They usually were the ones who rounded up the livestock. Cowboys were not actually outlaw fighting gunslinger instead; they were normal citizens just doing hard honest work. In this artwork, the cowboy is doing their original job, rounding up livestock. He is holding the classic lasso that you see many cowboys use. You can see that he is putting all his might into accomplishing his job. You can also see the environment that cowboys used to work in. The American west does not have the foliage compared to the east. The west was a hot barren land. By conveying this in the art, it further proves that the cowboy must work harder in order to get the job done. This book cover does a perfect job portraying what a cowboy truly is.


First image: “The Lone Ranger”, television show, 1949-1957,

Second image: “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, original movie poster, 1966,

Third image: “The Cowboy at Work”, book cover, 2003,