Date of Project


Document Type

Honors Thesis

School Name

College of Arts and Sciences



Major Advisor

Dr. Kathryn West

Second Advisor

Dr. Jon Blandford

Third Advisor

Dr. Fedja Buric


It has been argued that the American cowboy is the most widely misunderstood and misinterpreted figure in American history. This mythic figure does not look like the real ranch hands who littered the American West throughout the nineteenth century, nor does he act like them. Instead, he is set apart, as a figurehead of masculinity and American ideals, determined to roam the frontier as a guardian of justice and stability. This version of the cowboy, however, is not bound within the pages of novels or within limitations of film. Instead, the cowboy’s ideals, persona, look, and code remain a vivid part of the American mythos, continuing to shape the perception of the West today. From its conception through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the western frontier of the United States has been presented as an exclusively masculine place that has left little room for perspectives that from that of the White cowboy such as those of women and people of color. This creates an exceedingly narrow view of the West that excludes key groups of people who had an integral role in shaping the cultural landscape of the region. This research evaluates the masculine tropes of the West through the inspection of female narratives to show that there is room in the real West and literary West for those who do not fit the archetype of the American cowboy.