It’s not a subject that you see discussed much, but the origin of the Wild West cowboy has some very interesting stories behind them. One of the more fascinating tales is that of the Irish cowboys which are discussed in the book How the Irish Won the West by Mylres Dungan.
It tells the story of the million or so Irish who came to America in the 19th century and mostly settled on the Eastern seaboard in New York and Boston. They overcame lots of problems and challenges and became some of the area’s most prosperous citizens. Their story is well known, but not all the Irish immigrants stayed on the East coast, many others headed into the West.
The Irish took on many roles, farmers, miners and labourers on the railroads helping to build the infrastructure of the new country. There aren’t many famous names even among the Irish cowboys who travelled the country. Although a few stories have been told such as that of Thomas Fitzpatrick. He was a native of Cavan who was one of the very first white men to travel into the country west of the Missouri River. He was a fur trader who discovered the south pass through the Rocky Mountains and became famous for guiding travellers through the Great divide. He eventually became an Indian agent and helped broker a deal that brought peace between the PLains people and the US Government. He also became a very wealthy man during his lifetime of exploration.
The book also covers the stories of some other famous Irishmen – James Kirker who fought the Apaches and is said to have claimed the scalps of 500 warriors (again making him very rich). Nellie Cashman from County Cork who became wealthy by providing ‘bed, board and booze’ to the gold and silver miners in Alaska and later on in Yukon. She also organised a resuce mission which saved hundreds of miners who were trapped by a fierce Winter storm. She was still to be found staking claims in the Yukon well into here 70s.
There are many more tales of Irish characters particularly miners and cowboys within the book. Many of these have been covered in the Irish media over the years and you can find some documentaries on RT3 if you’re lucky. You will need to use an Irish proxy like this if you want to watch it from outside of Ireland.
There’s one other famous Irish character who features in American history – Oscar Wilde. He famously made a tour of the capitals of the West to lecture the locals on the decorative arts. He was a huge hit wherever he went although often his drinking prowess was of more interest than his lectures on the finer points of art.
For Further Information:
Irish Proxy – http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/2009/11/watching-rte-in-us-uk-or-anywhere.html