Friday, January 24, 2014

Manlove in the Old West

Being a man in the gold rush years in the middle of the wild west, pioneers lived in remote outposts in areas where women were scarce. Included are lumberjacks, ranchmen, cowboys, miners, and others who dared ventured into the wide open spaces of the west to find their riches.
It should come as no surprise that homosexual relationships flourished in the times and remote locations. The men were not deemed as homosexuals or gays since the words didn’t even begin being used until sometime around the 1860’s. Most likely they were called punk, old cowboy and ranch lingo for a male who was involved with cowboys or preferred men. That didn’t mean that all were met with acceptance either.

With the female populations as little a third or less in some cases, men did rely on other men for pleasures of the flesh. In some cases, miners and cowboys settled into relationships/partnerships that were recognized by other men and generally called, “bachelor marriages”.

Alfred Kinsey wrote in a 1948 based on his research: “There is a fair amount of sexual contact among the older males in Western rural areas. It is a type of homosexuality which was probably among pioneers and outdoor men in general. Today it is found among ranchmen, cattle men, prospectors, lumbermen, and farming groups in general—among groups that are virile, physically active. These are men who have faced the rigors of nature in the wild. They live on realities and on a minimum of theory. Such a background breeds the attitude that sex is sex, irrespective of the nature of the partner with whom the relation is had. Sexual relations are had with women when they are available, or with other men when the outdoor routines bring men together in exclusively male groups.”

It is also understood that Kinsey was quite shocked with what he learned concerning the prevalence of such acts.

Understanding that not all accepted same-sex relations, men utilized code words to identify themselves. It would be understood that references to Walt Whitman and his work signified a preference to men.

Men often held dances and designated themselves as women or men for a night of fun. This doesn’t mean they were gay, but when faced with a shortage of women, and affection from another human, it is easy to see why they did such things.

Although these acts of companionship and love flourished doesn't mean it was a zenith in time where all was right with the world. In some cases, where sodomy laws existed, some homosexuals were hung or punished. In the case in the image below, these two men were being punished, forced to wear dresses, and haul large rocks all day. Circa 1900, Canyon City, Colorado.

Between 1900-1980, 33 states forcibly sterilized upwards of 60,000 individuals in an attempt to stop “bad genes” from being passed on. Also included in the program were the insane and unwed mothers. At the top of the list, Oregon reins supreme for the most aggressive sterilizations on men and women. 

In my quest for the hidden truth, I understand that there is a certain allure and romance to the old west and many throughout history have chosen to push back or completely hide the truth. Its all about the notion that those times were historically significant to the growth of the country. Cowboys, cattle drives, wild west law figures, boom towns, shoot outs, and the the such have been so highly romanticized that so much history has been left in the dark...more than likely on purpose for a great number of years. 

Whether everyone accepts, likes, or dislikes the notion that the Old West was not just a romanticized heterosexual playing field, the truth is still the truth. Men have sought the pleasure of other men for centuries. While geographical location and the times may have played a major role in male/male relationships, it should be understood and accepted that most entered into relations of free will and enjoyed the companionship. 

Along my search for information I found a few poems and the like that best describes the times and feelings. Enjoy.

Badger Clark, born 1883, Deadwood, South Dakota.

The Lost Pardner - Badger Clark
I ride alone and hate the boys I meet.
Today, some way, their laughin' hurts me so.
I hate the steady sun that glares, and glares!
The bird songs make me sore.
I seem the only thing on earth that cares
Cause Al ain’t here no more!
And him so strong, and yet so quick he died,
And after year on year
When we had always trailed it side by side,
He went—and left me here!
We loved each other in the way men do
And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true
Was more than any woman’s kiss could be.
What is there out beyond the last divide?
Seems like that country must be cold and dim.
He’d miss this sunny range he used to ride,
And he’d miss me, the same as I do him.
It’s no use thinkin'—all I’d think or say
Could never make it clear.
Out that dim trail that only leads one way
He’s gone—and left me here!
The range is empty and the trails are blind,
And I don’t seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin' up behind
And feel his knee rub mine the good old way.

Charlie A. Siringo - Cowboy, rancher, detective. 1855-1928
This fellow was quite the man of many professions. Not only did he work as a detective for Pinkerton, he also was a cowboy, rancher, and writer. What I find most interesting is his letters, poetry, and correspondence he sent debunking "overly romantic tales about the Old West". His publication about the Pinkerton's caused quite a ruckus. The expose was suppressed and he was charged with libel from the Pinkerton's. Two Evil Isms must have been quite the story the Pinkerton's didn't want know. Copies were seized and destroyed by the courts. A few copies survived. A must read!
Outside of his expose and writing that clarified the truth of the Old West, he wrote a piece that must have been controversial at best. The poem is unnamed and was written in the 1880's:

My lover is a cowboy
He’s kind, he’s brave, he’s true
He rides the Spanish pony
and throws the lasso, too
And when he comes to see me
And our vows we have redeemed
He puts his arms around me
And then begins to sing:
Oh, I am a jolly cowboy,
From Texas now I hail,
Give me my saddle and pony
And I’m ready for the trail.
I love the rolling prairie
Where we are free from care and strife,
And behind a herd of long-horns,
I will journey all my life.

 I stumbled across this limerick and thought it should be included as well.

Young cowboys had a great fear
That old studs once filled with beer
Completely addle’
They’d throw on the saddle
And ride them on the rear.

Here is a collection of images of manlove from the late 1800's


  1. I enjoyed this a lot. When writintg about homosexual pairings in the 1920s, I found that the very old cant or language called "Polari" flourished in Europe and made its way to America even in the days of the "old west." It's only natural, as you point out, that rough and ready men should turn to each other for understanding and pleasure. I like how you put it: those men "lived on realities and a minimum of theory."

    1. I had so much fun researching this topic that I want to dig further :) I will check into the "Polari" sounds fascinating.