About the Project

When most of us think of cowboys, we envision dramatic, open spaces of the West—rugged, weathered men droving massive herds of cattle and riding horses at breakneck speed to rope the runaway cow. The lesser-known East Texas Cowboy shares some traits of the epic ideal, yet history, tradition, and environment have shaped a unique version of this Great American Legend.

As a modern extension of a forest stock tradition, the East Texas day-hands, or “Custom Cowboys,” have adapted to working in the muddy river bottomlands, thick woods, and compact clearings of the region. Today, due to land fragmentation, a majority of East Texas ranchers now run anywhere from 10 to 500 to 1000 head of cows and can’t afford, nor do they need, a crew of full-time ranch hands. Instead, they rely on small teams of freelance cowboys to take care of their cattle on a revolving schedule.

Perhaps the most unique trait of the East Texas Cowboy is the use of dogs. The Cult of the Dog has a long and intimate history in the region. This continues today primarily in the activities of “rooter hog” hunting and cow dogs. Bred for their hunting prowess, these work dogs are far from the domesticated versions we love as pets. Watching them flush a herd of cows from the woods and then “bay” (group) them for the cowboys is truly a remarkable sight.

“Here, you’ve got thorns and briar vines and bushes and swamps and sloughs. Lots of big timber. It’s pretty important to have good dogs. If you ain’t got good dogs in East Texas, you ain’t in the cow business. Ain’t nobody gonna hire you. They don’t actually hire you, they hire your dogs.” –C.D. Langham (retired Custom Cowboy)

About the Filmmaker

Since 1980, Curtis Craven has been working full-time as an Austin-based freelance producer, director, and shooter with an emphasis on documentary work. Subsequently, Curtis has actively participated in the colorful arc of technology from film to tape to digital. He considers
himself lucky to be among the relatively few freelancers who have been able to both pay the bills and continue to be able to self-produce and pursue projects that are of special interest to him. East Texas Cowboys is one of those projects.

« »