Post 8: Are you a real cowboy?

A couple, visiting Texas for the first time, stopped for gas at a station in West Texas.  At the next pump over, a pickup and trailer full of livestock pulled in and the driver hopped out.

With some encouragement from her husband, the wife approached. “Excuse me, sir.  Are you a real cowboy?”  “I guess so, ma’am,” he replied.

“I was wondering why you all wear such unusual clothing.”

“Well, ma’am….I wear this hat because it keeps the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my neck.  The high crown keeps my head cool and I can use it to scoop water. I wear this kerchief to wipe away perspiration and to protect my breathing when it gets dusty. These chaps protect my legs from underbrush and thorns.”

“And I wear these tennis shoes so that people don’t think I’m a truck driver.”

For this week’s assignment, I present the truck drivers of the JA Ranch:

JA Cowboys at the Woodburn Place. From the Iva Belle Moore Tucker collection.
JA Cowboys at the Woodburn Place.
From the Iva Belle Moore Tucker collection.


The purpose of this assignment was to learn some specific Photoshop skills to use in our production of the final projects, including balancing size, tinting, and improving images.  I used a color swatch from the faded blue of Bill’s front pocket (the original photo is in color) to tint all three photographs. Jesse’s photo is a little wider, because I wanted to include a bit of the camp kitchen background. The height of the banner image above is similar to the width of the photos below. When I construct the final project, I’ll see how things balance out on the page.

Jesse Moore, Iva's father. When he got too old to ride, he worked the chuckwagon - A JA Ranch invention.
Jesse Moore, Iva’s father. When he got too old to ride, he worked the chuckwagon – A JA Ranch invention.
Iva's brother, Bill Moore. Undated photo, circa 1970's.
Iva’s brother, Bill Moore. Undated photo, circa 1970’s.


This project raised an ethical question for me, particularly when I considered going in the opposite direction and colorizing Jesse’s picture: how far should one go to clarify a photograph, or make it more attractive for publication? I’ve seen some fantastic colorized images of Civil War photographs.  The colorizers use a lot of interesting techniques to get the color as close to the original as possible; to many viewers, the result makes the subjects seem more real.  Yet, journalism ethics caution against editing. This site has 58 examples of Photshop “enhancements” that led to varying degrees of misleading reporting.

Does an altered photograph reveal more “truth” about someone’s appearance, or is it merely compilation of assumptions built into the software’s algorithm? Does the color of his overalls matter? His hat? What shade of skin color should I use for Jesse, who, according to unverified family lore is one-quarter Native American?

I’m not sure I will even attempt to erase the crease in Jesse’s photograph.  It’s a part of the history of the artifact. Conversion of Bill’s photograph to black and white, and then tinting it the color of his faded denims is an artistic expression that will help to unify the design of the atlas and make it more pleasing to view.  If it gets copied and used in other places, without explanation, how might those alterations be misleading?

Now that I’ve expressed such high-minded ideals, here’s my new Facebook cover photo.  Photoshop is fun, and that’s okay for some uses.

Ghostriders on the JA Ranch. Edited photograph from the Iva Belle Moore Tucker collection.
Ghostriders on the JA Ranch. Edited photograph from the Iva Belle Moore Tucker collection.


Elsewhere: I commented (twice) on Jefferson’s thoughts on academic writing vs. the popular history market.  Joshua posted some interesting maps using open-access software to demonstrate the sorts of questions that can arise from just a few lines of data. It suggests to me we’re at a cartographic tipping point for historical analysis.






  1. This is really very cool. I feel somewhat qualified to address the question of colorizing or otherwise manipulating an historical image, as this was a subject that was discussed at great length in CLIO 2, where one of our assignments was to colorize a photograph. If you explicitly note that the image has been manipulated digitally then you are free and clear. By simply taking the photo and putting it on your blog, you are already changing the context in which the image was intended to be observed. By digitally manipulating the image, you are only further changing the context, making it into a piece of art to be appreciated for its aesthetic value as well as its historical relevance.

  2. I knew Jess Moore. I was a friend of Bill Moore and worked for him, bailing his hay north of Goodnight TX. I worked for Montie Ritchie on the JA, bailing their hay every summer, 1979-1994.
    my Grandfather knew Charles Goodnight. I have written one book about a JA cowboy (1890 Jack Abernathy) a friend of Theodore Roosevelt. I am currently writing stories about the JA cowboy Henry Rowden for his family in Colorado. I don`t know it all, but do know a few things. I can identify 2 cowboys in your picture. 806 – 874-3918 leave a message and I can call you back. Clarendon TX.
    Enjoyed reading your work. I never knew Jess Moore ever looked that good when he was young.

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