TV cowboys origin came from real, historical cowboys, an American tradition recognized the world over. But the Mexican vaqueros were the model for our American cowboys. Our guys learned everything they needed to know from watching these very skilled cowboys and they did a great job of mastering the cowboys skills. So good in fact that, eventhough the cowboy character that we know and love didn't originate here in the States, this is where the cowboy fable began and, eventually, the TV cowboy appeared.
After the Civil War, newspapers began reporting on the Texas cattle trails and Kansas cowtowns. Then, when the first of the dime novels began to be circulated, they painted a very romantic picture of the American cowboy. The hard realities of the American frontier became rousing stories of horsemen, covered wagons, Indian wars, all set in an awesome untamed land. They were written about as modern day knights who conquered the wilderness and did in all evil-doers. And, because of that, they became instant heroes.
Radio and television businessmen knew there was great potential in bringing to life these American heroes, and so we were introduced to characters that we quickly grew to love - like the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers to name just a few. They were a "dressed up" version of the real American Cowboy, and became stars of the shows. The cowboy was transformed from a hired hand on a horse into America's greatest hero - honest and good, and always ready for adventure! And, boy, did we fall in love with them!
This is how real cowboys looked around 1880 or 1890 - pretty rugged, huh?
And here is TV's "dressed up" version, around 1950 or 1960 - just look at 'em now!