The cowboy carries all he needs with him - that's a heavy load at times
The cowboy carries all he needs with him – that’s a heavy load at times

Cowboys were of their essence highly mobile workers who had no fixed place to sleep. The bedroll was a vital part of their equipment whether they were on a roundup or a trail and slept under the stars, or whether they were at headquarters or in a line camp and had a floor to sleep on. So much a part of their culture was the bedroll that there were numerous names for it: hot roll, flea trap, shake down, velvet couch, dream sack.

The bedroll came to have a very particular structure. The outside layer was a heavily waterproofed white canvas tarpaulin with snaps and rings down both sides so it could be folded and closed tight. Inside were heavy quilts called ‘sougans’ (variously spelt) which were wool or cotton stuffing inside quilting made of patches of clothes. Inside these in turn were a couple of blankets, and then inside those there might be a thin feather mattress known as a ‘henskin’. In the very middle was the War Bag (also called a Possible Bag) in which the cowboy kept his personal gear.

The edges of the tarp could be folded over the bedding when the cowboy lay down to sleep so as to prevent water from entering, and could even be pulled right over his head if desired. In the morning, once he was up, the first thing he did was roll up his bedding which he then might use to sit on to have breakfast.

Cowboy's boots and spurs
Cowboy’s boots and spurs

In wet weather a cowboy might well take his boots and his rope to bed with him. Wet boots were difficult to put on in the morning and a wet rope became stiff and hard to use. When it was very cold, he could get dressed inside his bed. If it had snowed he would wake up warm because the snow on top of him would have insulated him!

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