What Cowboys Built And Did Around The House To Be Self-Sufficient

James Walton
By James Walton November 27, 2017 10:23

What Cowboys Built And Did Around The House To Be Self-Sufficient

Sunrise on the plains can choke you up. Even in the unforgiving and unhindered spring winds the sky is alive with brushstrokes of the heavens.

A cup of hot coffee, sludgy and made from poorly filtered water, is the mornings second offering to you. Maybe you dip some hardtack in your cup to give you strength for the day.

In the back of your mind the list of concerns begins to build. This cut of the West is wild and its home to predators, Indians, criminals and God’s elements. All of which threaten your life and threaten the cattle you are herding. They are your livelihood as well.

In the 1800’s a cowboy’s morning on the range would look something like that. It was not a life for the faint of heart. As an old west cowboy, you would have laid your head in many places throughout the year. The most obvious being in a tent on the plains as you ran cattle.

There were other places that cowboys laid down to rest as well. These places were built for self-reliance. You must remember, this region of the US was mostly unexplored, and it was very dangerous. Everything these brave cowboys needed they had to provide from the land around them.


ther bunkhouse cowboysWhile most cowboys had a ranch that they called home, it was also common to find cowboys lumped together in what was called a cowboy bunkhouse

The cowboys would live in these communal, barrack style, lodges and they called them dives, dice houses and even ram pastures. These small communal homes were outfitted with the tools of self-sufficiency.

#1. Wood Stove

At the center of every bunkhouse was the wood stove. This stove was the focal point of the bunkhouse. Men sat around the wood stove and played music or cards. They used this wood stove for heat, cooking and even to dry clothes.

Without the wood stove the bunkhouse would be essentially uninhabitable. This was particularly true in the winter months.

#2. Outhouse

Another mainstay of the cowboy bunkhouse was the outhouse. While this structure was never actually inside the bunkhouse it was a permanent fixture at every bunkhouse. This was their self-sufficient plumbing operation. These were wooden structures that offered privacy and a minor respite from the elements.

Though it may sound primitive today, imagine what a little privacy would do for you after months out on the plains digging cat holes.

#3. Corn Broom

While it is not highlighted in many texts if you look close at these pictures of historical bunkhouses you will often see a corn broom in the background. This cleaning tool with bristles made from the tops of corn stalks, was an essential part of keeping the dive clean. This would be for the inside and the outside.

These brooms are very easy to make and should be a consideration in your own inventory. This is particularly true if you are a corn grower yourself. Take a cue from the cowboys of the past.

#4. Drying Poles

Another interesting addition to the bunkhouse were drying poles. These poles were hung from the ceiling at the center of the bunk house. The poles would run on all fours sides of the wood stove. They were high enough that they didn’t impede walking but low enough that they were easy to use.

Cowboys would hang socks and other garments on these poles and the heat from the wood stove would dry them. As you can imagine there were many ways that cowboys could get wet while out on the range.

Related: 15 Lost Survival Tips From The Cowboys Who Wandered The West – With Illustrations


cowboy ranchA cowboy’s ranch was his solace from the plains. This was the place where the man who roamed could finally settle. On a cowboy’s ranch he would have his cattle and more of the niceties of a home. That said, this was as self-sufficient a living space as any pioneers’ homestead might be.

#5. Crude Wire Fencing

Without access to a hardware store these cowboys would create crude fencing. They would utilize fence posts of all sizes from full sized tree trunks to saplings that were sunk into the ground. These fence posts would be wrapped with wire or barbed wire.

This fencing was very important because it kept the livestock in and it kept predators out. Remember, a cowboy’s livelihood depended on the cows they took out to pasture and the horses they upkept. Cowboys were known and often hired by other ranchers for fence repair.

#6. Wall Hangers and Hooks

Storage was a big deal in the old west. It seemed like everywhere you could hang something, you would hang something. This was a critical part of keeping clothes, gear and tools in decent shape. The flooring in standard homes was primitive. Cowboys weren’t living on concrete slabs.

Outside the home and inside these hooks hung whips, hides, hats, belts, saddles and anything else of value. The life of self-reliance required these cowboys to hang their valuables and get the most out of them.

While this may seem like the simplest thing to have around your home it was a key part of their success. There was no cheap or easy way to replace essential gear.

#7. Work Bench

Life on the ranch required repairs and when you needed something it meant you had to build it. You would also have to build it using what minimal and raw materials you could get. The Old West workbench and space that contained it would be an area where tools were kept as well.

The bench itself would be incredibly sturdy. The legs would be fortified to endure the banging and heavy use required of it. Mallets, hand drills and hatchets would have been used on the cowboy’s workbench and this would have been a place the tinkering cowboy would have spent a lot of time.

#8. Wind Mills

Though you may think of wind energy as a new strategy in the game or renewables, it’s been around a long time. When pioneers would stake a claim on land without a year-round water source, you would quickly see a wind mill go up.

A cowboy ranch would be incomplete without a well for water and a windmill to help deliver that water. Hand pumping well water in the old west was an arduous task. It would take too much time and energy. The windmill changed all of that. It allowed the cowboy, the rancher and the homesteader the ability to put the wind to work.

While windmills would have no doubt made into onto the property of any cowboy or rancher it was no modern technology. In fact, most old-world immigrants had similar windmills in their country of origin.

The management of water has always been crucial to civilization.


There is reason you are called to this culture. As Americans we are the truest form of pioneers, both socially and physically. It is in your nature to forge into the unknown but don’t forget there is something else in your nature, too.

Much of what we’ve talked about had to do with sheer survival. Surviving the heat and the drought was crucial. Today we find ourselves in a similar circumstance and those old cues are firing off again. Our survival instinct is calling. Its calling people to the homestead. Its calling them away from convenience and dependence.

Are you going to heed to the call? Listen to the pioneer in you.

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James Walton
By James Walton November 27, 2017 10:23
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  1. ron November 27, 16:04

    Cant stand your video “game playing” of teaser statements and withholding the point/gist or name of the item you are pitching. Why not come right out up front like a man and say what it is. We can then decide if it is worth watching. I always shut them off immediately when you don’t.

    Reply to this comment
    • Bear November 27, 16:12

      I also shut them off. Irritating.

      Reply to this comment
    • Keepin’ it real November 27, 21:06

      I’m beginning to feel like this entire website is just another advertising vehicle for someone pitching their unknown book.

      Reply to this comment
      • CarmenO November 27, 21:41

        Listen to yourselves “website for someone pitching their…book”. Duh! People have websites to pitch their books, someone else’s products that help pay for the website, promote the owner of the site and etc. Every website pitches something.You DO NOT have to click on the website. Did someone force you? Did you read the information provided for free. Of course you did that’s why you are here complaining. I found the information interesting and you don’t have to be even remotely a genius to figure out the person has a website for their own benefit, In this case much of what is posted benefits others also. Just go away and find something else to complain about. I’ll keep clicking every time this site sends me a notice.

        Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck November 27, 16:51

    What Cowboys BUILT. They aren’t building them any more. They BUILT them in the past.

    This list is a great source of information. This article is not. If this is the typical quality of Mr. Walton’s writing, he definitely should keep his day job. If this is his day job, he should seek employment within his capabilities.

    Reply to this comment
    • JP November 27, 17:40

      Clearly it was a typo. Geez…lighten up!

      Reply to this comment
      • Kurmudgeon November 27, 20:32

        Yup – a typo that got repeated three times: in the title of the article, plus the link to the article, and in the subject line of the email as well. Pretty sloppy proofreading, I’d say.

        Reply to this comment
        • left coast chuck November 27, 20:43

          Yes, because it was repeated I assumed the author didn’t know the difference between the words “build” and “built.” Once is a typo; thrice is duhhh. Correct word usage is absolutely essential. Without correct word usage, the reader is left to guess at the author’s meaning. This was very clearly indicated in a prior article where at least two of the readers guessed at the meaning of the author’s error. One guessed that what he was listing was medicine for diarrhea, the other that he was listing medicine for constipation. Significant difference between the two medications. Having to guess at the author’s meaning in those medications in some cases could have fatal results.

          Reply to this comment
    • CarmenO November 27, 21:45

      Strangely enough there are still cowboys left that drive herds of cows and live in bunkhouses. They are still BUILT even if they have more modern facilities such as bathrooms inside. I know some people are frustrated because they can’t find job, take it out on yourself for not finding one, not on others. You DO NOT have to read.

      Reply to this comment
    • Anne November 28, 07:20

      Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.

      It was a typo.

      Thank you for the correction, I’ve made the appropriate changes.

      Reply to this comment
    • Sal September 24, 14:27

      I enjoy reading it. No complaints.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Rass November 27, 21:47

    What… really..some of your stuff is good but unless I’m a 7 year and want to be a cowboy we should know all this by now and it’s not1850s

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa November 27, 22:06

      Be careful what you say. In my prepping, I’m calculating how far back in time are we going? 100 yrs, 200 years or back to the caves. A good volcano, anywhere in the world could wipe us back a ways. Knowledge to pass on is necessary to not have to reinvent everything. I can foresee the skill of reading to be an honored skill, and real books a valued asset. Of course, this is after you manage to survive and the riffraff doesn’t take you out.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck November 28, 00:39

        A super volcano or a world-wide CME event would set the world back to the early 1800s in my estimation. The most significant part of that is that we no longer have the infrastructure that existed at that time. There are no coal mines that operate with horse power. There are no open hearth steel mills. How many households possess a spinning wheel, hand loom, milking equipment, butter churn? How many men today know how to saddle a horse and ride? Hitch a team to a wagon? When was the last time you visited the village blacksmith shop to have a part repaired? Baling wire used to be the duct tape of the 18th century. Got a hundred feet of baling wire in your garage? Do you have a kerosene lamp? Do you know how to trim a wick in a kerosene lamp or is it more like “wick?” What’s a wick? I read a survivalist novel where the author wanted to put out a kerosene lamp. He had the hero throw it on the floor to put it out. I certainly hope he never does that in real life. The same author didn’t know how to light the kind of wood burning stove one might find in a cabin. Most of us in this country don’t have any of the every day life skills that were common among most of the population at that time. Books will have the same kind of value they had in the 18th and early 19th century. Most of the peppers talk about saving their electronics via Faraday cage and using re-chargable batteries without thinking that those batteries have a finite life, whether it is five years or eight years, at some point down the road that solar system is going to peter out. Oops! Back to kerosene lamps if we can manage to distill kerosene from natural oil seeps where they exist or vegetable or animal fat lamps. My first attempt at making lard did not turn out too well. I want to learn how to do it before I MUST do it. My next chore after lard will be tallow and then soap and the soap will be with natural lye from ashes rather than lye purchased from Amazon.

        Reply to this comment
        • Kangaroo November 28, 16:47

          I had to laugh at your milking equipment, its called two hands, everyone has a set, but there is a trick to the way you squeeze the teets, but you will learn it as you go. The only thing is a separator that takes the cream from the milk, I think dad still has ours in his shed, but the cream will rise to the top and you scoop it off. That was my job as a kid, to milk the cow morning and night. One thing some people don’t know is the cow has to have a calf every year for it to produce milk.

          Reply to this comment
          • left coast chuck November 30, 03:27

            Well, Kangaroo, I really didn’t have an electric milking machine in mind. I more had in mind the associated equipment, pails, cans, butter churn — I didn’t think of a cream separator. When I was young before homogenized milk, the cream was always at the top of the bottle. On a cold winter morning if we could get away with it, we would break off the frozen cream and eat it like ice cream. My mother didn’t appreciate that because she would separate the cream from the milk and use it for her coffee and kitchen products. You are absolutely correct about a cow needing to be freshened, but how many folks today think that cows give milk just like a soda dispenser? I suspect if you interviewed 100 people in any city on the east and west coasts they would tell you that cows just give milk, that all you have to do is to put it into containers.

            Reply to this comment
            • Softball Umpire December 2, 21:34

              I loved your perspective. Having been a ‘Jugger’ through high school in the early 1960’s, the only thing I learned later was the use of an old hand crank cream separator and use of the old electric turkey roaster for making cheeses. I discovered no matter how careful we were about cleaning our hands before the cheese making, the remaining micro-organisms on the skin provided character to the cheese, depending upon which person worked it in the water bath. My oldest daughter’s cheese smelled like banana ester from chem lab and tasted awful. Rather than throw it away, it was set up on a shelf and forgotten about until it no longer smelled like bananas. It was then very dry and tasted much like Romano cheese. It was well worth the wait.

              The article was very polite when using the description of primitive flooring. Dirt was quite common on the prairie because the sod from the floor & foundation was rolled up like turf we can now buy to apply to poor areas of our lawns. today.

              Reply to this comment
        • Lisa November 29, 01:23

          My first attempt at lard, is mildly yellow, but still usable, My skills are more kitchen. Really want a treadle sewing machine, will look for one, someone must be making them. As for looms, had a small one, know the theory of a large one. Spinning, i’ve never done, but yes i can quilt. How much more can i learn proficiency in? My aim is to still be worth my food post SHTF.

          Reply to this comment
          • left coast chuck November 30, 03:32

            Lisa: don’t feel badly, that’s how my first attempt at lard turned out. I did two things wrong. First, I didn’t cut the fat into small enough pieces. Reviewing the article again, I noticed that one poster said he used a meat grinder to prepare the fat for rendering. Obviously I will have to put more effort into my pre-rendering activities. I also believe I need to use just a slightly higher heat in the rendering process itself.

            I believe you can buy a treadle sewing machine from Lehmans.com. Be prepared for sticker shock, however. You can buy a very nifty electric sewing machine from Costco for about half of the treadle machine from Lehman’s. OTOH, Costco probably sells more sewing machines in a week than Lehman’s has sold in the entire lifetime of the company. So comparing prices is apples to pineapples. At this late date I wish we had brought my wife’s treadle sewing machine from Japan when we came to the U.S. It would be worth a lot more money than her electric one is worth.

            Reply to this comment
            • Lisa December 4, 00:18

              Was gifted a treadle machine by the last owner of my new farm. Verifying it’s in good working order is on my list in the next few months.

              Reply to this comment
          • eric the red December 3, 16:32

            My mom collects sewing machines. An old treadle machine can be picked up quite cheaply at many antique stores. I bought her one for Christmas a couple years ago for less than $50. And it worked.

            Reply to this comment
  4. ellen November 28, 01:13

    I bought The Lost Ways and two other articles you offered, However the second two articles never arrived. Need to reimburse my charge card.

    Reply to this comment
    • Anne November 28, 07:36

      Hi Ellen,

      Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.

      Please check your email.

      We have sent you the info you requested 🙂

      Reply to this comment
  5. sher November 28, 05:30

    Hmm, opening myself up to criticism here.. but I have been prepping as much as possible for the last 6 years. Reading & researching as much as Possible. I am in 50’s & Liked to see the pictures & picture myself getting these things done asap.
    I also learned something I didn’t know before, ( I’m Sure many will think I’m stupid.. buut I always thought windmills were to grind flour. I have asked many people ever since I was little & Everybody just shrugged & said ‘ probably ‘. None, Honestly had Any idea.
    I Like that they are for the Well Water.
    So Please try Not to Be-little people for what May be obvious to Some.
    I enjoyed this page for those Two reasons. Also always pictured pioneers having sheds/barns for keeping work related tools etc in. Or at least a back corner.
    Just sayin’ , everything is Not useless.
    Please don’t abuse me, I’ve had a terrible life !
    1st & probably Last time I’ve Ever left a comment.
    Ps. Definitely Not a dumb girl, just too Honest

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe November 28, 13:19

      Normally grain was ground by two mill stones powered with running water from an active creek running over and pushing a large paddle wheel. Wind mills are generally used for pumping water from wells and of course today to generate electricity. The old grist mills are beautiful old buildings of which you can see on display in museums and still work. They even grind grains you can buy there just for the experience. Neat to see.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck November 30, 03:41

        I believe windmills in Holland were used to grind grain. Of course, the Dutch windmills were considerably larger than what we commonly think of as windmills in this country.

        I don’t believe any question is dumb or stupid. That’s how children learn. It’s too bad that adults develop a fear of asking questions. The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask. Unfortunately, too many folks who are supposed to be teaching belittle questions. I don’t know if it makes them feel big to make others feel small. I will try to poke holes in some puffed-up so-called “expert” whose ignorance is glaringly blinding. But to the student who asks a question, I always try to answer without patronizing or ridiculing.

        Sher is absolutely correct. There is very little that is absolutely useless in the way of knowledge. Even a tiny bit here and there is helpful. Even if you think to yourself that what you just read or heard was a useless bit of trivia, it might surprise you someday to know that useless bit of trivia.

        Reply to this comment
  6. Rass November 28, 19:40

    This is coming from the same man who said a 45 single action and lever action were not good for home defense last week but if you’re a cowboy it’s fine..I smell a rat..or uninformed person..

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe November 29, 01:50

      I looked up the author and I think it said he is Canadian. That might mean something. Lol. Anyway, neat to hear about history, and might be able to glean something from this. You never know.

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck November 30, 03:49

      Watch cowboy action shooting some day and that will quickly cure most anyone of the silly notion that single action revolvers and lever action rifles are not suitable for self-defense. You know the old saying, beware the man who only has one gun. I really don’t ever want to get shot, but I think I would rather take my chances with a 55 grain .5.56 fmj than a 150 or 170 grain soft nose .30-30. I read a paragraph by a doctor who had served in the sandboxes and he opined that he would rather get shot with the 5.56 than the 7.62 that the other guys were using. He felt the .30 caliber round left a far more damaging and significant wound than the .22 round. True, only one man’s opinion but with far more hands on experience than I.

      Reply to this comment
  7. keepin’ it real November 30, 15:35

    I hit the button that said “follow this post” but now cannot unsubscribe to it. How can i stop it from e-mailing me every time someone comments?

    Reply to this comment
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