Smith rarely failed to turn his camera onto the fine details of the cowboy's gear. In fact, his photographs make excellent research tools for those wishing to document the typical ranching equipment used early in the last century.
The art of herding livestock arrived in the Americas from Spain. Mexican vaqueros were herding livestock, such as cows, goats, and sheep, on horseback as early as the 1500s. As a result, the ranching gear—including saddles, bridles, ropes, and bedrolls—display a Spanish heritage.
The cowhand's most important piece of "equipment," however, was his horse. On the back of a horse, the cowboy could cover vast distances, and he could herd cattle all day. Like the cattle he worked, the cowboy's horse was descended from those animals that the Spanish explorers brought to Mexico, beginning with Hernán Cortés in 1519. Many of the horses that were once domesticated inevitably escaped and turned wild. American settlers called these wild horses "mustangs," a term which derives from the Spanish word mestaņos, which means "wild horse." Most ranches today use quarter horses—a hardy domestic breed, partly derived from the early horse. Named for its ability to run at blazing speeds over a quarter of a mile, this animal's powerful hindquarters and shoulders make it quick and strong. Its calm temperament and gentleness make the quarter horse perfect for ranch work.
Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)
Shoe Bar Chuck Wagon, Hoodlum Wagon and Some of the Boys, 1912
Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum