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Classic Covers: Romance of the Cowboy

From Hollywood actors to the weather-hardened real thing, cowboys have graced their fair share of Saturday Evening Post covers.

“Cowboy and Setting Sun” by N.C. Wyeth

November 30, 1907


November 30, 1907

Great American artist N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) was a realist, as this 1907 cover shows. His first commission was to paint a cover for The Saturday Evening Post in 1903, a heady success for the tender age of twenty-one. The Post then commissioned him to illustrate a Western story, and Howard Pyle, under whom he studied, encouraged his venture West to study the real thing. Already very much the outdoorsman, Wyeth worked as a cowboy and ranch hand, obtaining much more than a fancy art school education.

“Gary Cooper as the Texan” by Norman Rockwell

May 24, 1930


May 24, 1930

Twenty-five years or so later, an artist named Rockwell made his own trip out west, to a land called Hollywood. The artist thought it would be ironic to show a big, strapping “cowboy” getting his face made up. Hollywood was excited to have one of its stars appear on a Saturday Evening Post cover by the likes of Norman Rockwell, and the illustrator could have his pick. He selected a winner in handsome Gary Cooper. “He posed for me in Hollywood for three days and worked as conscientiously as any model I ever had,” Rockwell wrote. “Everyone at the set was crazy about him and I could see why.”

“Playing Cowboy” by Amos Sewell

 Playing Cowboy from June 23, 1951


June 23, 1951

From 1951, this youngster on the bucking two-wheeled bronco is determined to lasso that ornery, good-for-nothing fence post. Artist Amos Sewell did 45 Post covers from 1949-1962, mostly of kids being kids.

“Woman on Horse in Mountains” by W.H.D. Koerner

 Woman on Horse in Mountains by W.H.D. Koerner from October 6, 1928


October 6, 1928

We’ll call this 1928 cover “Romance of the Cowgirl.” W.H.D. Koerner (1878-1938) was one of the great artists of the American West. Although he lived on the east coast, he made many trips to scenic Western sites like Yellowstone and the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. He illustrated many stories of Western fiction that appeared in the Post and Country Gentleman magazines.

“Tom Mix” by Rolf Armstrong

Tom Mix by Rolf Armstrong from April 7, 1923


April 7, 1923

For most of us, Tom Mix (1880-1940) was before our time, but he set the standard for movie and TV cowboys to come. Starring in over 300 movies (mostly silent films), he is described as our “first Western megastar.” The films were more showmanship than authentic, but Americans became hooked on the romance of the West.

“Herding Horses” by John Clymer

Herding Horses by John Clymer from September 13, 1952


September 13, 1952

“How nice it is to be a Western horse and seldom come to a fence or the inside of a barn door,” reflected Post editors of this 1952 Wyoming scene. With the help of his pigtailed daughter behind him, this rancher moves a herd of horses across the river. The dog is assisting as well, even though we can only see his head barely above the water. Artist John Clymer (1907-1989) turned many American landscapes into beautiful Post covers.

“Cowboy Asleep in Beauty Salon” by Kurt Ard

Cowboy Asleep in Beauty Salon by Kurt Ard from May 6, 1961


May 6, 1961

Well, partner, this cowboy’s had a long day ropin’, shootin’ and riding the range. By the time he got to this here fixin’-up place, he was plumb tuckered out. This adorable 1961 cowboy is by artist Kurt Ard.

For more Western art, see “Native American Covers.”

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  • ‘Cowboy and Setting Sun’ is wonderful. I really love it.

    ‘Gary Cooper as the Texan’. I’d never have known about this at all. VERY neat.

    ‘Playing Cowboy’ is great too. Another kid in the new post-World War II Western era for boys.

    ‘Woman on Horse’ is simply stunning–my goodness.

    ‘Tom Mix’. I really love Rolf Armstrong’s very unique style here. Not familiar with Tom’s work, but would like to see some of his Westerns.

    ‘Herding Hores’. Another great John Clymer classic; that sure is a lot of horses to be herd through the water!

    Kurt Ard is a favorite post-War artist. Old West meets Mom’s space age-style hair dryer. It’s sleepin’ time for this cowboy–for sure.