Cowboy Culture

Cowboy Culture


Seven flyers advertising different cowboy-themed nights, spanning 1978-1989, San Francisco; “Areno rodeo Bar-B-Q” at the Arena Nightclub [c. 1978] in very good condition; “J&D’S Chuckwagon” at the Stables, in very good condition with stamp on verso “10 - [19]81”; another in the stame style advertising “New Years Weekend” at the Stables, slightly creased by otherwise in good condition; a “$2,000 Cash Grab,” at Devil’s Herd Saloon with an illustration dated 1982 and a light stain at the bottom of the page; “Le Disque goes Live Country & Western Sundays,” c. 1985 with folds in two places; “Desperados Cowboy Night,” no date and in good condition with light crease in lower right corner; and a January 1989 calendar for the Covered Wagon Saloon.

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This collection of nightlife posters spans roughly a decade of cowboy-themed gay nightlife throughout San Francisco—and also gives a sense of the versatility of the genre, from the fetish scene to drag competitions. The Devill’s Herd Saloon on Valencia is the most consistent, offering live country and western bands seven nights a week and dominating the San Francisco Crusader’s country music recommendations for the Bay Area at the time. It was described in a December 1980 issue of the newsletter as having crowds that are “too big” for its location—which gives a sense of the scale of gay cowboy life at the time. One of the Devil’s Herd Saloon’s most popular bands, 4-Wheel Drive, also played in the Haight at Le Disque, (nowadays called Milk Bar) which started advertizing Country & Western Sundays by the mid-1980s. In some cases cowboy aesthetics are integrated into the leather scene: J&D’s Chuckwagon Kitchen worked out of the Stables on Folsom Street, and in the early 1980s offered discounts on spaghetti dinners to motorcyclists in full leather, not just folks in a ten gallon hat. On the other end of the spectrum, Desperados “Cowboy Nights” offer cash prizes for the best cowboy as well as the worst cowgirl drag. Rounding out this collection is a calendar that gives a sense of just how integral live music was to the scene—although in the case of Covered Wagon, non-country bands are featured too, including Operation Ivy.

Cowboys and cowgirls are integral to gay life: not only because historically cowboys inhabited a rough-and-tumble homosocial frontier described by Annenberg Learner as a “Paradise of Bachelors” in the American West, but because art imitates life, and nightlife imitates art, and over the past decades there have been countless cowboy- and cowgirl-themed parties run by and for queers. To say nothing of the real thing: the International Gay Rodeo Association traces the inaugural gay rodeo back to Reno, Nevada on 2 October 1976 as a charity fundraising event run by Phil Ragsdale. By 1977, the event had given life to the Comstock Gay Rodeo Association, which eventually grew to become an “International” association by 1985.


Bob Pimental, “The History of Gay Rodeo,” Out In All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and LEsbian America (Warner Books: 1995).

Frank Harrel, “Cowboy Frank Welcomes You,” 

The International Gay Rodeo Association, 

Beth Greenfield, “Gay Rodeos; Tightly Knit and Western-Loving,” The New York Times, 24 February 2006, 

Michael Lyons, “Same-sex love in the saddle: the homosexual world of the American frontier,” 4 Daily Xtra, April 2017, 

“Paradise of Bachelors: The Social World of Men in Nineteenth-Century America,” Annenberg Learner,