The cowboy is an enduring symbol of rugged American individualism, part of the mythology of the nation. The symbol came into being over a relatively short period of time, between the late 1860s and the late 1880s, when cattlemen in south Texas sent herds of longhorns on epic trail drives north to Kansas.
But why Kansas? Why Dodge City, Abilene and Wichita, towns whose names still resonate in the frontier legends of America? Because these were all early stops on the Transcontinental Railroad as it pushed its way west from St. Louis.
The Transcontinental Railroad was a an enterprise conceived and organized by the people’s elected representatives in Washington, Abraham Lincoln among them.
It was subsidized, through land grants and guaranteed loans, by the American nation collectively. The people also, again acting collectively, sent regiments of the U. S. Army west to guard the construction of the road from hostile Indians in its path, protecting their investment.
It takes nothing away from the entrepreneurial daring of the Texas cattlemen, or from the grit and gumption of their trail drivers, to recognize that all of that would have had no raison d’etre without the collective national determination to build the Transcontinental Railroad, with its ability to ship cattle that were all but worthless in south Texas back east, where they were worth a very great deal.
Rand Paul’s notion that entrepreneurial initiatives by rugged individualists brought the rail lines and highways of America into being is a lunatic delusion. We the people, working together, built those lines and highways and the entrepreneurs followed in their paths.