Think of a cowpuncher. Just the term itself brings to mind someone leather-tough, burly and big enough to, well, deck a steer.
"Cowboys often call themselves cowpunchers," said cowboy singer and poet Buck Ramsey, who will perform Saturday at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park.
He thinks the term was born when cowboys were loading cattle onto railroad cars, and the men had long sticks to punch and poke the animals to keep them standing.
Ramsey knows the cowboy life well.
"Years ago, I was a cowpuncher," he said. "I earned my wages punching cows."
Did he ever actually take one down with his fist? He laughed.
"Well, you sure try to slap one if they're trying to get you. But that hurts you a lot more than it hurts them."
He said that a cowboy's work is not much different than it was in the days of the Old West.
"On the big outfits, they do the same as they always did. Most of their job is they take care of cattle on horseback."
Horses are still used because ranch terrain is usually impassable for most vehicles.
Ramsey, 55, punched cows for about five years after he graduated from high school. He gave it up in 1963 when his spine was injured while he was breaking a horse.
"Some of my gear got tore up and a horse got me down," he said.
The accident left him in a wheelchair. But he stayed with the cowboy lifestyle through his newspaper writing, singing and poetry.
"There really aren't that many cowboys left and they have a tribal identification," he said.
Ramsey's performance starts at 8 p.m. in the museum's Wells Fargo Theater, 4700 Western Heritage Way. Tickets are $15. Reservations: (213) 667-2000, Ext. 317.