Written By: Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk

When LIFE profiled a cowboy for the Aug. 22, 1949, issue, with photographs by Leonard McCombe, it was presented with the idea that he and people like him were getting ready to ride off into the cultural sunset. The land on which the cowboy once slept was already dotted with new ranch houses, and office jobs were looking more and more attractive as the post-war economy boomed. “Like the frontiersman and the forty-niner, the traditional cowboy is a peculiarly American type, now following them into an honorable extinction,” the story noted. “He is being replaced by feebler men, who refuse to work grueling hours, to go wifeless and broke to the end of their days.”

The story was billed as a “last look” at the “old-time cowboy.”

The man at the center of that tale was Clarence Hailey “C.H.” Long, a 20-year Texas veteran of the profession who found freedom in a life of solitude and physical hardship. He personally trained all 13 of the horses he used to do his job, and his home on the range looked “exactly as a moviegover would expect.”

But in that fact, LIFE acknowledged, lay one of the more subtle truths about the past and future of the cowboy lifestyle.

Even as C.H. Long was a living embodiment of a beloved, but endangered culture, he was already part of a myth forged by Hollywood and dime-store novels, not reality. He knew that the cowboy image that the world celebrated was sometimes more appealing than even the most rewarding liberties of life on the cattle trail.

And on his rare trips into town, he picked up magazines full of Western stories, which he dismissed as “claptrap”, but loved nonetheless, “forgetting his adventurous life to search for adventure in lurid accounts of wild affairs that never happened.”

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long was said to look more youthful than his age of 39.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

At sunset after a day’s work, Long collected his string of horses and considered which of the young ones to pick for a training session.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long, cowboy, 1949.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Bringing in a herd, Long rode slowly at its head. He and his outriders kept a careful pace so that animals would not stampede or trot fast enough to lose valuable weight.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long, cowboy, 1949.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long with his father, Clarence Long (right).

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long rolled a cigarette.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

A calf ran off after having been branded, inoculated, and castrated.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Clarence H. Long, cowboy, 1949.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Playing with kittens at a rancher’s house, C.H. happily let them crawl all over him.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Bongos

The only spot of shade on the empty prairie was the shadow of C.H.’s horse, in which he sat to rest his eyes from the glare and to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. He only smoked “tailor-made” cigarettes in winter, when he would have had to take off his gloves to roll his own.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Beside his chuck wagon, in the failing light, he read a western magazine. When he was through he passed it to another cowboy. Such magazines were read and reread until the pages fell apart.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

Long mended a broken fence post, one of the many tasks that filled his day.

Leonard McCombe The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

Cowboy Clarence H. Long from the iconic 1949 LIFE magazine cover.

The Aug. 22, 1949 issue of LIFE magazine.

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