1725, "boy who tends to cows," from cow + boy. Sense in Western U.S. is from 1849; fig. use by 1942 for "brash and reckless young man" (as an adj. meaning "reckless," from 1920s). Cowhand is first attested 1852 in Amer.Eng. Cowpoke (1881) was originally restricted to the cowboys who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with long poles.