SI Vault
The Marlboro Man
Mason Smith
January 17, 1977
Darrell Winfield is not just another pretty face. Behind the wrinkles, crow's feet and crags lies the real item, one cowboy who didn't Come to Where the Flavor Is. Why, shucks, he was there all the time
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January 17, 1977

The Marlboro Man

Darrell Winfield is not just another pretty face. Behind the wrinkles, crow's feet and crags lies the real item, one cowboy who didn't Come to Where the Flavor Is. Why, shucks, he was there all the time

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It is a good face. It is authentic. So is the scenery, the cattle; so are the horses. But that doesn't mean you think for one minute that the owner of this good face is a cowboy. The Marlboro Man? Come on. He would be too rich by now, for one thing. Authenticity is something you find by taking pictures of about 1,000 models in that cowboy getup and asking about 1,000 housewives which model has it. If the Marlboro Man were a cowboy, that would be truly ironic.

If Darrell Winfield could just hear you. "How you do go on," he would say. Winfield is in the cow town of Pinedale, Wyo. for several unironic, quite coherent reasons. He used to live here, before he bought 40 acres over north at Riverton, 165 miles away, so he is here, for one thing, to see old friends. He is here to deliver two horses that he sold the day before yesterday in Riverton. And, primarily, he is here to rope steers in the rodeo.

No, sir, no way the Marlboro Man is a real cowboy. The real cowboy is hardly even presentable. He is a gambler, a periodic alcoholic, a terrible misogamist, an unreconstructed chauvinist. He's lazy. He chews snuff. He is commonly a physical wreck before he is well grown up. The fact that a real cowboy is a poker-faced, postadolescent practical joker is the only possible reason for excusing the things he says about Indians, women and other foreigners to Marlboro Country. A real cowboy is a sight gamier than that ascetic hero pictured in the Marlboro ads. That fellow in the ads is a socialist engineer and he's probably from Austria.

"How you do go on," Darrell Winfield would say. He slept in the pickup coming around the south end of the Wind Rivers from Riverton. He had drunk so much the night before, Lennie drove. He allows, straight-faced, that is one thing she is good for and that he has earned it. "Twenty-eight years of mortal hell," he says. (Cowboys reserve their broadest insults and tall tales for those closest to them.) She will drive on the way back, too, in the wee hours after the carousing downtown, which comes after the team roping, which is the last event in the rodeo. Only reason he brought her.

Lennie is as rich of face as her husband is, and jovially double-chinned. Winfield's story is that he was 13 and she 26 when they married 28 years ago, and he is now 47. It doesn't add up, but his voice is resonant with the sincerity of the horse trader.

He has ordered Lennie to park the rig on the rodeo grounds, directly out from the arena gate, so he won't have far to walk. The two sold horses are tied to the two-horse trailer behind the beat-up orange Dodge pickup. A bumper sticker says, IF YOU CAN'T DO IT IN A PICKUP, DO IT IN A LOOMIX TROUGH.

Winfield sits on the side of the truck bed, greeting friends young and old. He looks not so much hard-bitten as slightly devastated. The heels of his boots are worn down on the inside, from scuffing in the cowboy's usual two-legged limp. His old brown Wranglers are worn out in the crotch so when he perches on the side of the truck there is a glint of white underwear. He wears a light blue shirt and a straw hat with the sides curved up high. His eyes are bloodshot. "I dye my hair," he says, and Lennie rolls her eyes toward heaven. The hair is cut to comb over the top from a part on the left side. The lower lip bulges with a chaw under the gray and brown mustache; the classic face falls apart and he looks like any ordinary battered, mouth-breathing, half-crippled Old West character. He offers everybody a beer or a Dr Pepper from the cooler. "If we run out," he says, "we'll send the fat lady down to get more."

So you are right. The ads deceive. No self-respecting woman, surely, would smoke his brand, just on principle. To think that Marlboro used to be a woman's cigarette. On the other hand, you are wrong. That preeminent model, that extraordinarily noble-looking fellow with the tent-lidded eyes, the fine crow's-feet, the mustache, the upwardly indented chin, is so much a cowboy that you could have derived all your smart remarks about the type from him alone. More or less.

Everybody around here seems to like Winfield a whole lot. They throng to his rig to talk horses with him and pass the idle insult. He is even supposed to be a fair roper. Kip Alexander, one of Winfield's team-tying partners before he moved to Riverton, says, "Old Winchester used to heel pretty good." Kip lets several beats elapse while he grins, as if he forgot what he was going to say. Then he finishes. "That uz before he lost his sight."

Team roping, team tying, dally roping: these three terms apply to the same event. A steer is turned loose from a chute between two mounted cowboys. The steer yanks out a line which, when it has gone 10 feet, releases rope barriers in front of the horses, which charge. The rider on the steer's left, catching up, ropes the head. If that much goes well, the steer is kept running, drawn by the horse now ahead of it. Coming up behind, the heeler slaps his loop across the steer's hind legs and catches it up quickly with the feet miraculously snared.

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