what did cowboys use for toilet paper

What Did Cowboys Use For Toilet Paper?

Have you ever wondered what cowboys used to wipe their butts before toilet paper became a basic household commodity? People in the past didn’t have the luxury of using soft toilet paper after using the toilet like today; instead, they used any suitable material they could find.

While the go-to item for cleaning up today is the toilet paper, cowboys had different choices, although they were less comfortable and efficient. These include leaves, old corn cobs, grass, paper, and even rocks.

If you have ever gone camping and forgot to carry tissue paper, you have likely experienced what using the toilet was like for the cowboys.

Keep reading to find out the different items used by cowboys for toilet paper.

A Short History Of Toilet Paper

The earliest record of toilet paper use in bathrooms is from China in AD 589, but it took a few centuries before it was widely used in the whole country. The first toilet paper with a modern style was made for China’s Imperial family in 1391 and had perfumed sheets. 

Joseph C. Gayetty made the “Therapeutic Paper” in 1857, making America toilet paper’s new home. This product was history’s first tissue paper packaged commercially and featured flat, loose paper sheets with the investor’s name printed on them. 

In 1879, the Scott Paper Company was established by the Scott brothers becoming the first business to sell rolls of toilet paper. 

Hans Klenk was the first seller of toilet paper rolls in 1928. On the other hand, England’s St. Andrew’s Paper Mill invented a toilet paper roll’s softer variant, which brought in a substantial sales turnout.

Read also Toilet paper that doesn’t leave particles

What Did Cowboys Use For Toilet Paper?

The need for survival outweighed concerns for one’s cleanliness among the cowboys in the 1800s. People would go for several days or even weeks without bathing, there were inadequate toilet facilities, and they lived in close quarters; hence constant diseases, squalid existence, and foul smells characterized the Wild West life.

When it comes to toilet use, cowboys would either relieve themselves in outhouses constructed close to homesteads and houses or in the woods. Outhouses featured a 5-or-6-foot-deep hole surrounded by a roof and four walls, little ventilation, and no light or heat.

Moreover, there was no toilet paper, so the cowboys used other things to wipe their bums.

Cowboys used the following items as toilet paper:

  1. Leaves- Mullein Plant

Leaves are generally smooth, so they provide an excellent way to wipe after pooping without hurting your bum. The most commonly used leaves used by cowboys were Mullein’s big velvety leaves.

Mullein, also known as “cowboy toilet paper,” is a biennial plant that grows up to 6 feet and is readily available in the wild west. Therefore, the cowboys could relieve themselves in the woods while conducting their day-to-day activities without struggling to find something to wipe themselves.

 This plant produces flowers in spring, providing a yellow display of flowers and satisfying your lower cheeks. In addition, you can make tea using mullein tea if you catch a cold.

Leaves make it easier to tell if you are finished wiping because of their green color. Moreover, it was easy for cowboys to find them due to their abundance, bury them afterward, and leaves like Mullein offer huge surface area.

  1. Old Corn Cobs

Many Americans, including cowboys, wiped themselves with corn cobs before the invention of toilet paper. Corn formed a part of the American West’s culture, economy, and culture, meaning it was readily available.

Bell Mattison grew up in Nebraska in the mid-19th century and remembered using husks and corn cobs for multiple purposes, such as toys, firewood, and toilet paper. Corn cobs were highly effective that many Westerners kept using them even after the introduction of toilet paper.

They were hanged outside outhouses, and a cowboy or anyone else would grab one while entering an outhouse. After relieving themselves, they would wipe themselves using the cob many times, drawing it across their body’s sensitive parts at different angles.

Cowboys could wipe with a brown corn cob first then a white one to see if there’s any poop left. 

  1. Grass

Cowboys also used the grass to clean their behinds if it was available. However, I don’t imagine it was as effective as the other methods, but then again, hygiene wasn’t high on a cowboy’s priorities.

Grass allowed the cowboys to tell if they were done cleaning because the green colors don’t mask the poop.

  1. Paper

This method is still used even today when you don’t have toilet paper. If available, cowboys could use newspapers or catalog pages, such as the Sears Roebuck catalog, which Americans started using to wipe with this catalog in the late 1800s. 

However, it became difficult to use the Sears Roebuck catalog in the 1930s when the publisher started printing it using glossy paper. 

Paper is more comfortable, and because of its color, it’s easier to tell if you are clean or still need to wipe. 

Read also Kirkland toilet paper vs charmin

  1. Rocks

Cowboys could easily access rocks to wipe their butts while out and about, but the cleaning job it delivers depends on your stool and the rock used. The best rock for wiping is a flat, smooth one without sharp edges to avoid hurting yourself. 

For the cowboys, the rock spread the poop, helping it dry faster. The best thing about wiping with rocks is that they provide a predictable and firm wiping surface, are comfortable to wipe with, and are easy to collect and stash pockets.

However, using a jagged rock can hurt you, rocks aren’t absorbent, and you must use multiple rocks to be clean. In addition, poop can get on your hand if you use small rocks.


Even with several options available to the cowboys, some chose to use nothing entirely. 


Now that you know what the cowboys used for toilet paper and the conditions of their toilets, do you think you could survive living as a cowboy? Their lives were undoubtedly different from what we are accustomed to today, which includes a 2, 3, or even 4 ply toilet paper and a comfortable toilet that most of us enjoy sitting on for several minutes or even hours. 

Read also How long is toilet paper roll tube in inches

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