Giddy Up! 25 Excellent Tattoos Inspired by the American West

Tattoos inspired by the American West are the perfect way to commemorate one of the most popular eras in American history – the Wild West. Known for its gunslingers, saloons, outlaws, horses, pioneers, and Indian wars, what’s not to like about the history of the Wild West? 

The time period began in 1865 – which marked the end of the Civil War in the United States – and eventually died out by 1900. Large areas in the west were opened up to settlement with the completion of the railroads. During this team, bison were nearly wiped out as farmers took over.

Western settlement started to interfere with the Native Americans already living in the west, which prompted wars and feuds across the land. This is when the cowboy gained prominence and became a symbol of the Wild West era – which is heavily depicted in film and pop culture. 

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25 Excellent Tattoos Inspired by the American West

giddy up! 25 excellent tattoos inspired by the american west
DCornelius / Shutterstock

When many of us hear the phrase ‘wild west,’ we immediately think of the cowboy, outlaw, and saloon atmosphere. While there’s some truth to what many of us consider the Wild West, a lot of what we know is nothing more than myth – and it’s depicted inaccurately in pop culture today.

Nonetheless, it’s the Wild West we’ve grown accustomed to and it’s the one we see depicted in many tattoos inspired by the American West. It’s an extremely popular theme among tattoo artists and tattoo enthusiasts, giving them a lot of room to be creative, unique, and memorable.

With that said, tattoos are permanent and even if you’re committed to getting one, it’s important that you get one you’re proud of. Don’t worry, we’re going to share with you 25 of our favorite tattoos inspired by the American West – who knows, you might find the one you’re looking for!

25. Cowboy Skeleton Playing Cards

The Wild West isn’t just known for its cowboys, but also its gambling – more specifically, card games like Faro and three-card monte. In fact, people in the old American west were known to gamble on just about anything, from horse racing to boxing, dice games, and even cockfighting. I guess you could say gambling is the death of some people – hence the skeleton, maybe? 

24. Clint Eastwood Tattoo

Clint Eastwood is an American actor, director, and producer best known for his success in Western film and television. He gained prominence with his role in Rawhide, a Western TV series, and Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy – a series of three popular spaghetti Western films. What better way to celebrate the wild west than with a tattoo of the man himself, Clint Eastwood!

23. Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy

If you’re looking to get a quote related to the American west, a popular and modern one that’ll make a good tattoo is “Save a horse, ride a cowboy.” It’s actually the title of a 2004 country song by Big & Rich. For a while, it was one of the most popular country songs and even reached as high as No. 11 on Billboard country charts – so why not get it permanently written on your body?

22. Kissing Cowboy & Cowgirl

This is the perfect idea for any romantic or couple that wants to commemorate their love for one another. It’s a basic tattoo with simple outlines of a cowboy and cowgirl kissing, but sometimes that’s all you need in a tattoo. Of course, you can also be as elaborate and creative as you want – you can go for something more cartoon-like or something more realistic, it’s up to you!

21. Cowboy Hat & Boots

Speaking of realistic tattoos inspired by the American west, take a look at this beauty that would look perfect on a thigh, forearm, or calf. It has the wood background, the lasso, the cowboy hat on top of the cowboy boots, it has it all. You can even get something with a little more color if you don’t like the black and white, but the shading on this one is absolutely stunning and incredible. 

20. Basic Desert

Like we said earlier, sometimes all you need is something basic and this one fits the bill perfectly. A simple cactus with a beautiful rocky outline that makes for a quiet, peaceful, and relaxing environment. You can put this tattoo anywhere and while you can get it as small as you’d like, you can also add on to it and use it as the building block to a much larger tattoo. 

19. Doc Holliday Tattoo

Doc Holliday, formerly known as John Henry Holliday, was a prominent figure in the American west. In fact, he did a little bit of everything – he was a notable dentist, a gambler, and a gunfighter. He is credited with killing between one and three men, though myth and folklore like to say that number is in the double digits. He’s an interesting subject and worth learning about. 

18. Cactus & Lawn Chair

Similar to the basic desert tattoo we looked at earlier, this one isn’t very elaborate but still tells a story. The cactus, the sun in the background, the lawn chair, this screams Arizona for some reason – but you can make it out to be whatever you want. It can symbolize peace, but it can also symbolize being stranded, or lonely. Then again, maybe you just like lawn chairs and cacti. 

17. John Wayne Tattoo

John Wayne, formerly known as Marion Robert Morrison, was an American actor who’s best known for his roles in old Western movies and old war movies. He’s one of the biggest icons the film industry has ever seen and you can still watch his movies on TV to this day – that’s how popular they are. Don’t worry, you won’t be the first person to get a John Wayne tattoo. 

16. Hitchhiking Skeleton

Sometimes referred to as a ‘blanket stick,’ the bindle is commonly associated with hitchhikers, hobos, and Old western travelers. It’s basically a make-shift backpack using a stick and blanket – or shirt. In the tattoo above, it appears our hitchhiker is a cowboy, but the plant in his teeth also suggests a farmer. What details will you add to make it more you and less everyone else?

15. Western Babe

Whether you’re a woman who relates to the western babe stereotype or a man who dreams of one day finding his cowgirl, a tattoo can help you speak it into existence. The one above also adds a flower, but you can choose to add anything that fits your lifestyle. You can also have the cowgirl resemble you or the girl of your dreams to make it a little more personal. 

14. Howdy Horse

The word ‘howdy’ originates from 16th century England when people would greet each other by asking, “How do ye do?” Over time, the phrase got shortened to “How do you” and “How d’you” – which is where “howdy” comes from. Of course, most of us relate it to cowboys, countryfolk, farmers, and the old American west. Either way, it’s a fun greeting and makes for a good tattoo.

13. Cowboy & His Crazy Horse

There’s something about these realistic tattoos inspired by the American west that I can’t get enough of. This one is quite detailed, which isn’t easy considering it’s an action illustration as the cowboy tries to calm his horse without falling off – something I imagine a lot of cowboys can relate to. Although the person above got a large one on his ribs, you can go small if you want.

12. Cactus & Lasso

This American west tattoo is an excellent option for those that need something to go with a larger project or sleeve. It’s very well-put together, with the flower and small cacti at the bottom, the larger cacti in the middle, and a lasso surrounding the beautiful background. It almost looks like a mirror, which can help add to the story this American west tattoo is trying to tell. 

11. Basic Cowgirl Boots

Alright, let’s take a trip back to the basic tattoos inspired by the American west – there’s a certain level of elegance that comes with them. Did you know that boots and spurs often symbolize a person’s readiness to fight for what they believe in. If you’re a woman dedicated to forging your own path in life, then this might be the perfect tattoo related to the old wild west. 

10. Boots & Flowers

If you like the tattoos with boots, then we’ve got another one for you. This one can use some color, but that’s for you to decide. The flowers and hearts represent love, while the boots represent ownership and ability to conquer one’s own struggles. Since the flowers are coming out of the boots, it could represent that love often resides on the other end of our biggest fears.

9. Taking a Ride Down Western Lane

I don’t know about you, but this is one of the coolest tattoos inspired by the American west that I’ve ever seen. You don’t get the full picture of the motorcycle, but you get enough to make it look like you’re in the driver’s seat. And what lies ahead is nothing more than the warm, sunny desert – filled with rocks, mountains, skulls, and cacti. Now that’s what I call a smooth ride.

8. Cowboy Skull & Cactus

Speaking of neat tattoo designs, I really like this cowboy skull – perfect for the shoulder, chest, or leg. It has a lot of color and a lot of potential for customization and personalization. I think the blue scarf and brown cowboy hat go well on the skull. And, of course, the orange background with the cactus helps bring it all together. It might take some time to complete, but it’s worth it. 

7. Kitty Cowboy

While most people are dog people, I know there are some of us out there that prefer cats. If that sounds like you and you’re looking to commemorate your love for cats in your next American west tattoo, why not transform the kitty into a cowboy? That’s the idea behind this tattoo – you can change the color of the cat’s fur to resemble your own cat. It’s cute, but also meaningful.

6. Mexican Cowgirl on a Rearing Horse

This tattoo has a lot to unpack, but those can be the best ones sometimes. It’s clearly a Mexican-themed tattoo, which raises the potential to change the culture to whatever culture you live in. You can also change out the cowgirl with a cowboy to satisfy all genders. To really take this tattoo to the next level, create an entire scene with it and make it as large as possible. 

5. Extremely Detailed Cowgirl Portrait

Of all the cowgirl tattoos we’ve seen, this portrait is one of the most unique and creative ones. The blonde hair is beautifully outlined, the red hat and blue shirt collar add some beautiful color, the earrings give it some bling, the sunglasses resemble stardom, and the cigarette screams attitude. I love this tattoo and if you’re interested in getting a cowgirl, I recommend considering it. 

4. Cowgirl (Full Back Piece)

Of all the tattoos inspired by the American west, this is the biggest one on our list – it takes up the person’s entire back. Personally, I would’ve gotten something a little more realistic and maybe more colorful, but I love the fact they went so big. I just wonder if they ended up adding to this and what the tattoo looks like now – it would be nice to see more of a scene added onto it. 

3. Cowgirl vs. Snake

We haven’t had a tattoo featuring a snake yet, but there’s no better time than right now. I love the scene here – the snake has the outlaw’s leg wrapped up, but the outlaw isn’t backing down from the fight. It resembles fierceness, relentlessness, and inability to give up – three desirable traits when utilized properly. Let’s hope she has good aim because she only has limited bullets. 

2. Gun & Flower 

For those that are looking for a small tattoo – either for a small area on the body, part of a larger tattoo, or for a first tattoo – this one is perfect. It features a revolver, which is synonymous with the wild west, but you can use your gun of choice here. It also features a flower, which you can swap out with your flower of choice to make it more personal. It’s simple, but that’s okay!

1. Cowboy Skeleton

Here we are – the last of our tattoos inspired by the American west – and I have to say, I think it’s the best one. It’s super realistic and gives the impression of staring down the barrel of a gun. Who’s on the opposite side of the gun? A skeleton wearing a bandana on his collar and cowboy hat. Is it Doc Holliday? Clint Eastwood? John Wayne? Well, that’s for you to decide!

What Do You Think of Tattoos Inspired by the American West?

Many people are interested in getting tattoos inspired by the American West and we can see why with the examples shown above – they’re edgy, unique, eye-catching, and can easily tell a story in a creative way. If you weren’t already thinking of getting one, then I’m sure you are now. 

The question is which one are you going to get? Did you find one above that you like, or did one of them spark an idea in your head? If not, don’t panic, that’s what your tattoo artist is for. Just tell them what you’re thinking and they can start to work on a tattoo design for your approval. 

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For anyone looking at tattoos inspired by the American West, make sure you find a tattoo artist that specializes in such designs and styles. You should also take a look at their past work and any examples they have, that way you know what you’re getting yourself into before it’s too late.

If you liked these tattoos, we’ve got even more cool ones to share with you. Take a look at some of the best neo-traditional tattoos that folks are getting today below. They marry old and new in such intriguing and innovative ways. You won’t be disappointed!

Learn More About Neo-Traditional Tattooing By Looking at the Examples Below.

Lucky Fish

neo-traditional tattoo style
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We find many elements from traditional tattooing harnessed here along with radical color that’s been blended in a more contemporary style. Also notable is the use of black ink to create dimension and texture in the background of the design.

Rose and Snake

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What a showstopper! We find a snake wrapped around a glorious rose in this energetic design. Notice how there is a black outline around every shape in this design? That’s a hallmark of traditional and neo-traditional tattoos.

Mushrooms From a Shell

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Here’s an interesting design that finds some handsome mushroom springing from a shell. There is so much texture produced from hatching and movement lines.

Sacred Heart

neo-traditional tattoo style
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Sacred heart tattoos are and have been extremely popular for decades. We find a new interpretation in this design that has a pleasing ombré that brings so much color and life to the design.

Good Luck

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Horseshoe tattoos have been popular for a very long time as well. We find an update to the old design with the inclusion of the “sparkle” or “confetti” effect which is simply a bunch of dots used to fill various shapes.

Mum’s the Word

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Chrysanthemum designs are well-represented among neo-traditional tattoos today. A cotton candy pink meets baby blue in the petals of this stunner.

Blue Flame, Black Bird

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Take a look at this black bird’s plumage and you will see tons of little lines added to give the feathers texture. Despite all of it, the tattoo still reads as flat and 2D which makes the blue element really pop.

A Bouquet

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The black nails on the hand holding these flowers contrast beautifully with the orange rose in the foreground. Roses have been tattooed like this for decades.

That’s Hot

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Isn’t this lantern tattoo magical? Note the way the color intensity seems to radiate from the flame in the center and fades the further the tattoo moves away from it. It produces a very interesting effect.

Rad Raccoon

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Cute characters from nature are a big part of both traditional and neo-traditional tattoos. We find a sweet raccoon holding onto a pinecone here. Notice how green has been applied to the raccoon to make the golden-orange of the pinecone stand out? That’s money.

Eye Heart U

neo-traditional tattoo style
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A heart with an eye in it is a classic symbol that’s been tattooed thousands of times. We find it improved here with a heart that’s full of spikes and has dramatic, black shading.

She-Devil

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Lady faces are very popular among neo-traditional tattoos. We find a rather sinister one in the above example with a fresh-looking thorn or flame element.

Death Moth

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Death’s-head hawkmoths are another popular design these days. When researching tattoos, we encounter tons of these done in a variety of styles. We must say it translates well for neo-traditional tattoos.

Broken Arrow

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We find a rather poetic neo-traditional tattoo here that finds a broken arrow wrapped in a ribbon and some beads. What an attractive entry.

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Cowgirl

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As we mentioned, lady faces are wildly popular and they have been for a very long time. What’s new in the above design is the shading on the face and its freckles. It’s very close to what you would find among traditional tattoos from decades ago.

The Clucker

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Here’s a rather intense-looking rooster in this design which has used some incredibly warm colors that contrast well with the black elements of the design.

Cute Chick

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How daring is this little bird on a planchette? Botanical elements are popular additions to any design that sweeten the deal.

Flamingo-Go

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This flamingo tattoo looks positively electric in neon color. Pink, orange, and olive green all play well together in this big tattoo.

Pretty as a Peach

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Go ahead and get your favorite fruit inked on you! Fruits make excellent neo-traditional tattoo designs because they put focus on shape and texture.

Light Up

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A black candle looks mesmerizing with bits of the “wax” picking up some of the warm golden colors that surround it. It makes it look as if the flame is being reflected from it.

Beautifully Batty

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What do you think of this neo-traditional bat tattoo? It’s fantastic. We find many elements of traditional tattooing here with a. few surprises for a look that feels both vintage and contemporary.

A True Gent

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A gentleman cat? Why not! We think this furry fellow looks rather dapper in his green getup. Despite the whimsical subject matter, this tattoo is very close to the traditional tattooing style.

A Dagger of Love

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We find dynamic color throughout this design from the handle to the delicately shaded tip of the dagger. “love dagger” feels like an oxymoron but it totally works for this design.

On-Time

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Neo-traditional tattooing is best when it harkens back to classic flash. An hourglass is a popular thing to get tattooed and it’s taken to brand new heights in this design that offers so much visual interest and plenty of imagination.

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Berry Special

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We told you fruit is popular among neo-traditional tattoos. These blueberries are the perfect little celebration of the fruit.

Her Father’s Hand

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This is a tribute tattoo for her father who was a carpenter. We find a very interesting perspective with a hand seeming to float in front of the tools of the trade. What a sweet, meaningful design.

A Splendid Mystery

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In this deceptively simple design, we find all sorts of popular elements married together. A classic rose, a vase, and a sacred heart are all connected in this inspired design that’s been applied to perfection.

Do you have a better sense of the neo-traditional tattoo style? We hope we’ve given you a good idea of the hallmarks of this style and just how astonishing and cool these designs can be. In general, “traditional” is not something most of us are into but for tattoos, it brings the past to life in fresh, new ways. Happy tattooing!

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