Why were cowboys in the American Old West called cowpokes or cowpunchers?

Cowboys in the American Old West were called cowpokes or cowpunchers because poke and punch is what they literally did to cattle that balked at going up the ramps leading to railcars and packing plants.

Cattle prods were used to help move cattle to where they wanted. Back then, they didn’t have electric cattle prods that delivered an electric shock which help make the prods more effective these days.

So in addition to poking the cattle with a cattle prod, they probably also punched or nudged them with their bare hands.