El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 12
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evolve into the Texas Longhorn's ancestors a century
or so later: an animal with long legs and a narrow
body for covering large distances with ease, and with a
mean disposition which, coupled with its weapon-like
horns, could insure survival in spite of any number of
enemies-man or beast. Of little use for dairy or draft.
purposes, longhorns were valuable only for their hides,
tallow, and lean meat.
The region between Vera Cruz and Mexico City
proved to be ideal for raising livestock, and the cattle
population began to expand rapidly. Cortes, who es-
tablished his holdings in the Mexicalzimgo Valley
(south of modern Toluca), registered what was perhaps
the first cattle brand in New Spain, three Latin crosses.
He and other landed gentlemen made feudal vassals
of the Indians in the region, taking responsibility for
converting them to the Catholic faith and feeding and
clothing them. In return, the Indians were to provide
labor on the ecomiendas, or trusts. As raising cattle be-
came more profitable, other Spaniards began grazing
them on lands south and west of Mexico City. Most of
these cattle wandered at will, creating problems for the
Indians by destroying their crops. This style of cattle
raising led to "mavericking," branding unmarked cattle
with one's own brand (Dary 1981).
Cattle raisers in Mexico City attempted to resolve
such problems by establishing a mesta, or local stock-
men's organization, patterned after those in Spain.
They imposed the following rules: (1) two judges of
the mesta would call all stockmen together twice a year
to find out if there were any stray animals in their
herds, (2) each stock owner must have his own brand
used to identify his animals, and (3) stock owners were
required to register their brands, resulting in the first
brand book in the New World, kept in Mexico City.
Obviously, the mesta was a prototype for modern day
stockmen's associations in Mexico and the Southwest-
ern United States (Dusenberrv 1963).
In the 183os, a number of Spaniards acquired graz-
ing land some distance west and northwest of Mexico
Cit, establishing their herds in what today is southern
Qucr&tero, northern Michoacin, and southern Gua-
najuato. Conflict resulted when the Indians claimed
ownership of the land appropriated by the Spaniards,
leading to a great number of cases being filed in the
court system. In response, in 1533, the Spanish govern-
ment established common grazing lands some distance
away from the lands under cultivation by the Indians,
for the use of both groups (Morrisey 1949).
These common grazing lands, coupled with in-
creased numbers of cattle, led to a new problem:
rustling. Many of the poor, which included a large
percentage of the Indian population, stole cattle and
butchered them for food, hides and tallow. In an effort
to protect the interests of its stockmen, the Spanish
crown in 1537 extended the mesta and its rules through-
out "New Spain." They ruled that all persons own-
ing three hundred or more animals classified as ganado
menor (sheep, goats, and hogs), or at least twenty ani-
mals classified as ganado mayor (burros, mules, horses,
and cattle), were required to become members of the
mesta and were obligated to attend or send a represen-
tative to two meetings each year (usually one in Feb-
ruary and one in August). They were also expected to
bring to the meetings any strays found in their herds,
so these could be returned to their rightful owners.
If the owners could not be found, the animals would
be sold and the money placed in the royal treasury
The first code of the resulting large mesta was drawn
up on July 1, 1537. It included three regulations which
would serve the stockmen for forty years and would
eventually be adopted north of the Rio Grande: (i) no
two people could have the same brand, so that the
ownership of animals could be quickly established;
(2) where two stockmen happened to have the same
brand, the mesta would assign each a distinct one; and
(3) cropping the cars of animals for identification pur-
poses was prohibited because the marks could be too
easily changed (Dusenberrv 1963).
The Mexican Vaquero Emerges
The Spanish landowners and the mission priests looked
on the day-to-day working of cattle as labor beneath
their dignity so they sought others to do the work for
12 El Rancho in South Texas
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Graham, Joe S. El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750, book, 1994; Denton, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28328/m1/24/?q=el%20rancho: accessed August 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.