El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 13
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them. Hence, the early Mexican vaquero was not the
romantic figure the cowboy would become in Ameri-
can culture, but instead simply a laborer riding a horse.
It is ironic that the equipment and traditions he devel-
oped over the next two hundred years would become
such a vital part of the heroic cowboy image of the
Dary notes that the early vaqueros' manner of dress
blended the styles worn by Spaniards with those worn
by the native population. To protect himself from the
sun, he wore an undecorated sombrero with a wide brim
and a low flat crown, made of leather, woven palm
fiber, or cheap felt. Under it, or tied around his neck,
he sometimes wore a bandanna. He wore cotton shirts
in the heat and wool shirts in the cold, although there
is evidence that a few wore homemade leather shirts
which were waterproof and wind resistant (1981).
By the late sixteenth century, many were wearing
leather chaquetas (jackets) and tightfitting, knee-length
breeches (sotas), which were usually laced up the sides.
They sometimes wrapped leather leggings, or botas,
from the knees to the ankle to protect themselves as
they rode through heavy brush. Surprisingly, many
rode barefooted, though some wore leather shoes with
or without the heels one associates with modern-day
cowboy boots. Some may have worn jackboots (mili-
tary boots extending above the knee) handed down
from their Spanish bosses (Dary 1981).
Strapped to whatever footwear the vaquero had-or
to his bare feet-were a pair of large iron spurs with
large rowels, often eight inches in diameter, similar to
those worn by the Spanish conquistadors. This foot-
gear had a long history. It appeared in Spain around
700 B.C. and by the fifteenth century had become a
status symbol for the wealthy and powerful knights and
gentlemen. Spurs came to the New World in the six-
teenth century, where they, and the sounds they made,
would become an important identifying marker of the
vaquero (Dary 1981).
The earliest vaqueros had three styles of saddle avail-
able to them, and these they would adapt to their
needs over time. The silla de montar, or Spanish war
saddle, was heavy and cumbersome. The cantle and
pommel wrapped around the rider and made it diffi-
cult for him to mount and dismount. The long stirrup
leathers permitted the rider to ride with his legs in
a straight position, like the knights of old. The jineta
saddles, borrowed by the Spaniards from the Moors,
were smaller and lighter, with shorter stirrups (Beatie
1981). A third style, the stock saddle, developed by
Spaniards in the West Indies, was much better suited to
the vaquero's work. However, these were much harder
to come by (Dary 1981). Over time, as the number
of vaqueros increased, they began making their own
saddles, adapting elements of the various styles.
In herding cattle, the vaqueros used an iron-tipped
lance, orgarrocha, similar to the one still used by vaque-
ros and cattlemen in Spain and by mounted horsemen
in the bullfight rings in Mexico. During the middle
of the sixteenth century, the rodeo, or round-up, be-
came a common method of herding cattle. Using the
lances, vaqueros would drive cattle from various ranches
toward a specific location, where they would be sorted
among the various owners (Dary 1981).
As cattle became very numerous and at the same
time more valuable for their hide and tallow than for
their meat, the hocking knife (desjarretadera, or media
luna) became an important instrument. It consisted
of a half-moon shaped blade, sharpened on the inner
curve, attached to a stout pole from ten to twelve feet
long. The vaquero would mount his horse, place the
handle of the hocking knife under his arm to steady
it and, holding the blade a couple of feet from the
ground, urge his horse in pursuit of the animal he
chose to slaughter. The sharp blade would cut the ani-
mal's hamstring, making it fall to the ground, unable to
rise again. The vaquero struck the fallen animal behind
the head with his hocking knife, severing the spinal
cord. After skinning the animal, staking the hide on the
ground to dry, and removing the fat to sell, he often
left the flesh to rot. Existing records for 1594, which
are by no means complete, indicate that some 75,00ooo
hides were shipped to Seville, Spain, and in 1598 a fleet
of ships bound for Europe carried some o50,ooo cattle
hides (Dary 1981).
Dary likens this process to the slaughter of bison on
The Ranch in Mexico 13
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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/m1/25/?q=el%20rancho: accessed November 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.