El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 15
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the Great Plains for their hides. In an attempt to pre-
vent the depletion of the herds of cattle, the Mexican
mesta in 1574 revised and strengthened their code. Use
of the hocking knife was banned, and any person found
to possess one was fined twenty pesos or received a
hundred lashes in public (1981). Even though outlawed,
the practice would continue for many decades, particu-
larly along the northern frontier, where hocking knives
were still used by rustlers and outlaws from both sides
of the Rio Grande to raid South Texas ranches long
after the coming of the Anglos.
Use of the lazo (lasso) or la reata (lariat) gradu-
ally replaced the hocking knife as the vaquero's primary
method of working cattle. Unlike today, however, the
braided rawhide lariat of this era was not twirled above
the head of the vaquero and then tossed over the horns
or head of the chosen animal. Rather, the mounted
vaquero placed the lariat on the end of a lance, pursued
the chosen animal, and laid the loop over its head or
horns. Once the lariat was in place, the vaquero re-
moved the lance as the loop pulled tight. Since saddles
of the era did not have saddle horns, the lariat was fas-
tened to the cinch or other part of the vaquero's saddle
Over time, the vaqueros developed great skill in
making and using the lariat, or lasso, and by the time
of the settlement of South Texas, they had achieved
remarkable skills at working cattle with it on the large
ranches on both sides of the Rio Grande. By the end of
the sixteenth century, long cattle drives became com-
mon, as cattle were brought from the large ranches on
the northern frontier to help feed the growing popu-
lation in Mexico City and other cities. The vaquero's
skills with the lariat were important when driving large
herds of cattle. They would rope the full-grown bulls
and harness the troublesome ones to trained oxen,
using a braided horsehair rope or halter (cabresto).
Once broken to the trail, these bulls were useful in
leading the herds (Dary 198I).
As did the cowboys driving herds of cattle north-
ward after the American Civil War, vaqueros of this
period worked and slept under the open skies. Some
probably built lean-tos of whatever materials were at
hand, since there was little opportunity to build any
kind of permanent dwelling as the cattle herds moved
from place to place (Morrisey 1949).
As noted earlier, the vaquero did not enjoy the status
or adulation the American cowboy would enjoy cen-
turies later. Most were mestizos (mixed Indian and
Spanish ancestry), Indians, Negroes (from the many
slaves brought into New Spain in the early years), and
mulattoes (mixed Negro and Indian ancestry). Prior
to the changes in the mesta code in I574, most vaque-
ros owned their own horses and equipment-saddles,
lariats, etc. In an attempt to control cattle rustling and
the mass slaughter of cattle for their hides and tal-
low, the new code forbade non-Spaniard vaqueros from
owning horses. The vaqueros had to be paid in money
rather than livestock, and no one was permitted to
sell livestock except the owner or his authorized rep-
resentative. Spaniards who broke the law were fined
fifty pesos or given a hundred lashes. A second of-
fense doubled the penalty and led to banishment from
the district where the offense had been committed.
Negroes, mulattoes, mestizos and Indians who violated
the law were treated much more severely, with punish-
ments including the cutting off of the offender's ears
for a second offense (Dart' 1981).
Just as some cowboys in the Old West would be-
come outlaws, some vaqueros in this period of the cattle
industry in Mexico banded together and roamed the
countryside, taking what they wanted. Many of these
roving bands may have been the forerunners of the
bandidos of Mexico. But the great majority of vaque-
ros were honest, hardworking men who served the
rancheros well. Their efforts made it possible for the
ranchers to prosper, pushing the cattle culture ever
The Ranch Moves North
Richard J. Morrisey wrote: "The ranching frontier
was the 'cutting-edge' of Spanish civilization as it
pushed north. What the farming frontier was to
The Ranch in Mexico 15
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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/m1/27/?q=el%20rancho: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.