El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 26
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or beans or a few pumpkin vines in back of the jacal.
Since the peon had only rare opportunities to travel to
town, he spent his small wage or credit in the ranch
general store, building up a debt which increased in
times of illness, family deaths, marriages, or other such
life experiences (Gonzalez 1930).
If the pedn and his family wished to travel to another
ranch or town, he was dependent on the patron for a
wagon or ox-cart. In times of illness, the doctor could
not be summoned without the patron's permission. The
pen also consulted with the patron in such personal
matters as the marriage of his children; if the patron
approved, he would serve as the portador, the one who
would ask for the girl's hand in marriage for the pedn's
son. This kind of dependency created a strong bond
between the patron and his peones.
The vaquero, on the other hand, was much more
independent. Often a mestizo or son of a criollo (Span-
iard born in the New World) landowner with meager
land holdings, he did not consider himself bound to
any patrdn. He felt that one day, if given the oppor-
tunity, he might become a landowner himself, perhaps
through marriage (Gonzalez 1930).
Most of the social events on the ranch, particularly
the celebrations, were also separated by social class.
The peones (including the vaqueros) enjoyed dances
from time to time, and these would last from dusk until
dawn, after which they would go about their normal
work day. They also celebrated holidays such as New
Year's day, the feast of el dia de San Juan, el dia de
Santiago, or the day of the Holy Innocents. The latter
celebrations often included dances, speeches, storytell-
ing, and such vaquero sports as correr el gallo, a game
which tested the horsemanship skills of the riders. The
music was usually provided by a guitar, a violin, and an
accordion (Gonzalez 1930).
The patrdn class lived in the casas mavores on the
ranch, made of carved sandstone (if the ranch was
within about fifteen miles of the Rio Grande) or
sillares, where stone was not available. Up until the
i860s, these houses were fortresses against Indian at-
tacks, usually with high, flat ceilings and roofs of chi-
pichil (a mortar made of lime, sand and gravel) which
would not burn. These roofs were supported by huge
vYgas set across the tops of the walls. The floors were
often made of chipichil also, although flat stones were
common too. At each end of the house and on each
side of the doors and windows would be troneras, or
gunports, through which the ranchers could shoot at
attackers (Graham 1992).
The main house usually consisted of two or three
large rooms, although some casas mayores were con-
siderably larger. The main room was a large sala where
the family gathered in the evening, or where guests
were entertained. This was often decorated with ani-
mal skins, mounted deer heads, powder horns and
muskets adorning the walls. Adjoining this room was
another, often the main bedroom, where the wife
sometimes entertained her guests. Children slept here
until they grew older, at which time the boys were
often moved into the men's quarters in a nearby build-
ing and the girls were given their own bedrooms in the
The furniture in these homes was the best that could
be bought in Monterrey, Matamoros, Laredo, and later
Brownsville. It was not uncommon to find large hand-
carved beds with elegant canopies and silk draperies.
Dressers and tables often boasted marble tops. Family
portraits and handmade objects of various types deco-
rated the walls. One could find beautiful works of deshi-
lado (drawn work), weaving, and quilting adorning
these homes (Gonzalez 1930).
The kitchen was often a thatched-roofed jacal struc-
ture with a dirt floor, separate from the main house,
although it was a part of some casas mayores. Either
way, the fire in the huge chimenea, a fireplace about
three feet above the floor-which made it possible to
cook while standing-could make it unbearably hot
in the long summer months. Usually the cooking was
done by the wives and daughters of the pednes, who
used the copper pots, iron skillets and utensils which
often hung from pegs on the walls on either side of the
chimenea. The huge hono, or oven, was built outside.
It was dome shaped, and varied in size. Hot coals were
used to heat it for cooking various foods made of corn,
flour, or meat (Graham 1992).
26 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/m1/38/?q=el%20rancho: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.