Not long after the Spanish arrived in the Americas, (right around 1519) they got busy building ranches to raise cattle and other livestock. The ranchers imported horses from Spain to work these ranches, and the rest is history.
Mexico’s native cowboys were called vaqueros. The word comes from the Spanish word vaca (cow). Yeah, cowboys.
Vaqueros were known for their superior roping, riding and herding skills, so what rancher wouldn’t hire them on? They were an excellent choice for tending their livestock.
Eventually, ranching made its way to present-day Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico (we’re talking around 1700) and as far south as Argentina. And in 1769, about the time of the California missions, their livestock practices were introduced to more areas in the West.
Settlers migrating to the West adopted aspects of the vaquero culture, including their clothing style and cattle-driving methods.
Cowboys came from diverse backgrounds and included African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and settlers from the eastern United States and Europe.
By the time Vaqueros became a part of Texas ranching, they had been herding and driving cattle and wild horses for hundreds of years. They were so renowned for their skills that a rancher named Richard King traveled to Mexico in 1854 to recruit entire vaquero families to manage his herds. King knew these Mexican cowboys knew what to do with horses and cattle much better than he did. Seasoned vaqueros could stop a horse in its tracks or send it into a flat-out gallop with the slightest sway of the reins. The cowboys understood the social structure of cattle herds so well that they knew just where to look for the hiding strays. Their roping, riding, and ranching knowledge was unsurpassed.
My sister attended a vaquero horse clinic recently and found the “vaquero way” as she called it fascinating, and wants to learn more. When we think of cowboys, we automatically think of all those wonderful heroes we read in our favorite novels or have seen on TV. We forget about the vaqueros and how long they’ve been around.
Have you ever heard of vaqueros? If so, was it from a book, a movie, television? Some other sources? After listening to my sister talk about the clinic she attended I decided to learn more myself and share it. I might even attend the next clinic she goes to!