we think of cowboys in Texas, the image of the American cowboy often
comes to mind. However, before the American cowboy, there were the
vaqueros - the original cowboys of Texas. The vaqueros were Mexican
cattle workers who brought their horseback livestock-herding tradition
from Spain to Mexico and eventually to Texas - they have been called,
"the first Texas cowboy."
Photo courtesy Bullock Museum of Texas History
| If we stop and
think about it, this is certainly true. After all, Texas was a part
of Mexico when the first settlers from the United States arrived here.
The Library of Congress is unwavering in its opinion when writing
about the first cowboys in America, "The vaqueros came first--not
Anglo or black cowboys, but Hispanic-California horsemen. In the Spanish
colonial days before the cattle business developed."
Mexican vaqueros are a historic part of the ranching
industry in Texas. From the beginning, they brought their rich tradition
of horsemanship and cattle herding to the Lone Star State. There's
no doubt that the vaqueros are an integral part of the cowboy story.
Thinking about the vaquero seems to automatically conjure up images
of the cattle industryhowever, there is much more to the legacy
of these men. But what about the ability to produce products? Handcrafted
articles that were used in their trade. To be honest, I never knew
that they did more than herding cattlethese people were artists.
The Portal to Texas History website contains an article about these
cowboy craftsmen. The article "Vaquero Traditions in South Texas,"
was written by Joe S. Graham. There is no information available as
to when it was written, but Graham includes a lot of detail about
the Mexican craftsmen and the products they produced. He writes that
some of the best bootmakers in the region were from Raymondville
He mentions Roberto Salas of the King Ranch Running W Saddle Shop,
which has been in business since 1865. However, we must remember that
the date of publication for this article is unknown; but he does mention
"helicopters" at one point, so it's not completely ancient.
Graham concludes, "And in spite of the fact that some of the vaqueros'
own folk arts and crafts traditions have fallen prey to modern technology
(e,g. the braided rawhide lariat has been replaced by first the manila
lariat and later that of nylon), vaqueros continue to make a number
of types of equipment and gear from rawhide."
Information abounds when it comes to finding resources about the vaquero.
The Bullock Museum website contains information on how the
rancher Richard King sought out vaqueros to work on his vast properties
in south Texas. "The
vaqueros were so renowned for their skills that rancher Richard King
traveled to Mexico in 1854 to recruit entire vaquero families to manage
his herds. King knew that 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."
There is no doubt that the vaquero tradition had a profound impact
on the cultural landscape of Texas. Their influence can be seen in
various aspects of Texan culture, from the language (with terms like
rodeo and lariat derived from Spanish) to the cuisine (such as Tex-Mex
cuisine) and even in the arts and music. The vaqueros' distinctive
attire, including the iconic sombrero and colorful serape, became
symbols of their cultural heritage.