Wednesday, May 19, 2010


One out of every three cowboys in the late 1800s was the Mexican vaquero. Their story really begins in the Southwest, two decades before the pilgrims landed in 1620 on Plymouth Rock, when adventurous criollos (Spanish-born Americans) and mestizos (mixed Spanish and Indian settlers) pushed past the Rio Grande River to take advantage of land grants in the kingdom of New Mexico, which included most of the western states.
They were called caballeros, one of the highest stations you could have in life. The caballero was among the first cowboys in the U.S. Even the poor Mexican vaqueros were very proud and there were few things they couldn't do from a saddle. Caballero is literally translated as "gentleman." The root of the word comes from caballo—Spanish for "horse."
For every caballero there were perhaps dozens of independents—the true "drivers" of cattle: vaqueros. All of the skills, traditions, and ways of working with cattle are very much rooted in the Mexican vaquero. A cowboy in the U.S. today has developed what he knows from them.
Vaqueros were proverbial cowboys—rough, hard-working mestizos who were hired by the criollo caballeros to drive cattle between New Mexico and Mexico City, and later between Texas and Mexico City. The title, though denoting a separate social class, is similar to caballero, and is a mark of pride.
Vaquero is a transliteration of the words 'cow' and 'man.' Vaca means 'cow.' Interestingly enough, in Spanish they are called cowmen; in English, it was demoted to cowboys.


In 1821 Anglo settlers arrived in Texas and became the first English-speaking Mexican citizens in the territory. Led by Stephen F. Austin, they arrived in San Felipe de Austin, Texas, to take advantage of the vast expanse of cattle, free for the taking.
Millions of longhorn cattle in the brush country of Texas were loose, and had strayed and multiplied. All the new settlers had to do was round up the cattle.
The vaqueros had been doing this for 223 years, since 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate, one of the four richest men in New Spain (present-day Mexico) sent an expedition across the Rio Grande River into New Mexico.
Oñate spent over a million dollars funding the expedition, and brought some 7,000 animals to the present-day United States. It eventually paid off; the first gold to come from the West was not from the Gold Rush, but rather from its wool-bearing sheep and then its long-horned livestock.


Four centuries have passed since the vaqueros first roamed the plains of Texas and New Mexico. Many say that the culture is dead, or on the verge of dying—along with the cattle-driver culture in general. But is it disappearing? It is said that there will always be cowboys as long as there are cattle, because they all claim the most efficient way to work cattle is from horseback.
And the vaqueros?
Compare the cowboy culture to a car. If the vaqueros invented the car, the styles change a little bit, but you still have the basic chassis, four wheels, and an engine. I think it will stay very much the same. Though there may be optimism about the preservation of the culture, there is pessimism about outside influences.
But they're very proud of who they are. They are very much interested in keeping their culture alive and viable.


In my 1880 Western Historical romance, All My Hopes and Dreams, the hero is Ricardo Romero, owner of a huge ranch—which was an original land grant from Spain—on the far western edge of the Texas frontier. He was born on the ranch, making him a citizen of the United States. He is proud of his ancestry through his Spanish father Rafael Romero, and his Comanche half-breed mother. The ranch is a self-sustaining community, such as the Mexican haciendas, or estates, with Ricardo and his father in command as the patrons. Many of the wranglers on his ranch are vaqueros.
Celia Yeary
Romance…and a little bit o' Texas
TEXAS BLUE-eBook and Print
Published by: The Wild Rose Press


Victoria Gray said...

Fascinating article. Your hero in All My Hopes and Dreams sounds, well, not to sound corny, dreamy : )
Thanks for sharing!

EA said...

As always, Celia, you enlighten and educate. I enjoyed this post very much. I have been referred to as a "vaquera" taken to mean aggresive and bold. This is in reference to my driving on highways around the New York City area. :)

Romy said...

I'm not a big fan of cowboy stories, but yours sounds fascinating. I'm definitely heading over to Wild Rose now to add it to my shopping cart.

As a non-American (I live in South Africa) I'd never even heard of a Vaquero, let alone knew that Texas was still being 'settled' so late into the country's history. I learned a lot from this post. Looking forward to the next one!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Celia, Great post. I love, love, love books like yours.

Celia Yeary said...

Thanks a million, all you lovely ladies!All My Hopes and Dreams received very good ratings, one of them a FIVE. And my latest--TEXAS BLUE--received two fours, but yesterday, I had a big surprise--TRS gave it Five Hearts. I tell you, I am thrilled with her review.
Thank you for your support and kinds words--love you all--Celia

Mary Ricksen said...

Celia, I had no idea they could sweep up stray steers and start a business. With a lot of horribly hard work!

Celia Yeary said...

Oh, yes--that started most of the relaly big ranches in Texas. the largest ranch--in the world, as a matter of fact, is the King Ranch down in the Wild Horse Desert region of South Texas. They started with longhorns, but brought a breed over from Spain which is one of the more popular kind these days--the Santa Gertrudis.Roberta King, as a young wife, followed the trail with ner new husband and his vauqueros--she was very happy to sleep under a bush. You had to be tough! Celia