Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Hawaiian Cowboys --the paniolo
If you’re like most folks, you likely think the Old West stopped at America’s Pacific Coastline. Which it does if you travel three thousand miles farther. Yes indeed, Hawaii has a cowboy history all its own. It even involves vaqueros!
Those first cowboys, Mexican vaqueros, taught Texan buckaroos how to lasso, make lariats and herd cattle. But much earlier in the 1800’s, those guys traveled across the Pacific and roped longhorns in Hawaii.
What? Longhorns in Hawaii?
Captain George Vancouver brought Hawaii’s first longhorn cattle as a gift to King Kamehameha I in 1793. Vancouver believed he’d delivered a new resource to the islands, but His Majesty imposed a ten-year kapu (restriction), making them a protected species. The animals were allowed to roam wild and breed freely.
Consequently, the herds became a nuisance, harming native vegetation and forests. Upon descending the uplands, the cows knocked down fences, trampled village gardens, and destroyed taro fields.
So vaqueros from Mexico and Portugal were imported to control the cows and teach native ranchers how to oversee the herds. The islanders called these guys paniolo. Ranchers constructed stone walls and cactus barriers to stop the foraging beasts. Tourists today sometimes view old rock walls in Hawaii and assume they’re ancient heiau (temples) or home sites. But more often than not, these rock piles are just leftover cattle walls!
Like cowboys everywhere, a paniolo relied on his horse to round up the wild pipi (cattle) from the places they shouldn’t be in a particular method called Po'o Waiu, which is now a rodeo event.
In 1908, a paniolo and rodeo champ named Ikua Purdy set the rodeo world on fire with his roping and riding skills at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Not long ago, Purdy was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame.
2008 was designated The Year of the Hawaiian Cowboy by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and Harry Kim, mayor of Hawaii (the Big Island) County.
Today about 75 percent of the state’s cattle roam the Big Island of Hawaii. Fifth and sixth generation Hawaiian cowboys continue to raise, herd, brand, and market cattle. Parker Ranch is among the largest ranches in the United States, spanning some 150,000 acres across the Big Island. Established nearly 160 years ago, it is also one of the country’s oldest ranches.
The ranch’s story begins in 1809 when nineteen-year-old John Parker jumped the ship that brought him to Hawaii. He quickly came to the attention of King Kamehameha I for his new, state-of-the-art American musket. The gun got John the “privilege” of being the first man allowed to shoot some of the thousands of maverick cattle wandering the island’s remote plains and valleys. Due mostly to John’s efforts, salted beef replaced sandalwood as the island’s chief export.
A recent trip to the Islands took me to Koloatown on the sleepy island of Kauai. Established in 1835, it's often still called Homestead and looks like someplace you'd find in Wyoming, full of charm and history.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of aloha yee-haw! But I hope you'll ride on back to 1880 Nebraska where in my latest, Marrying Mattie, Mattie Carter falls for a handsome horse doctor, Call Hackett, only to have their wedding vows broken up by her evil ex.