EDINBURG, RGV – Cattle and horses were first brought to Texas by Pánfilo Narváez secretary Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who, with a crew of around 200 Spanish soldiers, landed on Texas soil on November 6, 1528.
The hacienda system of ranching that prevailed in Spain at that time arrived in the New World, with its rich series of activities such as rodeos, cattle drives, horse training, and cattle raising for profit and food.
Ponce de León had earlier arrived in Florida in 1513 and brought with him “Becerrillo,” the first dog to arrive in America, besides bringing in 50 horses in his expedition of 1521. Coronado arrived in New Mexico in 1540 with 552 horses, and there were horses in all Christian missions, towns and villages in America, as the early settlers raised them and used them for transportation, for conquest, for defense, and for work.
These animals multiplied quickly and so by the beginning of the 19th century the “Potrero del Espíritu Santo Ranch” in Brownsville, Texas had several thousand horses for use in various manners. Many quickly became wild horses called “mesteño” “mustang” or “Cimarron.” The historian H. Bolton once proclaimed that “… from the Spanish the American cowboy inherited his trade, his outfit, his vocabulary and his methods.”
Normally the cattle would come in from Spain, or from the Caribbean, as cattle had multiplied extensively in those islands, with Santo Domingo having over one million heads of cattle in 1574. Later on, the cattle arriving in California, Texas and New Mexico normally would come from Mexico, having being brought there by early explorers. The cattle arriving in Texas via Mexico populated the huge haciendas or ranches where cattle raising became an industry.
These ranches that later acquired fame and were known as the King Ranch, the Armstrong, and the “Carricitos,” and others were actually on land that was once Spanish Land Grants bestowed on Hispanic individuals who carried on the cattle raising tradition into Texas. By 1689, Captain Alonso de León from Nuevo León and his secretary Juan Bautista Chiapapria (Chapa) made an excursion into Texas territory and brought along herds of cattle, horses, goats, and other animals, that soon multiplied into the thousands, and in doing so these two individuals became two of the earliest Hispanic explorers of “la provincia de los Tejas,” as it was then called, at the same time spreading into this new territory herds of animals that were utilized later for the subsequent settlement of Texas, and its ranching industry. They both wrote a book: “Historia de Nuevo León: Con Anotaciones Sobre Coahuila, Tejas y Tamaulipas- 1690” that details all of this early cattle/horse activity. This new activity soon spread rapidly and it has, throughout the years, distinguished modern Texas from any other state in the United States. These individuals brought the “vaquero” tradition, upon which the modern Texas cowboy built his image.
These pioneers, later on known as Tejanos, were independent, frontier, individuals who enjoyed a strong work ethic, and who brought their families into this rugged and uncharted territory. They cleared the land, pacified and evangelized the Indian population via Christian missions, established villages, and in essence brought a European civilization into the wilderness. Possessing of a strong character, family values, respect for each other, and a strong interest in education, they were determined to forged the newly founded land into a modern society, thus early banking, agriculture, schools, religion, and all aspects of civilized life were encouraged during those early times in Colonial Spanish Texas.
Jack Johnson in his book, “Los Mesteños,” clearly details the evolution of the ranching industry, with its huge cattle raising and drives first conducted by Tejano land and cattle barons who roamed this state long before the Chisholm Trail and the King Ranch drama came on the stage, and certainly almost 200 before the modern cowboy printed its name in Texas history; for we know that northerners coming into Spanish Texas after 1821 soon discarded their coon hats for a ten gallon hat or “sombrero de diez galones.” They did away with certain type of clothing and used chaps, and ate “carne seca” (jerky meat), from the “Quechua charqui” (dried meat), “bar-ba-coa” (bar-b-cue) from “desde la barba hasta la cola,” cooked from the beard to the tail of the animal, and in essence indulged in all things that the Tejano culture offered them.
Certain borrowed words from the Tejano ranching vocabulary passed on into English and into the modern cowboy’s lexicon such as: “lasso, corral, rodeo, chaps from: “chaparreras,” dolly welter from “dale vuelta,” mustang from “mesteño” (stray animal), ranch, buckaroo, from “vaquero” and this from the Arabic “bakara,” a mounted horseman who tended to cattle, lariat from “la riata” rope, “hacienda” from Spain’s system of cattle ranching, “bronco” (wild), vamoose from “vamos” (to go), vigilante from “vigilante,” desperado, from “un hombre desesperado” (a desperate man), cinch, from “chinch,” (belt), mossy from “muévase,”marauders from “ maranos” (pigs), fiesta, and many others.
The above narrative, then, supports the new mascot of ‘Vaqueros’ for the new UTRGV as recommended by President Dr. Guy Bailey and approved by the UT-System Board of Regents. This new identity reflects the heritage that set the foundation for the culture that clearly defines Texas and especially South Texas. Everything Texas brags about is Tejano and Vaqueros!
Brownsville native Dr. Lino García, Jr., holds the chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA, and can be contacted at: [email protected]