Last Updated on April 4, 2022 by Allison Price
The cowboys of the west were called “vaqueros” in Spanish. (The Spanish term “vaca”, which means cow, is translated as: In the old west, cowboy was a term that was seldom used. It is now more common. American cowboys pronounced vaquero as “bukera”, then “buckaroo”. A “buckaroo” was a term that defined anyone who worked cattle in Texas, California or anywhere else. The term “cowboy”, which was first used by Texans to describe their efforts to move cattle to Kansas’ new railroads, came into wide use in the late 1860s.
Vaqueros, who were poor and lacked land, likely not even a horse at the time, started the noble tradition that the cowboy was able to work. This tradition spread from Mexico to the United States. Vaquero’s considered themselves superior to farmers. They were proud of what they did, were strong in their determination, were patient, uncomplaining, had physical endurance, courage, fortitude, and patience. They worked in adverse weather conditions and were often afflicted by aches and pains. They lived on no food and hunted down any stray animals they could. They rode into the middle of a milling sheaf and showed courage. These qualities were valued and expected by the cowboys and vaquero. While virtuous actions are not worthy of praise, failing to meet the vaquero’s standards could be ridiculed or condemned.
Jo Mora, an illustrator, cartoonist and cowboy from the 1800’s, described the vaquero’s appearance as follows: “A kerchief was tied around his head. A barbiquejo (chin strap), held the brim of a weather-beaten hat that was just below the lower lips in place. His black, untidy beard was visible above his cheeks. His long black hair fell to the level of his shoulders. His large colonial shirt was stained and torn, and you could see a flash of brown shoulder through a recent tear. His lean midriff was encircled by a wide, red Spanish sash. His pants were short and reached his knees. He buttoned the sides and left 6 inches at the bottom. The long drawers, which were once white, had wrinkles at his knees. They were then folded into leather botas (leggings) and wrapped in leather botas. A pair of rough buckskin shoes, with leather soles and low-heeled heels, was worn by the man. To them were attached a pair large and rusty iron spurs. The costume was completed by a tirador, a wide belt that runs across the hips and helps him to snub the reata (rawhiderope) while lassoing on foot. On his right leg, the ever-present long knife in its scabbard was inserted into the garter.
Many of the clothing, language, Vaquero horse-tack, and values of the Mexican, Californio Vaquero’s were passed on to the Anglo American Cowboy. The Vaquero gear, called the la reata, became the cowboy’s lariat (a rope that looks like a lasso). Chaparejos were made chaps, and “Dar la Vuelta”, which means “take a turn”, became “dally”. Meaning to wrap the Lariat around the saddlehorn instead of tie it down.
It’s an honor to see the vaquero traditions being continued today in riding style, dress, and tack.