The Life of a Vaquero

How time flies when you’re having fun!! Our fun at the moment is more rain – following on from last week’s news. So far we have had 3.70 inches for January, which may not seem much to you, but to the high desert it’s bounty indeed. When the first day’s rain was over, I rode up to the South Fork Tank, high up in the Noonan Canyon. Predictably, it was almost dry – some dirty looking water sloshed around in the bottom, and the edges were squishy with sticky, clayey mud; two dispirited looking ducks rose lazily from the slush and circled overhead, returned, and landed into what looked to be about 4 inches of water, into which dog Tuffy immediately plunged, and came out looking like a fugitive from a distant planet, almost encased in the stuff.

Two days later, following our first short, but wonderful rain, I rode up there again, and amazingly, the tank was full, almost overflowing the dam! Such miraculous country – from no water for the cattle to drink and panic stations, to water everywhere! And, for those of you who have been here, and are familiar with the country, the Spooky Tank, the one closer to my house, is backing way up the canyon, and is almost over its dam! So – no more water worries for the cows, and, more good news – these rains, which were even heavier in the lower desert, should bring up the filaree, that wonderful spring feed, which should in turn drive up the cattle prices!

Vaquero, c. 1830

Vaquero, c. 1830

And, while I was out there riding, I got to musing about cowboy attire and the whole cowboy lingo. And so – did you know that most of it came from the Mexican, originally Spanish, rancheros who occupied and ran cattle in what must have been the most beautiful country in the world, old California? They called themselves Californios, and they were descendants of the Spanish caballeros. They rode well bred, and well schooled horses, and the later arriving American cowboys borrowed their art and a lot of their lingo, and corrupted it into what we know as cowboy language.

For example, the word “buckaroo” itself is a corruption of the word vaquero – meaning cowboy. The word “lariat” comes from la reata, braided from thin strips of leather, used for roping cattle. “Chaps”, those leather leggings so useful in cold weather or in heavy brush, came from the word chaparreras; the “hackamore”, that head gear used on a young horse before putting a bit into his mouth, came from the word jaquima (pronounced hakima, hence – hackamore) – so much history.

And the original purpose of that piece of rag tied around a cowboy’s neck, with the triangle down under the chin and the knot at the back? It’s there so it’s handy to pull up over one’s nose when the dust in the back of the drive gets to be too much – and believe me, a few hundred cow bodies being carried along by four times that number of legs can sure stir up the dirt! I have come home so covered with dust, that when I took off my hat, there was a distinct white line where the dirt ended and my skin began. And the hats themselves? As you know, the cowboy hat is quite hard, wide brimmed, and generally fairly tall in the crown. The hard bit is easy to understand the first time you hit your head on a sneaky overhead branch, but the height? Well, it’s there so that the hot air has a place to go, in the top of the hat, rather than around your face and neck. Just look at those really high sombreros worn in that hot Texas country! And the word “sombrero” itself comes from the Spanish word sombra, or shade, so – “shader”!

And, to end this off, how about the cowboy boots? A very useful piece of gear – not only do they protect your foot from a horse stepping on it, and the sole of your foot from being mangled by the stirrup, but they protect your legs from being attacked by passing thorny mesquite branches, to say nothing of the mud, should you be lucky enough to get some rain!

And, finally, in the south-west, we wear our jeans over our boots, while in the northern country they wear their jeans tucked into the top of the boots – and why? Well, in the north, you don’t want to be dragging your pants through the snow and the mud, so you tuck them in, while here you don’t want all kinds of nasty, sticky thorns falling into your boots and snaring themselves up in your socks – so you leave the pants out. All very useful and sensible!

I was reading a book written by an early cowboy who was working a large herd of cattle in Alberta, Canada, in the early 1940’s. They were driving the cattle through stands of trees so thick that they had to almost hack their way through, and the temperature was 60 below 0 F!! The cows, he wrote, had to keep moving to keep from freezing, so the cowboys kept them circling when they stopped for the night, and I imagine that getting on a cold-backed, cranky, half broke horse, while stuffed inside clumsy big denim jackets and all kinds of other gubbins, didn’t work too well when that pony broke in two and tried to buck you off! So much easier for us today.

Eve out on a ride with Comanche and Tequila

Look Out Tequila!

I think I mentioned some time back that I have a new and lovely pastime. I ride my horse Tequila, with my great horsy friend, Comanche, running along free, investigating the country, grazing a bit here and there and then catching up again, and generally getting into trouble. The other day I was riding with a couple of friends, and Comanche was right behind me, with the rest of the party behind him. I noticed that Tequila was periodically backing his ears and snaking his head, a sign of extreme displeasure in a horse, and I wondered why. I learned from the rider behind that Comanche was walking behind us, systematically nipping Tequila on the hind legs, the way dog Tuffy would do. “Nip, nip – ha ha!! I’m free and you have to do what she says, ha ha!” No wonder Tequila looked bummed!

And finally, I was browsing through the web the other day and happened across our Trip Advisor listing – and I do want to thank you all for the wonderful reviews! It’s so nice to read that you enjoyed the ranch as much as we do, and that our sincerely offered hospitality was pleasing to you. It’s so much fun for us to share the place with you, and it’s wonderful to know that it gave you as much happiness as it does to us. Thank you all, so much!

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6 Responses to The Life of a Vaquero

  1. Claudia says:

    Eve, that’s a great picture, maybe Bonnie could paint it? Would be a great one to frame, lovely article too (as allways)

  2. Mary Clements says:

    Again you have refreshed my spirit. Here in Northern Wisconsin the winter has become too long. You always make me feel like spring will come. We are planning a trip to Arizona later part of Feb. for a couple of weeks. Can’t wait and I hope with all the rain you have had that we see some of the beautiful flowers that spring up.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Eve says:

    Hi Claudia – I’ll tell Bonnie what you said – it would make a lovely painting, wouldn’t it? Glad you enjoyed it.

    And Mary, thanks for a lovely comment! I would like to feel that I make people feel good, specially about those brutal Wisconsin winters. I know, because my parents used to live in Oshkosh and I used to visit them at Christmas, arriving there from an Australian summer! Looking forward to seeing you!

  4. Phil says:

    great website!!!!

  5. P.D. McCool says:

    That picture you are publishing of a California Vaquero is really John Fletcher Fairchild, who was a deputy sheriff and sheriff in Arizona. He was born in Vermillion, Ill. He was also a Texas Ranger.

  6. Eve says:

    Dear P.D. McCool,

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. My apologies for the belated action to this but the image has now been changed. Thank you again.

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