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Vaquero (2003)

Rogelio Agrasanchez

Sound | 2003

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TAMI Tags
  •  SHSU Professor Caroline Crimm-Castillo 
  •  Tio Kleberg of the King Ranch 
  •  Author Betty Colley 
  •  Author Jane Monday 
  •  Tio Kleberg 
  •  Olga Serna, vaquero widow 
  •  Jane Monday 
  •  Betty Colley 
  •  Jose Salazar, vaquero b. 1918 
  •  Paolino Silguero, vaquero c. 1921 
 
Transcript
  •  GAYETANO LOPEZ (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): In this ranch land known as Santa Teresa, on the 28th of April, I, Gayetano Lopez, Mayor of Camargo, in the name of the free town and the government of Tamaulipas and with the powers invested in me, I give you, Don Gregorio Vela, ownership of these two parcels of land for which you have paid. 
  •  NARRATOR: The year? 1836. These Mexican ranchers, no doubt, had heard there was a revolution underway in the state of Coahuila y Tejas to the north. How could they know it would produce a new nation? The Republic of Texas. 
  •  DON GREGORIO VELA (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): Let it be known that I have been granted possession of these two sites for livestock. 
  •  NARRATOR: Twelve years later, another war, the Mexican-American War, would turn those who lived here from citizens of Mexico to citizens of the United States. The pasture was located on the rugged, dry valley between the Rio Grande to the south and to the north, the Nueces. The Spanish had a name for this desolate landscape: Llado Mastaño, the Wild Horse Desert.  
  •  Free-spirited Mustangs and long-horn cattle left by eighteenth-century Spanish settlers were about all that survived here thanks to the blistering sun and lack of water.  
  •  The native plants and animals got by because they were tough and ornery; prickly on the outside, and if it didn’t scratch or sting, it would probably bite.  
  •  It was an environment that led one visitor to say that if he owned Hell and Texas, he would rent out Texas and live in Hell.  
  •  There was only one thing anyone could imagine this land was good for, and that was raising livestock.  
  •  The earliest ranchers north of the Rio Grande were on large, Spanish land grants. By the end of the Civil War, Anglos had replaced many of the descendants of the original Mexican owners, and entrepreneurs such as Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King, who had made their fortune in the steamboat business on the Rio Grande, were able to buy up vast stretches of open range, but they needed more than just money to succeed in this harsh environment. 
  •  CAROLINE CRIMM-CASTILLO: People like Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King, when they arrived in Texas, they had to learn the cattle industry from the Mexicans who had lived here for a hundred years.  
  •  NARRATOR: Those Mexicans were the vaqueros, Spanish for “cow people,” or as we call them today, cowboys. They knew how to deal with the hot-tempered, longhorn bulls, and their knowledge and tools were quickly adapted by Anglos. The Western saddle design is based on the Mexican saddle with its horn for tying off a lasso, an essential tool for the vaquero.  
  •  Anglos were also quick to adopt the vaquero’s chaps, leg guards for protection against needle-sharp mesquite brush and cows.  
  •  CRIMM-CASTILLO: Mifflin Kenedy had married a Mexican woman, Petra Vela de Vidal, and Petra Vela was well-connected, so she was able to provide him with the connections that he needed, the people that he needed to get to know: the quinendalldos, the ranch hands that lived on the ranch and were taken care of by the patrona Petra Vela and by the patron Mifflin Kenedy. He learned to be the patriarch for the ranchers because this is their land, and they have that love for the land.  
  •  TIO KLEBERG (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): There was no question in my mind that without the skill and the passion and the love that these people showed for livestock and land, ranching as we know it today, would not exist in south Texas. 
  •  BETTY COLLEY: The American tradition of cowboy that we see in movies, Gene Autry and [Roy] Rogers, all of those stories are based on the real, true cowboy, which is a vaquero. 
  •  NARRATOR: They had names like Morales, Cuellar, Hernandez, and Gonzales, among others. For most of the nineteenth century, they had lived in one-room houses, or jacals, made of mesquite timbers, filled in with mud daub, and roofed over with bundled grass thatch.  
  •  After the Civil War, they helped teach returning veterans and former slaves how to become cowboys, too, as they drove herds of cattle up the Chisholm Trail. Drives would last for weeks until the herds reached railheads in Kansas and later, Fort Worth. Eventually, rail lines would reach all the way to south Texas making the cattle drive obsolete.  
  •  Otherwise, ranch work remained the same. Each day would start before sun up and often end after sun down both for the men and the women. And for the kids, play time meant pretending and practicing to become just like their parents, keepers of the vaquero tradition.  
  •  JANE MONDAY: It is a rite of passage. There is a great deal of pride among the community of the vaqueros to pass on the knowledge they have that it won’t be lost. The young boys—in what we call boy jobs. The start at a very early age. Their only goal in life was to become a full and true vaquero. 
  •  NARRATOR: Everything in their lives, todos insospidos, revolved around the care and wellbeing of the animals. In occasion, young girls would learn to be vaqueras, cowgirls; tagging, vaccinating, and other chores, but it was mainly muchachos jovenes, young boys, who would dream of some day riding like their fathers. And when they were old enough, by nine or ten, they would join the vaqueros in La Corrita, the cow camp.  
  •  KLEBERG (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): The young boys would start off taking care of the horses. They would move them from one location to the next. Once they’d developed that skill, they they’d come to the roundup, and they’d sit at the back of the roundup and eat the dust all day, and as they developed the horse skills and the working knowledge, then they moved up to the front edge.  
  •  NARRATOR: The tradition continues today, passing from father to son; from Jesse Salinez to his son, John Andrews.  
  •  JOHN ANDREWS: My dad always chase the bulls, and I’m afraid that he might get hit by a bull.  
  •  JESSE SALINEZ: Yeah, it’s real dangerous. If you don’t know how to rope, man, you got to be real careful. You can cut off a finger, you can catch the leg of a horse, you can fall real easy and break a leg. If you’re running real hard after a bull and there’s a hole in front of you and a horse hits that hole, you’re going to flip over that horse easy and probably break a neck or something.  
  •  NARRATOR: The sons of the vaqueros learn early to respect and avoid the dangers of their father’s profession by spending their school vacation watching and helping in the cow patch.  
  •  OLGA SERNA: And they had a crew of all kids during the summer—15, 20 kidsand they were all proud kids to be working for the Corrita. 
  •  NARRATOR: Olga Serna’s husband, Endamario Serna, was a quinendalldo and a ranch foreman to his death in 1997. As a young boy, he, too, had worked hard to earn a job on the ranch, and in the process, earned a nickname.  
  •  SERNA: Actually, everybody called him "teckle." He got that name when he was around five years old. He would get on top of a calf and let him go, and he would stick to that calf, and they always would call him teckles. Ticks are usually in the mountains in Mexico where they have patches of whatever, and they call it teckle, and so that’s how he got his name, teckle.  
  •  CRIMM-CASTILLO: He started in—in the old days when you rounded up by horse, you rounded up in the pasture, you were gone for weeks at a time. He’ll even tell us the story of going down to Rio Grande and bringing wild Mexican longhorns up and how that was done. 
  •  SERNA: He was just a cowboy through and through. They worked hard. They left the house at four o’clock in the mornings, and sometimes they didn’t come back until very late in the evening.  
  •  KLEBERG: You typically leave four-thirty, five in the morning because it was cool and get to where you were going to be by daylight or seven o’clock, anyway, and gather cattle all day, or maybe two or three days, to get enough cattle to make a roundup. And then it’d take you two or three days to work the cattle, so you’re now from Sunday to Sunday. There wasn’t a work week. If you started, and you work until it’s finished.  
  •  NARRATOR: Even as late as the 1920s, the quinenalldos would camp out under the stars without even a tent, just their sleeping bags. Work camps moved to where the work was.  
  •  These days, workers commute from their homes in pickup trucks and return home long before dark.  
  •  Meals are still prepared twice a day by el cocinero del campo, the camp cook. The menu, basically unchanged in over a century: pan, las frijoles, y carne de vaca, bread, beans, and beef served up hot and tasty.  
  •  KLEBERG (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): The most important job was the cook. He was responsible to make sure the chuckwagon got to where the cow pit was going to be at lunch, and typically, they prepared breakfast four-thirty in the morning.  
  •  NARRATOR: After breakfast, the vaqueros would get their work assignments from men like Teco Serna. He was a caporal.  
  •  KLEBERG: The caporal was the captain. He was the quarterback. He was the one that told—or gave the daily orders on where they were going to work, what they were going to do for the day. 
  •  NARRATOR: If the crews had to split up, the number-two man, the segundo, would take one group, and the caporal, the other. Of course, they would need horses to go anywhere, and the job of making sure the horses were ready to go fell to the rey modero, generally considered the second-most-important job on the ranch.  
  •  But there was more to vaquero life than work. Fiestas marked special occasions celebrating weddings, Christenings, and anniversaries, most especially, a fiftieth wedding anniversary. Major fiestas centered around religious holidays and were held in churches, but for the rest of the year, religion in the vaqueros home was the province of wives and mothers.  
  •  COLLEY: The women took care of the religion mostly, and many of those women had altars in their homes. They would teach the children the religious heritage and they would say the rosary and they would say all of these lessons that they were to learn, these children. But when the men are gone, she also becomes the doctor, the nurse, the disciplinarian, everything.  
  •  NARRATOR: Now thanks to improved ranching practices and technology, husbands and fathers can be home almost every night and in plenty of time to help with raising a family. Men like Teco Serna.  
  •  SERNA: I’m proud of what he did because he worked so hard to be with his kids. The minute he got home, he was ready to go work with his kids at the school. 
  •  NARRATOR: Today, his sons, Louis and Felix, are themselves, vaqueros, joining the ranks of those who proudly worked alongside their father. Vaqueros like Jose Salazar. 
  •  JOSE SALAZAR (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): I’ve been working here most of my life. The corals are older than I am. 
  •  JUAN GUEVARA (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): I’ve known Jose for a long time. We used to drive up the cattle from the coast up towards this main ranch headquarters here and load them up on the train.  
  •  SERNA: He’s a very proud person, and he doesn’t want anybody to say he’s a weakling. Even though he’s old, and sometimes it’s hard for him to walk, but he has never given up, and if he gives up, he’s going to die.  
  •  NARRATOR: Many vaqueros who rode with Jose Salazar and Teco Serna and others before them are buried in Campos Santos, the Cowboy Cemetery, located on the grounds of La Parra, the old Kenedy ranch house and headquarters.  
  •  SERNA: Josemaria Gutiérrez, he was a cook. He’s dead. [Inaudible] He was a cowboy. He’s dead. Jose Guevara, he’s dead. Oh, God, there’s so many.  
  •  NARRATOR: There’s is a roll call of pride, and accomplishment in building the successes of ranching in south Texas and throughout the west.  
  •  PAOLINO SILGUERO (speaking in Spanish, translated to English): Back in the old days, it would be on horseback, and whether it be rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we had to be out there working. Today, now they use airplanes, helicopters to work cattle.  
  •  NARRATOR: So roundups that used to take weeks, now take only a few hours, but the work of the vaquero remains pretty much the same as it has for a century. There is no way to replace the human being in the saddle or in the pins or working with the animals, because with technology, there may be fewer jobs, but there’ll always be a need for the skills and dedication of the vaquero. Always a need for another generation willing to learn how to become a cowboy. 
  •  CRIMM-CASTILLO: All of these things were taught by the father knowing that the son was going to take over in his place.  
  •  SALINEZ: Just generations, generations. Like, my son will—he’s going to start a new generation after we get old. People will say, “You’re a cowboy? Wow! You really rode bulls? You really do this? You really do that?” Yeah, we do that. 
 
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This short documentary profiles the lives and traditions of the vaqueros, the Mexican-American cowboys who ranch cattle in South Texas. The film describes the history of the vaqueros from Mexico that gave Texas settlers the knowledge and tools to raise cattle in the region, then details life in the corrida - the work, the traditions, and the vaquero heritage that is passed down through generations. The Kenedy La Parra Ranch and the King Ranch are discussed by authors, professors, and King Ranch heir Tio Kleberg. Interviews with working vaqueros are also included. Transcribed by Adept Word Management™, Inc.
Stephen J. "Tio" Kleberg is a former owner of the King Ranch, located in South Texas.  Born and raised on the property, he lived as a cowboy riding horseback, roping cattle, and working the land.  He took ownership of the ranch, one of the largest in the world, in 1977 at the age of 31.  The King Ranch had been run by a family member since its foundation in 1953 until the 1980s when it was decided to bring in others to lead the ranch.  Jack Hunt, a Harvard graduate, came in as president while Tio continued to run the farming and ranching divisions.  Kleberg’s directness and no-nonsense attitude created tension between the two, which eventually resulted in Hunt asking for Tio’s resignation after disagreeing on a potential replacement to head farming.  Tio did join the Board of Directors some time afterward but took a hands-off approach to managing the ranch he ran for so long.  He was the last family member to live on the ranch’s property.