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Vaquero, the working cowhand of Mexico, who began his career on frontier missions during the colonial period. Priests used Indian novices to tend the herds of livestock that populated many mission outposts. These vaqueros became excellent riders and ropers who skillfully made much of their own equipment. Idigenous and mestizo vaqueros modified Spanish equipment and riding techniques according to the needs imposed by their local conditions. Vaqueros in Baja California, for example, made extensive use of leather clothing to protect themselves from cacti and other thorny plants. In 1832, vaqueros sailed from Spanish California to Hawaii to train Hawaiians in cattle herding. The Hawaiian cowboy is called paniolo (from español).

During the nineteenth century, the expansion of the United States into the Southwest led to the Mexican War of 1846, after which some vaqueros went to work on Anglo-American ranches. They taught Anglo cowboys how to handle wild cattle and braid lariats, and imparted much of their folklore and ranching savvy. Vaqueros today, like old-time cowboys, are a vanishing breed.

See alsoCharro .


David Dary, Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries (1981).

Richard W. Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Garduño, Everardo. La frontera interpretada: Procesos culturales en la frontera noroeste de México. Mexicali, Mexico: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Centro de Investigaciones Culturales-Museo, 2005.

Wittliff, William D. Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

                                        Richard W. Slatta

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