Vaqueros, Buckaroos and Cowboys

The Orange Slipknot
By Jan Young
Illustrated by Pat Lehmkuhl
Middle grade novel


Raven Publishing

Cattle ranching in Nevada would be impossible without buckaroos. In Nevada, many cowboys today prefer to call themselves "buckaroos." In the 1800's, cowboys were called by the Spanish term vaquero, meaning "cow-worker" (vaca = cow). Over time, vaquero was Americanized, pronouncing the "v" as "b"--first "buh-KER-o," then later "buh-ka-ROO." The term "cowboy" didn't become popular until the early 1900's. In the Great Basin, it refers more to Texans or Montanans, but is used somewhat interchangeably with "buckaroo."

The Spanish conquistadors brought cattle, horses and the Spanish traditions of horsemanship to Mexico. The Spanish padres who traveled from Mexico to California to establish missions were skilled horsemen and brought cattle with them. They taught their workers to ride horses and care for their cattle. When California cattlemen headed for Nevada, the vaqueros followed. The traditions of the vaqueros are still practiced in much of the Great Basin.

On the West's vast ranches, vaqueros spent all day in the saddle. They drove, gathered and branded thousands of head of cattle. Vaqueros were known for their ability to work skillfully with both horses and cattle. Today, vaquero is a term used with pride, but in Mexico it was a lowly occupation. Vaqueros were often Indians and half-breeds. Following the Civil War, many newly-freed blacks came West in search of opportunities, and learned the skills of the vaqueros.

Buckaroos are known for their skill in roping cattle and for their hand-crafted equipment. Many make their own saddles, braided rawhide reins, bosals, riatas, and headstalls, often decorated with silver. The buckaroo-style saddle is called an "A-fork" or "slick fork," with a narrow fork of Spanish design. Until recently, buckaroos trailed a "cavvy" of maybe 30 extra horses out to cow camp, where they would camp for weeks or months. The chuck wagon carried their food supplies. Today's buckaroos use stock trailers to get to cow camp.

The California influence is seen in the spurs and wide-brimmed hats. Boots are a necessary protection, but pant legs are not tucked in like Texas cowboys do. Several types of chaps include chinks (knee length), shotguns (full-length), and armitas (with short fringed apron). Whereas early buckaroos roped with a riata of braided rawhide, today's buckaroos also swing ropes of nylon and polypropylene. 60-70 foot ropes allow cattle to be handled softly and quietly without running, chasing, or jerking (compared to 35 foot ropes used by team ropers).

The name buckaroo is a source of pride for the Great Basin cowboy, just as his saddle, hat and equipment reflect his sense of identity. He would rather be horseback than anywhere else. He is above all a horseman.




Jack holding

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