Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The First Cowboys

 Don't we love our cowboys? But from where did they originate? Who were the first cowboys? In my recent release ALL MY HOPES AND DREAMS (Prairie Rose Publication), my hero is Ricardo Romero, son of a West Texas rancher on an original Spanish Land Grant. His mother is Felicitas Romero, half Comanche/half Spanish. Ricardo helps his parents run the huge expanse of land.
The ranch hands are Mexican vaqueros and Anglo cowboys.
One out of every three cowboys in the late 1800s was the Mexican vaquero. Their story really begins in the Southwest, two decades before the pilgrims landed in 1620 on Plymouth Rock, when adventurous criollos (Spanish-born Americans) and mestizos (mixed Spanish and Indian settlers) pushed past the Rio Grande River to take advantage of land grants in the kingdom of New Mexico, which included most of the western states-including Texas.
They were called caballeros, one of the highest stations you could have in life. The caballero was among the first cowboys in the U.S. Even the poor Mexican vaqueros were very proud and there were few things they couldn't do from a saddle.
Caballero is literally translated as "gentleman." The root of the word comes from caballo—Spanish for "horse."
 For every caballero there were perhaps dozens of independents—the true "drivers" of cattle: vaqueros. All of the skills, traditions, and ways of working with cattle are very much rooted in the Mexican vaquero. A cowboy in the U.S. today has developed what he knows from them.
Vaqueros were proverbial cowboys—rough, hard-working mestizos who were hired by the criollo caballeros to drive cattle between New Mexico and Mexico City, and later between Texas and Mexico City. The title, though denoting a separate social class, is similar to caballero, and is a mark of pride.
Vaquero is a transliteration of the words 'cow' and 'man.' Vaca means 'cow.' 
Interestingly enough, in Spanish they are called cowmen; in English, it was demoted to cowboys.
In 1821 Anglo settlers arrived in Texas and became the first English-speaking Mexican citizens in the territory. Led by Stephen F. Austin, they arrived in San Felipe de Austin, Texas, to take advantage of the vast expanse of cattle, free for the taking.
Millions of longhorn cattle in the brush country of Texas were loose, and had strayed and multiplied. All the new settlers had to do was round up the cattle.
The vaqueros had been doing this for 223 years, since 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate, one of the four richest men in New Spain (present-day Mexico) sent an expedition across the Rio Grande River into New Mexico.
Oñate spent over a million dollars funding the expedition, and brought some 7,000 animals to the present-day United States. It eventually paid off; the first gold to come from the West was not from the Gold Rush, but rather from its wool-bearing sheep and then its long-horned livestock.
Four centuries have passed since the vaqueros first roamed the plains of Texas and New Mexico. Many say that the culture is dead, or on the verge of dying—along with the cattle-driver culture in general. But is it disappearing? It is said that there will always be cowboys as long as there are cattle, because they all claim the most efficient way to work cattle is from horseback.
And the vaqueros? I think it will stay very much the same. Though there may be optimism about the preservation of the culture, there is pessimism about outside influences.
But they're very proud of who they are. They are very much interested in keeping their culture alive and viable.


In my 1880 Western Historical romance, All My Hopes and Dreams, the hero is Ricardo Romero, owner of a huge ranch—which was an original land grant from Spain—on the far western edge of the Texas frontier. He was born on the ranch, making him a citizen of the United States. He is proud of his ancestry through his Spanish father Rafael Romero, and his Comanche half-breed mother. The ranch is a self-sustaining community, such as the Mexican haciendas, or estates, with Ricardo and his father in command as the patrons. Many of the wranglers on his ranch are vaqueros.
To escape an arranged marriage, beautiful, proper Cynthia Harrington from East Texas impulsively marries Ricardo Romero, a striking, sensual Spaniard who ranches on the far western edge of the Texas frontier. Innocently, she steps into a hotbed of anger, rivalry, and strong wills. As she struggles to gain a foothold in the hostile household and foreign ranch community, she finds that her biggest challenge is to make her husband love her.
Ricardo creates his own problems by marrying an outsider, angering his mother, father, and his jealous ex-lady friend. Then, the Texas Rangers arrive looking for a killer, and Cynthia saves Ricardo’s mother in a confrontation with the wanted man. Ricardo realizes that his delicate bride has more grit and spunk than he thought, and his greatest trial becomes a race to pursue his own wife and persuade her to stay with him.
   “What are we going to do, Ricardo?” she asked matter-of-factly.
   He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “What exactly do you mean?”
   Cynthia hesitated a long while, as she looked toward the barn door, and down at her feet, and away to the other end of the barn. Finally, she spoke, very softly and very distinctly. “I don’t think I can live here, Ricardo. Nothing has been right since I arrived, and I don’t see it’ll get any better. Never in my life did I think I would walk into a situation such as this. Your mother hates and despises me so much, I can hardly describe it. Your father doesn’t believe what I say, certainly. And then, there’s Starr.”
   The mention of Starr’s name brought him to attention. “What do you mean? What are you implying?”
   “The truth? I realize you and she have been together far more than you or I have. However, what I’ve seen and overheard makes me truly believe that one day and perhaps soon, she’ll seduce you once more. And that, Ricardo, I will not stand for.”
   “You’re being ridiculous, now. You can get that out of your head, because that won’t happen. She understands the situation. That’s the truth.”
   “The truth. Then tell me the truth about this. Did you marry me so the ranches would not merge? Your mother said so. She told me to leave now, because you would never love me, and you would eventually turn to Starr.”
   “That’s a lie!” He pointed a long, slender finger in her face. “That’s a damn lie!”
   “Oh, so, now your mother is lying.”
   “All right, all right. I get your point. But it’s a lie that I would ever turn to Starr, and I certainly did not marry you so the ranches wouldn’t merge.”
   “I hope so. I sincerely hope so, but there’s more to it. She was conveniently here when we returned from town. So, when we came home and were told everything that had happened to your mother in our absence, who told us? Starr. We did not hear it from anyone else. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but Starr gave me a warning. Want to hear it?”
   “I guess. You’ve gone this far.”
   “You said that with suspicion in your voice. Did you realize it?”
   “No, I didn’t. Just tell me how she warned you.”
   “So you can say I’m lying?”
   Ricardo removed his hat with a dramatic sweep, and slapped it down on the side of his thigh.   
   “Damn, Cynthia! You’re making me crazy! Tell me!”
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/celiayeary
My Website
My Blog
Sweethearts of the West-Blog
My Facebook Page

Celia Yeary
Handbook of Texas On-line
Wikipedia Commons
Domain Free Photos


  1. Great post, Celia. I didn't know vaqueros dated so far back in the history of the southwest. Very interesting. Thank you also for explaining the difference between vaqueros and caballeros. Love the excerpt from your new book!

  2. Hi Celia, what a terrific and informative post... Definitely one to bookmark and come back to! I had no idea the origins of cowboy culture predates the Pilgrims! Best wishes for much success with your new book--great excerpt!

    1. Tanya..I don't think many novels revolve around a ranch that was an original Spanish Land Grant, but I'm glad the information provided me with great fact to help with the plot of this book. It was fun and interesting. Thanks!

  3. There was so much in this history that I didn't know. The vaqueros certainly seem exotic and romantic to a southeastern person like me. I got the word "proud" in your article and it seemed to be very important to these cattlemen to keep their heritage and pride even if their job was hard and dirty.
    I really liked this excerpt. It shows what a backbone Cynthia has and how straight forward she is. I love a heroine with that kind of strength. And Ricardo? Well, he's totally sexy in my book. Of course I have this book. I always get your books right away whether I have time to read them right then or not because your stories are always worth waiting for.

    1. Sarah--this is what I liked about learning the facts about the vaqueros, etc.,and that is they were all proud of whatever heritage or position they held. Each one worked and lived within their realm.
      Cynthia? She first appeared in Texas Blue and was a haughty demanding young woman...but she was playing out the role her father had set for her. Later in Texas Blue, she "saw the light" and helped her nemesis get what she wanted...which was the man Cynthia wanted. I first had to soften her, then make her strong instead of haughty. P.S. You can do anything with your characters!

  4. Thank you, Lyn, for your comment. Me? I didn't know either until I began reading and researching.

  5. I loved your excerpt, Celia. It sounds like a very passionate story. I had no idea cowboys, maybe called by different names, have been around for such a long time. This was a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It is a passionate story--from beginning to end. Thanks for recognizing that.

  6. Celia, I already have your book and am eager to read it but have been doing research for a Medieval, but it's next in line and I can't wait much longer. Especially after reading that excerpt. Oh baby. Got to know what she has to tell him. And I thank you as everyone else has for the very interesting and informative background of the cowmen and cowboys. Had no idea they went back to Pilgrim days. So much to learn and here we thought we knew so much. I love delving into past information such as you gave us. I too will go back to this post for a refresher. Great post.

  7. Bev--I'm always a bit overwhelmed when researching anything for the Nineteenth Century back. There seems to be an endless amount. Medieval? Now that is one I'd drown in--way over my head. Good luck with your research!

  8. Educational post, Celia. I enjoyed the photos too.

    1. Thanks...you might have noticed it is a "re-run". I got so bogged down..the time got away from me. However, it worked out well because it fit my book.

  9. Celia, I always enjoy your posts, and this one is exceptional. You should've been a teacher! ;-)

    All My Hopes and Dreams is a fantastic read, and your research certainly shows. Continued success to you, dear lady.

    1. Ha-ha. "Teacher" must be tattooed across my forehead. Everyone I meet new asks, Were you a teacher? See. When I say yes, the ask, "Elementary?" Uh, no. There's something about me that makes people think I could not teach teenagers. Whaaaaat???


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!