ITC is on Amazon Smile

With the holiday season on its way, and Cyber Monday just around the corner, we have some great news! The Institute of Texan Cultures has recently partnered with Amazon Smile, one of’s charitable giving programs. By selecting the “University of Texas Foundation” as your charitable beneficiary, the Institute of Texan Cultures can earn 0.5% of your purchase price to use towards funding our great programs and exhibits. This program doesn’t cost you, the Amazon customer anything, and helps to support great community organizations like the ITC.

amazon smile logo

Click here to learn more!.

Object: Bleeding Cup

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Bleeding Cup
Date: 1820-1900
Material: Glass

The average human adult contains about 10 pints of blood. Loss of blood due to an injury, car accident, surgery or any other reason can lead to shock, or worse, death. Which is why blood donors are always needed.  However, throughout history bloodletting, a type of procedure in which blood is removed from the body, was said to benefit one’s health. The object pictured above is a bleeding cup used from around 1820-1900. The cup is made out of clear blown glass. Bleeding cups were one of many tools used during the practice of bloodletting.


Slide via: Hatam A. Shomilie , Medical Science at University of Sharjah

Removing blood from the body, or bloodletting, can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. It was believed that the body contained four humors. The humors consisted of blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile and they needed to be balanced or else a person would fall ill. At this time it was also believed that blood did not circulate, but stayed in one place. As a result when a person got ill the remedy would be to remove the excess blood. Bloodletting was prescribed as a remedy to things like fever, back pain, headaches, acne, and even bone fractures.

Getting bled was common and many people chose the practice because it was thought to be preventative medicine. Some of the tools used for bloodletting included were scarificators, syringes, spring loaded lancets, leeches, and a glass cup. The cup would be heated and placed over the skin. As the air inside the cup cools it creates a vacuum and causes a blood filled blister. An object called a scarificator would be used and the cup would be used again to collect the blood. Bloodletting using a bleeding cup is also called cupping. Cupping can also be done without removing blood and is said to help blood flow and treat pain. There are different kinds of cupping therapy and certain cultures still practice it today to treat and prevent disease. However, cupping therapy has not been proven effective by scientific research studies.

The following video discusses some of the tools used for bloodletting.


Photo via:, Wikimedia Commons

During the Middle Ages bloodletting was performed by barbers rather than doctors. The barbers became known as barber surgeons and would perform surgery on people. The barber surgeons would not only cut hair but also perform minor surgeries,  bloodletting, enemas and tooth extraction. Customers could easily find barber surgeons by looking for the red, white, and blue pole outside the shop. Some of these barber poles can still be seen today and it is said that the colors represent the blood, bandages, and veins during bloodletting.

Bloodletting was practiced in different parts of the world in including the United States. George Washington was a firm believer in bloodletting, an may have even died due to excessive bloodletting. After getting sick from being out in the rain and snow, Washington complained of a sore throat and could not swallow. When doctors were called he was bled of 3.75 liters of blood in 9-10 hours. Although, he did feel better for a short while he did not make it and passed away. Whether bloodletting played a role in his death is often debated.

Today removing blood from the human body is called phlebotomy and it is only done for diagnostic purposes or when donating blood. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Sources:

Brain, Peter, and Galen. 1986. Galen on bloodletting: a study of the origins, development, and validity of his opinions, with a translation of the three works. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, Audrey B., and Toby A. Appel. 1979. Bloodletting instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Garrison, Fielding H. 1916. The history of bloodletting.

McCann, Henry. 2014. Pricking the vessels: bloodletting therapy in Chinese medicine.

Stern, Heinrich. 1915. Theory and practice of bloodletting. New York: Rebman Company.

Photo Quiz

The answer to last months quiz is…Cod Liver Oil!

cod liver oil

Can you guess where this ensemble comes from?

I-0226c_e_g front

We’ll post the answer on December 17th. Good luck!

Object: Dulcimer

I-0417a (3)

Cimbalom (Hungarian Dulcimer)
Date unknown
Materials: Wood, metal, wire

Music has always been important and a great influence to all of the cultures around the world. Many of these cultures have influenced the people and culture of Texas, including those who immigrated from Hungary. Music and the arts are a large part of the culture in Hungary. They have musical entertainment all year round including symphonies, ballets, chamber orchestras, operas, etc.


Modern map of Hungary. Image from Wikimedia commons.

One of the musical instruments we have in the Institute of Texan Cultures collection is a cimbalom. This is a Hungarian Dulcimer which is a flat table-shaped instrument that sits horizontally, similar to as a piano would. There is a Cimbalom Association that seeks to popularize the cimbalom and similar instruments all around the world. It is played by using two mallets to strike the strings which are stretched out over the top of the instrument. The mallets can be made of metal, leather, or other materials depending on the desired sound. It is the national musical instrument of Hungary and has a long history there since around the 6th Century.

It is believed that the Roma were the first to widely use the cimbalom. The Roma/Romani have a long history in Hungary and one of the ways that they gained position and standing in their communities was through their music. The Hungarian Romani are the largest minority in Hungary. They arrived in Hungary after fleeing the Turks and Balkans in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

The Roma began immigrating to the United States in the 1800’s, some as forced deportees from Europe, while others immigrated voluntarily along with the larger wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. There are groups of Roma in Texas and they host several festivals throughout the year. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Here are a couple of videos of a cimbalom being played:

Additional Resources:
Frucht, Richard. 2005. Eastern Europe: an introduction to the people, land and culture. Santa Barbara Calif: ABC-Clio. 

Grandchamp, A. (1957) Hungarian refugee group settles in texas. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from

Lendvai, Paul. 2003. The Hungarians: a thousand years of victory in defeat. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Lukacs, John. 1988. Budapest 1900: a historical portrait of a city and its culture. New York: Weindenfeld & Nicolson.

Simon, A. (1999). Made in Hungary: Hungarian contributions to universal culture. Safety Harbor: Simon Publications.

Sisa, Stephen. The Spirit of Hungary: A Panorama of Hungarian History and Culture, 2nd ed. Long Branch, NJ: Vista Publishing, 1991.

Museum FAQ: Object research


Photo via: Teo Sze Lee, Henderson Secondary School Family Day 2007, Wikimedia Commons

People visit museums to learn more about topics that interest them. Museums showcase a wide range of rare, and unique items from all over the world. Museum collections staff are specially trained in how to preserve and protect these items so that future generations of visitors can enjoy the same experience. They also typically have an academic background that is closely related to the topics featured in their museum, so they can be great resources when you have an item you’d like to learn more about. Here at the Institute of Texan Cultures we frequently get questions from our guests looking for more information about objects that they have discovered. Sometimes when  the story of “what is that?” gets lost, and museums can help.

One of the questions that I often get asked, when people find out where I work, is: “How do you know if the objects are real?” By which, I assume, people want to know how museums do object research to know things like…when was it made…who made it…what was it used for…where did it come from. This type of research can be time consuming, but is definitely something that most people (even non-museum experts) can learn to do. In fact, it can be one of the most exciting parts of acquiring a new collections object.

So, what are the basic steps in researching an object?

Investigation: First, I spend some time talking to the person who brought me the object, to see what they might already know about it. Like a detective, I’m looking for clues about what it might be and where it came from. Sometimes, the person knows parts of the story already and I just need to find the evidence to either confirm or disprove what they already know. Other times, the person bringing the object may have information that can be useful but not even realize it. It is important to know where the item was found, and any previous owners, as these can sometimes be the clues you need to point you in the right direction.

Examination & Documentation: Next, I like to thoroughly examine the item. Are there any makers marks or writing on it? What types of materials is it made of? How big is it? How is it put together? During this step it is important to document any clues that I find. Taking photos and notes will help you refer back to these clues later.

Research: Depending on the type of object, and what you’re wanting to know, some museums may be able to tell you immediately about your item after just these first steps. However, some objects and inquiries need a little more thought and research, even for someone with a museum background. Museum professionals will then use a variety of written and online resources, along with consultations with subject matter experts, to help discover more about your object. However, even a non-expert can sometimes turn up a wealth of information, just through some basic internet searches and a little patience.

DSC_0002Researching your own object

Just like the professionals, start by investigating your item’s history and examining it for clues. These steps should give you some basic information to start your search with. Begin by searching for any names that you discovered. Today there are a number of genealogy and public records focused websites that can help you to find: obituaries, probate records, census records, military service records, newspaper articles and other documents related to these names. Business names, patent numbers, and makers marks can also be searched on the internet with great success, and foreign language inscriptions can be roughly translated using a number of free internet based translation tools. The results of these types of searches can often help tell you where your item came from, and when it was made.

If your investigation and examination did not turn up any names or marks, try to learn more general information about the type of object you have. For instance, if you are researching a wooden trunk, you can use the internet to find out what type of trunks there are. Were certain shapes manufactured, or more popular, in certain areas or at certain times? Sometimes you will discover that your item belongs to a recognizable type, that can be dated or linked to a specific company or maker. At this stage, it is also helpful to use the internet for image searches. These can help you find other similar items, that might have already been identified by someone else.

Hopefully, after these steps you will have discovered what type of item you have, where it was likely made, and roughly how old it is. To find more specific details you can sometimes find collectors guides or books written about your specific type of item. These resources can help you compare how your item is constructed and what it is made of with other similar items, to give you more information about your piece.

If you still weren’t able to find any information about your object, please feel free to seek expert help. Museums are often willing to do some identification research for our visitors, even when they aren’t interested in donating the item. However, do remember that museums are not able to provide any appraisal information. University departments are also sometimes willing to help research objects, and (for a fee) you can contact an appraiser to find out more about your item. [Kathryn S. McCloud]


Have you ever researched a family heirloom? What did you discover?

Object: Book

United States
United States
Paper, Ink, Metal

This book is entitled “A Pocket Guide to Vietnam,” and was written in 1966 for the United States Military forces that served in Vietnam. As the title suggests this book is about Vietnam and the culture of the people who live there. The United States Department of Defense published this guide to help soldiers going to Vietnam to better understand the people and politics of the country. The book contains sections on the geography/climate of Vietnam; as well as a short history of the country and region. Their is also a section on the government and political situation during that time period. There are also some helpful directions on how to navigate while in the cities and countryside, their monetary system and some other useful hints. There is also a great deal of information about Vietnamese culture. There are sections that discuss their social structures and social customs. There are explanations of important customs and religious practices and holidays/festivals. Vietnamese clothing style is also discussed, along with food practices and normal dishes that would be served at the different meals. These sections are typical of what you would find in most travel guide books for a country, however there are other sections that really make this stand out as a military resource.

uniform guides

These are the diagrams on the Vietnamese rank for Army, Navy, and Air Force.

There is a section of “Do’s and Don’ts” for the soldiers while they are in the country, such as “Do appreciate what the South Vietnamese have endured; Don’t give the impression the U.S, is running the war.” There are diagrams that show how to identify the ranks of Vietnamese servicemen in the Vietnamese Army, Navy, and Air Force. There is a list of specific rules for the military forces while they are in Vietnam, such as “Always give the Vietnamese the right of way,” and “Don’t attract attention by loud, rude, or unusual behavior.” There is a section about the legal status of United States soldiers while serving in Vietnam. The language used throughout the guide and the way it is written is what you would find in other military documents.

The United States military was present in Vietnam to assist South Vietnam in the war against North Vietnam. This conflict was known as the Vietnam War, and lasted from 1955 until 1975. The United States’ goal was to prevent North Vietnam from gaining control of the South and creating a unified communist state. The United States eventually withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, and in 1975 South Vietnam fell to the North in what is now known as The Fall of Saigon.


Vietnam. Image Credit: OCHA

Vietnam is part of Indochina, which is in Southeast Asia and is bordered on the western side by China, Laos, and Cambodia and on the eastern side by the Gulf of Thailand and the Gulf of Tonkin. Vietnam was once part of Imperial China, but gained its independence in the 10th century. Vietnam had several successful royal dynasties that ruled and they spread politically and geographically until the French took control of Indochina in the mid 19th century. The French were pushed out on Vietnam in 1954, but the country split into two, forming North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The country was unified in 1975 and is now officially called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

With the Vietnam War and the social unrest that took place in Vietnam afterwards, their was an influx of Vietnamese immigration into the United States and many came to Texas. Most of these people were businessmen and well-educated who fled because of the new communist government. Those Vietnamese who made Texas their home settled in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Austin, and along coastal cities. The coastal cities in Texas were similar in climate, geography and employment (fishing) to the towns and cities they had come from. There were several waves of Vietnamese immigration into Texas, with the first wave was primarily made up of educated professionals, later waves were of predominately blue collar workers. Houston was a major hub for Vietnamese immigrants due to its growing economy and location near the ocean. Also the climate was very similar to that of Vietnam so it was an easier adjustment for many. Today Vietnamese culture is seen in many parts of Texas. [Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Corfield, Justin J. 2008. The history of Vietnam. Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press.

Karnow, Stanley. 1983. Vietnam, a history. New York: Viking Press.

Mai, Son Hoang. 2003. Riding the waves: the Vietnamese immigration experience to Texas. Thesis (M.A.)–Stephen F. Austin State University, 2003.

Pribbenow, Merle L. 2002. Victory in Vietnam: the official history of the people’s army of Vietnam, 1954-1975. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas.

Object: Quilt

I-0384a (6)

San Antonio Quilt Guild
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Cloth, thread, batting

FIC2012_23 (2)The first Texas Folklife Festival was held at the Institute of Texan Cultures in September of 1972. The event was modeled after the Smithsonian Folklife Festival,  held in Washington, D.C. In 2015, the Texas Folklife Festival, will be celebrating 43 years of cultural celebration in Texas! Each year more than 40 different cultural groups from around Texas come together to celebrate their culture and heritage through food, dancing, crafts and music. To commemorate the festival’s success, the Texas Folklife Festival periodically issues a commemorative poster for the event. Artist’s from around the state submit their designs for the poster and an image is chosen by the Institute of Texan Culture’s Director and staff to represent the festival that year. In 1983, the design selected was by San Antonio artist and illustrator, Chris Moroney. The painting showed a beautiful and elaborate star quilt, with a border of national flags representing the many cultures featured at the festival and in the Institute’s many exhibits.

This quilt, now a part of the permanent collection at ITC, was made to replicate the poster. After the image was chosen for the poster, the artist contacted the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild, with the idea of converting his image into an actual quilt. The quilters and staff at the ITC were so excited by the idea they decided to turn the making of the quilt into a Folklife Festival event in itself. The broken star pattern that forms the center of the quilt was set up in a quilting frame on the festival grounds and visitors were encouraged to help with the quilting. Members of the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild were on hand to assist the visitors with the design, and demonstrate how to quilt. By all accounts, quilting the TFF quilt was a hugely popular activity at the festival, though the guests weren’t able to completely finish the quilt by the end of the event. Luckily the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild members were able to complete the quilting and add the flag border, in time for the finished quilt to be displayed at the 1984 Texas Folklife Festival. This quilt has been on display at the ITC many times since, and can be seen today on the exhibit floor, hanging outside the Texas Art Quilts and Modern Masterpieces exhibit.

Below is a short video showing some of the other great crafts that have been demonstrated over the years at the Texas Folklife Festival. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

 Additional Resources:

Bresenhan, Karey, and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes. Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Martin, Judy. Shining Star Quilts: Lone Star Variations with Sunbursts, Broken Stars, Blazing Stars, and More. Wheatridge, Colo: Moon Over the Mountain Pub. Co, 1987.

Texas Folklife Festival. Tenth Texas Folklife Festival. [San Antonio, Tex.]: [The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio], 1981.

Texas Heritage Quilt Society. Texas Quilts: Texas Treasures. Paducah, KY: American Quilter’s Society, 1986.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. Gone to Texas: The Immigration of Cultures. San Antonio, Tex: Institute of Texan Cultures, 2003.

Yabsley, Suzanne. Texas Quilts, Texas Women. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1984.

Sneak Peek

The Exhibits and Collections staff here at ITC is keeping busy this week installing the fifth annual Distinguished Artist Veterans art show. This exhibit is coordinated by VSA Texas, the state organization on arts and disability, and includes a wide array of artworks made by disabled American veterans from Texas. The show officially opens on November 6th, but you can get a sneak peek of what’s in store below.

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Object: Trick or Treat Bag

United States
Materials: Wax Paper, Ink

Halloween is this Friday, which means it will be a night of costumes and, of course, Trick or Treating. Trick or Treating is an integral part of Halloween celebrations for most children in the United States. For most Texans today, Trick or Treating is a normal tradition for anyone born during the 1940’s and after. Even though it has been going on for some time, the practice as we know it is less than 100 years old. Today’s version of Trick or Treating developed during the early part of the 20th century as a way to keep youths from playing tricks and vandalizing different parts of the city. Children and older youths were encouraged to dress up in costumes and go to the different houses in the neighborhood to receive candy or other goodies.

Trick or Treating may have some origins in a tradition associated with the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day. In England there were special cakes made for the souls which were called “soul cakes” and people would go “a’ soulin” for these cakes. It was usually the poor who went to wealthier homes to collect these “soul cakes,” which they would be given as long as they agreed to pray for family’s dead relatives.


Pumpkins carved with different designs. Image from Simply Art Studios.

Besides Trick or Treating, there are other traditions that take place around Halloween. Carved pumpkins, or jack-o’-lanterns, are a popular holiday decoration. Many families in Texas will go to a pumpkin patch and select a pumpkin or two for carving. The pumpkin is carved to resemble a ghoulish face or other holiday inspired image. In recent years people have also started carving designs based off their favorite cartoon or movie characters. To carve a pumpkin, the top is cut off and then the insides are scooped out. Once everything is cleaned out then the design is drawn on the the outside of the pumpkin. Knives or special carving tools are used to cut out the sketched design. Once the design is complete a candle or other light source is placed inside and the top is placed back on. The light shines through the cutout of the carving and there you have a jack-o-lantern.


A traditional Irish jack-o-lantern that has been carved from a turnip. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

This tradition has its origins in Ireland, but instead of pumpkins, which were not grown there, turnips were used. The tradition is based on the old tale of Stingy Jack who was able to trick and trap the Devil twice. Jack would only release the Devil if he promised not to collect Jack’s soul when he died. The Devil agreed and was set free, but when Jack died he was not allowed into Heaven and he was barred from Hell because the Devil had promised not to collect his soul. The Devil cast Jack into the darkness with an ember from hell that would never go out. So Jack carved a turnip and placed the ember inside and became known as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern. People started carving turnips and creating jack-o’-lanterns so they could see on All Hallows Eve night. When the tradition came to America it was found that pumpkins were easier to carve and so the switch was made from turnip to pumpkin.

This Friday while everyone celebrates in their own way, please remember to be safe and watch for the children while they are out and about Trick or Treating! From the Collections staff here at the ITC, have a fun and safe holiday! (Jennifer McPhail)

Additional Resources:
Barth, Edna, and Ursula Arndt. 1972. Witches, pumpkins, and grinning ghosts; the story of Halloween symbols. New York: Seabury Press.

Morton, Lisa. 2012. Trick or treat : a history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books.

Rogers, Nicholas. 2002. Halloween: from pagan ritual to party night. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Santino, Jack. 1994. All around the year: holidays and celebrations in American life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Santino, Jack. 1994. Halloween and other festivals of death and life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.


Object: Doll

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European or Latin American
20th century
Materials: Cloth, metal & plastic

This doll shows a bullfighter, leaning out of the way of a charging bull. Originally introduced to the Americas by the Spanish, bullfighting has long been a popular sport throughout Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico and Latin America. There are many different styles of bullfighting performed in different areas of the world, not all of which include injuring the bull. However, in most traditional bullfights seen in Spain and Mexico the death of the bull is the climax of the event. In these traditional events professional bullfighters, called matadores or toreros, perform a variety of death-defying moves to encourage the bull to charge at them. Depending on where the fight is taking place, and the stage of the fight, there could be a number of fighters in the ring with the bull. The fighters use a number of items in the fight. The doll above demonstrates how two of these items were used. In this example, the fighter is using a piece of red cloth, called a muleta or capote, to encourage the bull to charge. As the bull charges past the fighter, he attempts to a jab colorful lance, or pica, into the bull’s neck.. The metal tips of the lances are sharpened to form small hooks that catch in the bull’s flesh and remain sticking out of his neck throughout the fight. The repeated charges, small injuries from the picas, and the resulting blood loss, slowly exhaust the bull. At the end of the fight, the fighter’s goal is to kill the bull with a single, perfectly placed, sword between his shoulder blades and into his heart.


Image from

Bullfights are often the main attraction at larger events including a number of other shows and activities. Thousands of bullfighting events occur annually around the world. Despite their popularity, bullfighting is now seen by many to be cruel and inhumane. Bullfighting is now banned from National Spanish Television, a number of areas in Europe, and there are a number of movements working to expand these bans worldwide. The following link will connect you to a National Geographic video with more information on the bullfighting tradition in Mexico. Viewer discretion is advised however as this video includes footage of actual bullfights.

While bullfighting is illegal in the United States, there are other sporting events that use bulls such as the charreada, which is an event similar to today’s modern rodeo. The charreada developed when area ranch hands would compete to see who was better at various animal husbandry skills. The charreada incorporates equestrian (horse) competitions and demonstrations, special costumes for the horse and riders, music, and food. Several competitions take place during the charreada, including a bull riding event called, Jineteo de Toro. The bulls used for the Jineteo de Toro are smaller than those used by Professional Bull Riders, IncJineteo de Toro bulls typically weigh from 900lbs to 1300lbs, where bulls used in American rodeo-style bull riding can weigh up to 2200lbs. Another difference between these two types of bull riding is the length of time the rider has to stay on the bull. In PBR events, the rider is trying to stay on for 8 seconds, in Jineteo de Toro the rider tries to stay on until the bull stops bucking.  The charreada is still popular in Mexico and parts of the United States.


Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede. Image form Wikimedia Commons.

Both the charreada and bullfighting have taken place here in Texas. Bullfighting was legal in Texas up until 1891, when there was a push to move away from blood sports. Jineteo de Toro was, and is still, an active event here in Texas, but with the introduction of Wild West Shows, American cowboys started riding larger steers instead of the smaller bulls. Steers were used because they were easier to move from place to place. Steer riding was not a popular event until the 1920’s when bull riding came back into fashion. In 1936 Cowboy’s Turtle Association was founded, and began setting rules and regulations regarding bull riding. With the Association and the regulations, bull riding became much more popular on the rodeo circuit. In 1945 they changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboy’s Association, and became the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) in 1975. In 1992 several professional bull riders broke away from the PRCA and founded Professional Bull Riders, Inc. which is the only professional organization for American-style bull riding. Bull riding has been a part of rodeo since its beginning and is considered the most popular event in rodeo. [Kathryn S. McCloud and Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Bonet, Eduardo. Bulls & Bullfighting; History, Techniques, Spectacle. New York: Crown Publishers, 1970.

Fredriksson, Kristine. American Rodeo From Buffalo Bill to Big Business. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1985.

Hardouin-Fugier, Elisabeth. Bullfighting: A Troubled History. London: Reaktion Books, 2010.

McLeese, Tex. Bull Riding and Bullfighting. Vero Beach, Fla: Rourke Press, 2001.

Woerner, Gail Hughbanks. Cowboy Up!: The History of Bull Riding. Austin, Tex: Eakin Press, 2001.

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