Tag Archive | Ranching

Object: Yoke

Materials: Wood

Man carrying water using a yoke. Image by Paul Hamilton, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is an ox yoke made out of wood. A yoke is a wooden beam used to help carry or pull heavy objects by distributing the weight evenly on both shoulders and can be used by humans and animals a like. There are three main types of yokes and it depends on what it is being used by. The first type of yoke is used by humans. A yoke used by humans would be a single beam of wood that sits on their shoulders where the back meets with the neck. The other two are for animals, one for a single animal and the other for two. If a single animal were to use a yoke then it would be made similar to that of the ones used by humans, but a with loop hold it in place around their neck. The two animal yoke, which is referred to as a team yoke, would be a longer beam of wood and have two loops, one for each animal.

Animal yokes allow animals to pull farming equipment, like a plow, along with wagons and carriages. The animals most commonly used to pull farm equipment, wagons, and carriages are horses, donkeys, mules, and oxen. The reasons these types of animals are used are due to their strength. Each of these types of animals all has their own merits and faults. Some of the benefits of theses animals are that they can help with a variety of crops, by lowering costs on gas and repairs for tractors, and by creating manure that works as fertilizer.

Amish farmer plowing fields with mules in Mt. Hope, Holmes County, Ohio, USA. Image by Ernest Mettendorf, via Wikimedia Commons.

Historically, by growing the grains and oats that each animal ate decreased the amount of money spent on buying food and increased the the potential profitability of farming. Additionally, with the animals came a natural source of manure that can be used as fertilizer. With these things in mind a farmer had almost everything needed to run a successful farm with healthy soil, a way to plow and plant, and a way to fertilize the soil in a single purchase of a horse, donkey, mule or oxen. However, as farm tractors and machinery developed the number of farms decreased while the size of the average field grew. It wasn’t long before animal based farming became too slow and time consuming to keep up with the increasing production needs of a modern farm.

Horses that are used in farm work are called draft horses, which are bred to do work like plowing and other farm work. Draft horses are large breeds of horses like the Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians, Shires. Draft horse breeds were developed all over the world, but the ones mentioned above come from Western Europe, Clydesdales originate in Scotland, Percherons from France, Belgians from Belgium, and Shires from England.


Ancient Egyptian tomb figurines depicting workers loading up a couple of donkeys with supplies. Early Middle Kingdom, circa 2000 BC. Image by Keith Schengili-Roberts, via Wikimedia Commons.

Donkeys are members of the horse family that have adapted to desert areas. The donkey’s ancestors are from Africa and the first domestic donkeys can be traced back to around 4000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. in Lower Egypt. Donkeys are considered by many to be a stubborn animal due to their stronger sense of self-preservation. Donkeys unlike the horse, who would be willing to work itself to death, will stop when it feels that it is in danger.  Also, unlike the horse and the ox, donkeys tend to be used only for pulling carts, or to carry things on their backs and are prized for their ability to handle steep and rocky terrain. Mules are a produced from the breeding of male donkeys and female horses, but the breeding of a female donkey with a male horse produces a hinny. Mules tend to be larger than donkeys are are better able to pull heavy loads.

Oxen are bulls that have been castrated and are usually easier to handle than intact bulls. Oxen are used in pairs to pull carts and farm equipment. When using animals to pull farm equipment Oxen tend to be the better of the choices. This is due to their ability to pull heavier things and to work longer than the horse or the donkey, but it will take longer for them to work, because they are slower. Oxen can also help with more than just pulling equipment they can also help with threshing by walking over the grain and they can help power machines for grinding grain. However, they don’t make good choices for riding, areas where the horse, mule and donkey excel. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Damerow, Gail, and Alina Rice. Draft Horses and Mules: Harnessing Equine Power for Farm and Show. North Adams, Mass: Storey Pub, 2008.

Kennedy, Malcolm J. Hauling the Loads: A History of Australia’s Working Horses and Bullocks. Rockhampton, Qld: Central Queensland University Press, 2005.

Major, J. Kenneth. Animal-Powered Machines. Oxford, UK: Shire Publications, 2008.


Exhibit floor highlight


Object: Hocking Knife

I-0546a (6)

Hocking Knife
Spanish American
New Mexico
16th Century
Materials: Metal

This object is a reproduction of a hocking knife. Hocking knives are ranching tools that would have been used to cut the ligaments on a cow’s back legs making it impossible for the animal to run. This was only used on cattle that were going to be butchered. Hocking knives would have been attached to a pole about eight to ten feet long. As the rancher rode up on a horse behind his chosen cow he could easily stop the animal and return to for it later to take it to the next phase for slaughter and butchering. This is no longer practiced today as it is considered inhumane. It was replaced with the lariat or lasso, which is used to rope cattle.

Illustration from “Book of Texas,” via Wikimedia Commons.

The ranching and butchering of cattle, or cows, in Texas goes back to the time of the conquistadors. The word ranch comes from the Mexican-Spanish word rancho which meant a place involved with livestock, which included cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Once Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs, in what is now central Mexico, he and his men moved quickly to claim the surrounding area for the Spanish crown. The Spanish were used to a diet that included beef and Cortez soon established cattle herds which spread across Mexico.

Texas had been claimed but mostly ignored through the 1500s as the Spanish focused on their Central American investments which contained silver mines. However, French presence in Louisiana made the Spanish nervous. In 1685, a Frenchman named René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle had accidentally landed at Matagorda Bay on the east coast of Texas. By 1687 the Spanish had heard the news and sent out expeditions until they finally found the failed settlement, which had been wiped out by local East Texas Indians. Paranoid that the French would try and take Mexico and the valuable silver mines, the Spanish began to establish missions in Texas in order to create a buffer between the French in Louisiana and their favored property in Mexico.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion. Image by Liveon001 ©Travis Witt, via Wikimedia Commons.

The creation of missions from the late 17th century and into the 18th century was put in the hands of Franciscan missionaries. These missionaries brought settlers along with Spanish soldiers, and converted Native Americans to populate what would later become the cities of San Antonio, Goliad, El Paso, and Presidio. Many more missions were established during this period that would ultimately fail because of clashes with Native Americans and Spain’s disinterest in the area once the French threat was over. However, these missions also brought cattle and ranching into the area and lead to greater population growth as land and ranching became a source of wealth.

Cattle and ranching remain an important component of Texan culture and economy. Although they’re different from the early ranches in the 1700s, ranches continue to operate today. In 1995, Texas was known for having the most farm and ranch land, as well as cattle in the nation. Today you can still visit some of the great ranches like King Ranch established in 1852 in southern Texas by Richard King. It is larger than the state of Rhode Island and has become much more diversified. Besides agriculture and ranching, King Ranch is also involved in the production of home and leather goods. In 2001 it also began a relationship with Ford trucks with the King Ranch edition which has continued to promote the brand of King Ranch and Texas ranching culture today. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Reading:

Foster, Nancy Haston. Texas Missions. Houston, TX: Lone Star Books, 1999.

Lauber, Patricia. Cowboys and Cattle Ranching: Yesterday and Today. New York, NY: Cromwell, 1973.

Lea, Tom and Richard King. The King Ranch. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co., 1957.

Shackelford, Bruce M. The Wests of Texas: Cattle Ranching Entrepreneurs. 2015.

Sneak Peek

We are in the final stretch of installing the new Los Tejanos exhibit for it’s big opening gala tonight. This exhibit explores the Tejano experience. It offering a glimpse of compelling Tejano stories from the early 18th century to the present day. It officially opens to the public tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peek of our progress below.

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Object: Boots


Rocky Carroll
Materials: Leather

The boots pictured above are made from leather, dyed black, and have the State of Texas on them with the Texas Rangers‘ logo as well. These cowboy boots belonged to George W Bush, former Governor of Texas and the 43rd President of the United States. The boots were designed and made by Rocky Carroll.

George W Bush was born on July 6, 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut to parents George HW Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush. After attending school in Texas, Bush enrolled in at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, from 1961 to 1964. When he graduated he went on to study at  Yale University where he completed a Bachelor’s degree in History in 1968. After college, Bush enlisted in the Air National Guard, serving in both Texas and Alabama until he was discharged in November 1974. He then completed a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Harvard University in 1975. Bush was elected Governor of Texas in 1994 and served as Governor until 2000, when he was elected as the 43rd President of the United States. Bush served two terms as President and after his second term was done he returned to Texas as a private citizen.

Rocky Carroll, who made the boots pictured above, is a Texas boot maker that handcrafts custom leather boots. He has made boots for every President of the USA from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, the Queen of England, and several other high profile people. Carroll is the son and grandson of boot cobblers and has also helped his children open boot shops. He opened his first shop when he was 18 and has been making boots ever since. In 1964 he joined the Harris County Sheriff‘s Reserves and would work the graveyard shift, then turn around and open is store in the morning. He retired in 1996 and has been working at his store ever since. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Burgan, Michael. 2004. George W. Bush. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books.

Bush, George W. 2010. Decision points. New York: Crown Publishers.

Carlson, Paul Howard. 2000. The cowboy way: an exploration of history and culture. Lubbock, Tex: Texas Tech University Press.

Johnson, Frank W., Eugene C. Barker, and Ernest William Winkler. 1916. A history of Texas and Texans. Chicago: American Historical Society.


Object: Sheep bells


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Sheep bells
mid-20th century
Materials: copper

Jason and the Dragon

Photo via: Traveling Classroom Foundation

People have been raising and herding sheep in Greece for thousands of years. Sheep and their products are even featured in ancient Greek myths;  Jason and the Argonauts‘  go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece, and Polyphemus, the cyclops of the Odyssey is described as a shepherd.  The rocky landscapes found in much of Greece are not well suited for larger animals, like cows, but is ideal for sure-footed sheep and goats. The mild Mediterranean climate also provides an extended growing season, allowing sheep to be left out on pastures for much of the year making them easier to raise. Sheep are used for a number of different products. Wool and meat are only some of products sheep have been raised for over the years. Sheep’s milk  is turned into a variety of cheeses, like feta and kasseri, and is used for traditional Greek yogurt. The leather from their hides are also used to make chamois cloth, and parchment.

Traditionally while the sheep are out grazing they are guided and protected by a human shepherd. In Greece, shepherds use bells to help keep track of their animals. Different sizes of bells are used to create different sounds, and the individual bells can be “tuned” using a hammer to alter their shape. The bells help the shepherd know where his flock is, even when he can’t see them, and can help him avoid accidentally leaving an animal behind when moving the sheep to different pastures. Bells are also used on other types of livestock, particularly cattle, around the world.

In Greece this type of bell is also used during Apokries, or Greek Carnival. There are a number of festivals held throughout Greece during the weeks leading up to the start of Lent, that make up the Apokries.  Many of these festivals feature Koudounatoi, “bell wearers” or “bell ringers;” sometimes the festivities even include people dressed up as sheep themselves. The following video shows an Apokries festival on the island of Crete.


Photo via: Drum Barracks Garrison & Society

Greeks began immigrating to Texas in the late 1800’s. Most left Greece due to economic difficulties, or the ongoing military conflicts in the region, often involving the Ottoman Empire. Many of these immigrants had been farmers and shepherds in their homeland but, often settled in urban areas of Texas where they could find jobs and eventually establish their own restaurants and businesses. However, one early Greek immigrant to Texas, George Caralampa (or Xarlampa), was able to famously continue herding after his arrival in Texas. Mr. Caralampa, also known as “Greek George” was recruited to come to Texas by the US Army in order to herd and care for camels. The government was interested in using camels instead of horses for its mounted troops in deserts and swampy terrain, and Caralampa was selected to help wrangle the camels for the experiment.  Needless to say, this project was short lived, it was put on hold at the start of the Civil War. Some of the camels were seized by the Confederates, others escaped into the wild. At the end of the war the few remaining camels were sold, ending the US army’s camel experiment for good. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Collins, Donna Misner. Ethnic Identification: The Greek Americans of Houston, Texas. New York: AMS Press, 1991.

Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955.

Kardulias, P. Nick, and Mark T. Shutes. Aegean Strategies: Studies of Culture and Environment on the European Fringe. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. The Greek Texans. [San Antonio]: University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures, 1974.

Object: Chaps

I-0491a (3)

Leather chaps
Materials: Leather and brass studs

This item is a pair of worn leather chaps given to the museum in 1995. Chaps were and still are worn by cowboys and ranchers. This type of clothing is an essential piece of a cowboy’s attire that protect the legs of cowboys while riding horses and when walking through rough landscapes. Leather is a thick and durable material that is hard to penetrate. It makes it possible for a cowboy to walk safely through areas with thorns, burrs, stickers, and barbed wire. Chaps also help to protect the rider from friction related “saddle sores.”


1873 Map of Chisholm Trail with Subsidiary Trails in Texas. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

During cattle drives leather chaps would have been crucial for cowboys. A cattle drive is when a herd of cattle are transported by foot from one place to another. These drives became very important in the 1840’s and 1850’s during the California Gold Rush. Due to the increase of wealth in California the demand for beef raised dramatically. Cattle from Texas was being driven and sold to California citizens for 50 to 200 dollars per head (between 1,500 and 6,000 dollars in today’s currency). Drives from Texas could last between five to six months. Later on in the 19th century, the Chisholm Trail became known. This trail is considered to have been one of the largest cattle drives in the country. At the most it is estimated that 600,000 to 700,000 cattle were driven from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas in a single year.

mary bunton

Photo via: Hill Country Books

On this trail a woman by the name of Mary O. Taylor Bunton (known as Mollie) made the ride with her husband James Howell Bunton, from Sweetwater, Texas to Coolidge, Kansas in 1886. Out of fear of being left alone on their ranch she decided that she would join the cattle drive. During that time it was considered inappropriate for a woman to ride on a cattle drive, making her one of the few cowgirls of the Old West. Despite speculation and doubt Mollie was determined to make the drive. She was one of few women (possibly the only) to make this drive and was named the “Queen of the Old Chisholm Trail” when it was over. Years later in 1915 Mollie made her cattle drive experiences into a book, “A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail in 1886.” Years later in 1948 at the motion picture premier of “Red River” Mollie was honored since it was believed that she was the only woman to make it up the dangerous trail.

“Red River” is one of countless movies based on cowboy life and cattle drives. These motion pictures became extremely popular in the 20th century, later they were known as western movies. The star of this movie was the famous John Wayne, considered to some as the face of western films. Wayne’s career thrived for over 50 years, making an appearance in nearly 200 films and starring in 142 of them. Most of his movies Wayne is either a cowboy, a ranger, or something of the sort. In the early 1970’s he was offered a role in Larry McMurtry’s “The Streets of Laredo“. However, Wayne turned down the role and the film was forgotten until 1985 when McMurtry wrote a prequel novel called “Lonesome Dove.”


Photo via: IMP Awards

“Lonesome Dove” was turned into a minseries in 1989. It starred Robert Duvall and Tommy-Lee Jones as two retired Texas Rangers who decide to drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. The story is inspired by the real life accounts of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The tale features the two men and their partners’ experiences on the trail. They face numerous life threatening adventures including floods, snakes, and Indians. These experiences plus many more would have been incidents that other real life cowboys went through. [McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Bailey, Jack, and David Dary. 2006. A Texas cowboy’s journal: up the trail to Kansas in 1868. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Davis, Ronald L. 1998. Duke: the life and image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Gard, Wayne. 1954. Chisholm Trail.

Kraisinger, Gary, and Margaret Kraisinger. 2004. The Western: the greatest Texas cattle trail, 1874-1886. Newton, Kan: Mennonite Press.

Massey, Sara R. 2006. Texas women on the cattle trails. College Station: Texas A & M University.

McMurtry, Larry. 1985. Lonesome Dove: a novel. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Object: Saddle

I-0162a scan

Material: leather

concepcionPrior to the the Texas Revolution in 1835-1836, the Mexican government controlled the area now known as Texas. As a result, the earliest ranches in what is now Texas were formed by Mexican settlers. These settlers created ranching communities along rivers and frequently traveled routes to Catholic missions, like those in the San Antonio area. Many of these early ranches were originally formed as a  source of food and resources for the mission’s inhabitants. Many of these communities, or villas, were built along the Rio Grande River, giving the early ranchers easy access to fresh water for their livestock. Over time, these small settlements became large cities and towns due to the success of the ranching industry.

saddle diagram

Photo via: horsebasic.com

Mexican ranching techniques and methods were adopted by Anglo-Americans later in the 19th century, and these adopted techniques came to define cowboy culture. The lasso technique – looping a lariat rope around a cow’s neck – was a Mexican ranching technique developed during the 18th century to help horsemen catch cattle. In order to lasso, or rope, large animals from horseback, the rider attaches one end of the lasso to the saddle horn. The other end of the rope is made into a loop which is thrown over the head of the animal to be caught. Using this method, the strength of the horse and saddle are used to stop the animal, keeping the rider’s hands free.

The following video shows a modern day calf roping (lassoing) from horseback.


Photo via: Texas State Library and Archives Commission, http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net

Branding cattle was another Mexican ranching tradition adopted by Anglo-Americans, as branding cattle allowed Mexican ranchers to identify the owner of individual free-ranging cattle. This was necessary prior to the widespread use of fences on the American frontier when livestock was allowed to roam freely. The early Mexican settlers of Texas were able to establish thriving communities by pioneering the ranching methods and techniques that would become iconic of cowboy culture. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Dusenberry, William Howard. 1963. The Mexican Mesta: the administration of ranching in colonial Mexico. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Miller, Hubert J. 1987. “Oral History: A Tool for the Study of Mexican American History in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas”. The Oral History Review. 15 (2): 80-95.

Robinson, Willard B. 1979. “Colonial Ranch Architecture in the Spanish-Mexican Tradition”. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 83 (2): 123-150.

Sáenz, Andrés, and Andrés Tijerina. 2001. Early Tejano ranching: daily life at Ranchos San José and El Fresnillo. College Station: Published by Texas A&M University Press in association with the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.

Object: Painting


“Martin DeLeon Building Victoria, Texas, 1824”
Artist: Bruce Marshall
Date: mid-20th century
Materials: paper, watercolor

This painting is an original watercolor by Bruce Marshall, entitled “Martin De Leon Building Victoria, TX”. This painting shows Martin De Leon (1765-1833), a Mexican empresario, or entrepreneur, overseeing the creation of the colony Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, today known as Victoria, Texas. In the painting, De Leon sits on a horse that is standing on a hill overlooks the location he chose to build Victoria, Texas, and the scene takes place during the early construction phase of the town. The painting itself was purchased by the museum, and in the scene, there are references to Martin De Leon’s life as the founder of this colony, as well as his business in cattle ranching. In the painting, men can be seen constructing the first buildings of the settlement from wood, with only open fields and vegetation around them, such as cactus, as no other human settlements had been constructed in this territory. The horse De Leon sits on has the brand for De Leon’s family and ranch. The herd of cattle that is grazing in the background of the painting, references to how De Leon made his fortune from the growing cattle industry during the 19th century, and how this would be the main business of the Victoria colony for many years.


Photo via: Myra H. Mcilvain, myrahmcilvain.wordpress.com

In 1765, De Leon was born as a criollo in Burgos, Nuevo Santander, a settlement town during Spain’s colonization of Mexico, and known today as the Tamaulipas district of Mexico. During Spain’s colonial era, a criollo was a Spanish citizen born in colonial territory in the New World. His parents were peninsulares – citizens born in Spain who moved to the New World – who moved from Burgos, Spain to Mexico. As his family came from a Spanish aristocratic background, they had great wealth and access to higher education and relations in Europe. Instead of going to university as his father wished, De Leon chose to become a merchant, starting his career in supplying provisions. In 1790, he joined the Spanish military, assigned to the Fieles de Burgos regiment that was established to defend against Indian raids on Nuevo Santander, achieving the rank of captain in five years.


Photo via: Wallace L. McKeehan, SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS, http://www.tamu.edu

After marrying his wife Patricia de la Garza, they established a ranch in Nuevo Santander, and began his career as a rancher. After several excursions to San Antonio, he eventually settled a ranch in Texas in 1805, where he saw ranch and farm opportunities in the free open land. He successfully raised cattle and other livestock on his ranch, reaching up to 5,000 cattle head by 1823. De Leon’s family became leaders in the cattle industry, even creating the first cattle brand in Texas. De Leon became one of the earliest Texan cattle drivers, herding a large number of cattle to the New Orleans, Louisiana market.

De Leon wanted to create a Mexican colony in Texas, but for years met resistance from Spanish government officials until Mexico had gained its independence from Spain. By April 1824, De Leon finally succeeded in gaining permission to create a colony in Texas. After completing a business deal in New Orleans, Louisiana, De Leon met with and became friends with a captain of a pirate ship, Ramon La Fou, a Frenchman in exile. The two men made a deal, where Captain La Fou would carry De Leon’s cargo up the Rio Grande River, and De Leon would make arrangements with the Mexican government to give La Fou an official pardon. Both men upheld their sides of the deal and De Leon was able to establish a colony on the lower Guadalupe River. This situation was unique, as De Leon received permission to establish a colony before the Mexican government had created its National and State Colonization laws. As a result, De Leon had no restrictions from the government on how the colony would be created. The money to fund this project came from a $10,000 inheritance from Felipe de la Garza, De Leon’s father-in-law. The colony of Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, later called Guadalupe Victoria, became the only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas during the 19th century.


Map via: University of Houston – Victoria

During the early phase of construction, the houses in the colony were built poorly from materials that were meant to be temporary, until the later construction of sturdier homes that would be longer lasting for the settlers. The De Leon family held great influence and authority in the new colony, as De Leon and his sons managed the affairs of the newly-built colony. Also, De Leon’s wife Patricia managed the family household, making her family an example of high Spanish-Mexican culture and society. Once his sons were older, they were able to manage the colony on their own as businessmen, allowing De Leon himself to focus on his ranch. The colony thrived from the De Leon cattle industry, and by 1880 the colony was said to have 75,000 cattle, worth roughly $1 million. Along with the abundance of food produced from the De Leon ranch, such as beans, corn, potatoes, and other food resources, access to freshwater from the rivers also brought in fish. De Leon worked to make Guadalupe Victoria a thriving colony and settlement, creating a strong community by building schools and Catholic cathedrals for the predominantly Catholic community. De Leon also dreamed of creating a magnificent Catholic cathedral that would rival the cathedrals in Mexico. Before the construction of this dreamed cathedral could even start, Martin De Leon died from a Cholera epidemic that went through the settlement in 1833. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Some scholars believe that his burial may be actually underneath the church, as construction was completed after his death with funding provided by his wife Patricia. Others argue that the cathedral foundations had been laid before his death, during the early construction phase of the Victoria colony.


Photo via: St. Mary’s Catholic Church

By the time of his death in 1833 from cholera, he had accumulated a wealth of half of $1 million, which he left to his family. The De Leon family held primary control over the settlements in present-day Victoria County until the end of the Texas Revolution in 1836. Although the De Leon’s supported the Texan forces by providing supplies and refuge to them, they faced discrimination from white settlers that moved into Texas. Eventually, the De Leon family lost its influence in Victoria, along with their land and cattle, leaving Texas to settle in Louisiana, only to have to return to Mexico. The contributions of the De Leon family in building Victoria, Texas went unacknowledged until 1936 when a monument was built in memory of Martin De Leon in the Evergreen Cemetery in Victoria. In 1972, State Historical markers were erected in memorial to Martin De Leon, his wife Patricia, and their four eldest sons. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Crimm, A. Carolina Castillo. 2003. De León, a Tejano family history. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Fair Publishing Company. 1936. A century of Texas cattle brands. Fort Worth, Tex: Fair Pub. Co

Hammett, A. B. J. 1973. The empresario Don Martin de Leon. Waco, Tex: Texian Press.

Quiroz, Anthony. 2005. Claiming citizenship: Mexican Americans in Victoria, Texas. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Shook, R.W. “Year of Transition: Victoria, Texas, 1880-1920.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. no. 2 (1974): 155-182 .

Object: Spur

I-0008b scan

Date: Unknown, likely 20th century
Materials: Metal


Photo via: Royal Spurs

Spurs are traditionally u-shaped, pointed devices secured around the back of a rider’s heel and used to urge on a horse. They are made of metal and have several different components. The u-shaped portion is referred to as a heel band (or yoke), the shank (or neck), and the rowel. The heel bang should fit snugly around the back of one’s boot to insure accuracy when using the spurs. The portion that sticks out from the back of the heel can be referred to as the shank and is usually fairly straight. It is used primarily to help the rider’s spur reach the sides of the horse to give commands. The rowel is a circular, and sometimes pointed, spinning disc attached to the end of the shank. Rowels are used to make contact with the sides of the horse, allowing the rider to give commands. Rowels were designed to make the end of the spur safer for the horse than shanks without rowels.

The spur, originally of European origin, made its way to Texas with the birth of the vaquero; these individuals have been part of Texas history since its beginning. Their name is the literal translation of the Spanish word for cow, and they were so named for their handling of cattle and horses. Their influence gave birth to their American counterparts, the cowboy. Cattle ranching had spread from Mexico to the southwestern United States by the 1700s; by this point vaqueros had perfected the arts of roping using braided rawhide reatas, branding, and riding. Cattle ranching was a small portion of the Texas economy until after the Civil War. It was then, when the northern demand for beef was so high, that many Texans began taking part in the industry.

Cattle Drive Trails

Photo via: Equitrekking.com

During the fall, vaqueros would round up their herd(s), brand owner-less cattle with no previous ownership markings, and watch over the herd through winter. By spring, the cattle that were ready for market were driven to the nearest railroad town and bought by eastern buyers. As the frontier extended west, the United States grew rapidly in population; as a result, cattle herding grounds were cut in half with the expansion of railroads and the US Government selling lands to private buyers. Because of this, the cattle industry was rapidly on the decline by the late 1800s. Cowboys are still around today, but with corporations mass-producing meat, their lands and our dependence on them is much smaller. [Jordan Kinnally, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video discusses the history and life of today’s vaqueros.

Additional Resources:

Jones, Terry L. “Civil War Texas.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 42.1 (2001): 115-16.

Kauffman, J. B., W. C. Kreuger, and M. Vavra. “Effects of Late Season Cattle Grazing on Riparian Plant Communities.” Journal of Range Management 36.6 (1983): 685-91.

Lacy, Charles De Lacy. The History of the Spur. [London]: Connoisseur (Otto), 1911. Digital Public Library of America. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

Livingston, Phil. “The History of the Vaquero.” American Cowboy. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc., 2013.

Schencks, Tao. “The Parts of a Cowboy Spur.” Ezine Articles. N.p., 27 May 2008.

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