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Steer & Lasso The following is an interview transcription from the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival with participant Clemente Zamarripa, a vaquero (cowboy) from the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin. Translation and interview by Cynthia Vidaurri, co-curator of the Rio program.presenter and interpreter at the Festival.*
The Rio Grande
Vaqueros and the Science Behind Their Work
CV: I am here with Clemente Zamarripa, a Texas cowboy and we are discussing medicine and the care of cattle.

[CV and CZ discuss trapping a steer in order to provide it medical care]

CV: A wild animal knows your smells and they’ll smell your footprints, and they won’t get anywhere near there because they know where the trap is. So what [Zamarripa] has to do is to put a rope on the gate, stay out at night, leave the gates wide open and dig a small pit. He will sit in the pit and wait for the wild animals to move toward the trap. When we say wild animals we are talking about steers, usually bulls. They prefer to stay out in the heat and die rather than come in close to where they could be trapped inside there. The vaqueros have to outsmart the animals. Cue: 091

[CV and CZ discuss digestion problems with steer and how to care for these problems]

CV: Sometimes animals will eat food that’s not right for them and they will be so bloated that they fall over because they can’t stand on four feet. So what ranchers used to do is take the lariat and just whip the horse across the stomach and force the gases out. The horse will usually stand up and be fine. Now if they have access to medication, you can go and give them an injection to relieve the gas. But if you are out away from the bunk house or away from the vet, and you find an animal laying down for that reason, that’s what you got to do. Cue: 110

[CV and CZ discuss the various natural medicines used for caring for wounds]

CV: He was saying that for a wound, he has heard of cowboys using urine to cauterize the blood. He said when he castrates animals he uses salt to dry up the wound. You can also use ground up charcoal to absorb all of the liquid, the blood and stuff. They tend to bleed a lot.

[CV and CZ discuss weather conditions for castrating cattle]

CV: There’s a season that they go through where they castrate the animals. Animals get fatter once they are castrated. Before, they had round-ups and would do it all by hand and now they have squeeze chutes. They’ve got them in a pen and they run them through the squeeze chutes. The squeeze chute picks them up and turns them over on their side, and they can’t move.

There are two different belief systems: One says that to castrate during the canicula or dog days of August, but many say why do you want to work so hard in the heat? He was saying that in his ranch they castrate regardless. Some people like his grandfather still believe in the second system, that is, to look and think about the moon, and its cycles, because the animals will be at greater weight at different times.

[CV questions CZ about the knife used in castration, and about those who have "the touch" to castrate.]

CV: He was saying that he can castrate two to three thousand bulls and that in this one incident they had a vet whom was castrating at the same time as he. They were keeping track and logging all the animals that each one castrated. The vet did about 35, he did about 200. The next day the vet had lost three and he had not lost any. He says, "I trust in the skill of my hand. I trust my skill with my eye. I know what I’m doing with my hands and eye and I trust in the knife."

[CV discusses with CZ the uses of horses]

CV: He says he uses his horse to work with the animals. When he pulls the cinch strap on his saddle, his horse knows that he’s about to lasso an animal that’s very heavy. He really has to prepare so that the animal will kind of swell up so that the saddle will fit tighter and so that he’s prepared to manage that horse. He uses the horse as a tool, as a partner in the work. He also uses dogs so that when he has to lasso an animal that’s difficult, he can work one side of the cow with the horse and lasso while the dogs nip at the heels of the animal. The animal can be occupied with the dog while he lassos the animal. They work together because otherwise he’d have to do a lot more work to get the animal.

[CV and CZ discuss the construction of corrals]

realaudio(Real Audio 86 Kb)
CV: In South Texas, where he ranches, there are lots of mesquite trees. these trees are used to make corrales de lea and what you do is you would put two upright posts and then stack shorter pieces of like two three feet long pieces of mesquite wood on them. And they are hard to work in but if you are working very expensive livestock or if you are trying to break a horse this blocks their sight of vision. The new corrals they have got, they are made out of pipes, so they can still see out. Given the height of the horse, sometimes they can see out and not see the pipes. A lot of times they will run up, trying to get out, not knowing that they are enclosed and hurt themselves. And even though this is an older technology, it’s more preferred if you are working more expensive livestock.

[CV and CZ discuss breaking a horse]

realaudio(Real Audio 139 Kb)
CV: There’s a whole skill, there’s an entire technology that you use to break a horse. He was saying that when you bring them inside to the corral, there’s a separate post that you tie them up to with a hackamore. One of the things that we haven’t gotten into is all of the language that comes from Spanish ranching culture that’s come into English. For instance a jqima is a hackamore in English. Mecate in English is a McCarty. Dale vuelta where you take your lasso and go around the horn of your saddle and that’s to stop the horse; in English, to daly. In English you go to the rodeo and they say "he dalys." There’s an entire language that comes from Spanish.

He was saying that what you do then is you take a sack, like a gunny sack, let the horse get tired from running around and around. By not whipping him but by just touching and brushing him with the sack little by little you get him used to having something on him. Eventually you’re going to have to put a saddle on him. And he said that there is a lot of skill and talent involved. You have to be very careful and very patient. He said that other vaqueros have left the ranch because they can’t keep up with his skills to break horses.

* transcription edited for clarity

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