In the Days of the Vaqueros: America's First True Cowboys
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In the Days of the Vaqueros: America's First True Cowboys

by Russell Freedman
     
 

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*“Freedman sets the record straight.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Vaqueros, from vaca, the Spanish word for cow, were Native Americans conscripted by wealthy Spaniards to herd cattle on the Mexican plains. Often barefoot and wearing whatever clothes they had, the vaqueros became spectacular riders and masters of the art of cow herding.

Overview

*“Freedman sets the record straight.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Vaqueros, from vaca, the Spanish word for cow, were Native Americans conscripted by wealthy Spaniards to herd cattle on the Mexican plains. Often barefoot and wearing whatever clothes they had, the vaqueros became spectacular riders and masters of the art of cow herding. Three hundred years later, they taught the settlers to the American West how to round up cattle, bring down a steer, and break a wild bronco. Cowboys picked up their clothing, saddles, and lingo from the vaqueros. But it is the cowboy whose fabled reputation we remember, while the vaquero has all but disappeared from history.

*“Freedman tells the story with depth, clarity, and a vigor that conveys the thrilling excitement of the work and the macho swagger of the culture.”—Booklist, starred review

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Freedman sets the record straight.
Publishers Weekly, Starred

Freedman tells the story with depth, clarity, and a vigor that conveys the thrilling excitement of the work and the macho swagger of the culture.
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

Publishers Weekly
Combining impressive research and the skill of a campfire storyteller, Freedman (Martha Graham; The Wright Brothers) describes the rugged and often violent life of the original "cowboys," as they are known today. The vaqueros, or cowherders (from vaca, the Spanish word for cow), began riding in Spanish Mexico in the 1500s after Columbus brought cattle and horses to the New World, then migrated to California in the 1760s. "Long ago before cattle came to Texas, before George Washington crossed the Delaware, before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock cowboys rode the range in Spanish Mexico," begins Freedman's inviting narrative. Readers interested in cowboys and all things Western will pore over the detailed descriptions of the techniques and equipment used by the largely unsung vaqueros to herd cattle on the open range; they essentially invented the lasso (from lazo) as well as rodeos (from rodear, meaning "to surround or encircle"). Freedman deftly sketches the rigid class system that confined the vaqueros to lowly status of p on ("man at the bottom of the social ladder") and tied them to wealthy landowners and he documents how these skilled laborers taught their trade to American settlers. Drawings by Jos Cisneros and Frederic Remington plus period photographs highlight this tribute to the lifestyle and daring of the vaqueros. Though their contribution to the building of the West may have been eclipsed by the legends of U.S. cowboys, Freedman sets the record straight. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Freedman traces the introduction of horses and cattle to the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, documenting the arrival of these animals first to the islands of the West Indies and then to mainland Mexico. Enormous herds of wild horses and cattle roamed freely throughout the countryside in the 1500s. Spain parceled out huge estates to conquistadores and the natives living on these lands became slaves to the Spanish encomenderos. When it came time to round up the cattle for branding and/or slaughter, the resident Indians were called upon to perform these tasks. The vaqueros trained themselves in the skills needed and created the types of clothing best suited to the jobs they were expected to do. Many moved with the herds into areas that later became Texas and California. Although they were hardworking and resourceful, the Mexican vaqueros were never glamorized as cowboys were in the United States. Freedman's characteristic care in selecting photographs, artwork and drawings contribute to this documentation of the lasting contributions of the vaqueros. An annotated bibliography, a glossary of Spanish terms and pronunciations, picture credits and an index are included. 2001, Clarion, $18.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Freedman explores the often-overlooked role of the Central American cowherders who preceded by centuries the cowboys of popular lore and legend. With clear and engaging prose, he describes how the 1494 arrival of cattle and horses in Hispaniola led to a need for skilled and rugged horsemen able to control the eventually vast herds. While tracing the geographic spread of the vaqueros' work over time and the tasks and tools involved in the trade, he also weaves in some thought-provoking social history. Freedman notes that the vaquero lacked status in his own culture, and "remained for hundreds of years a poorly paid laborer." North American cowboys, who flourished for a far shorter time, as well as much later, enjoy the romanticized image that has never applied to vaqueros. The author characterizes the typical vaquero, rather than using individual examples, discussing the pride, skill, and courage required to succeed at the work. Each of the seven chapters begins with a full-page color reproduction of a painting, and other full-color and black-and-white paintings are generously included on virtually every spread, most from the 19th century. Period photographs also add visual impact. Martin Sandler's Vaqueros: America's First Cowboys (Holt, 2001) covers similar ground. Freedman's book has a slightly more attractive layout, but both are excellent resources on a topic that was previously difficult to research at a child's level.-Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Long before there were cowboys, there were vaqueros plying their trade on the grasslands of New Spain. With vivid and economical prose, the ever-capable Freedman (Give Me Liberty!, 2000, etc.) deftly combines political, religious, and social history to celebrate the achievements of the largely unsung men who invented the tools and techniques that sustain an American mythos. Chapters devoted to the evolution of the cattle ranch in Mexico and what was to become the southwestern US take readers back to the early days of European expansion into the New World. Both missionaries and private landowners found that the easiest way to control their burgeoning cattle herds was to conscript into peonage the Indians who lived on their lands, thus creating the poor but proud-and highly skilled-vaquero. Further chapters detail the apparatus and techniques used by the vaqueros (with special attention paid to the way the original Spanish words have worked their way into the language of the American cowboy), and the inevitable decline of the vaquero, brought about by changes both technological and political. If one occasionally gets the sense that the life of a vaquero is being a bit romanticized, it seems only appropriate, given the attention lavished on those Johnny-come-lately cowboys at the expense of their predecessors. Lushly illustrated with archival material (including a spectacular sequence of Remington drawings) this fast-paced text brings to light the contributions of the Indians without whom the cowboys might never have existed. There are no specific citations of sources, either in the text or as footnotes, but a very nicely done bibliographical essay describes the works consulted. (glossary,index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547133652
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/01/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
70
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Freedman sets the record straight.
Publishers Weekly, Starred

Freedman tells the story with depth, clarity, and a vigor that conveys the thrilling excitement of the work and the macho swagger of the culture.
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

Meet the Author

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lives in New York City.

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