Cattle ranching in the West was built upon traditions brought north from Mexico. Spanish colonists imported the first cattle to the Americas. The animals adapted well to the dry conditions of Mexico and the American Southwest. In time, millions of Spanish cattle ran wild in Texas and California.
Spanish cattle were thin, wiry creatures with long, wide-spreading horns. They moved quickly and were dangerous. Californios (Mexicanos in California) often found themselves dodging behind trees or diving into ditches to escape the charge of an angry longhorn.
With cattle so abundant, Californios and Tejanos (Mexicanos in Texas) found ranching to be a good business. So did the Americans who learned the cattle business from Mexican rancheros, or ranchers.
The Rancho Western cattle ranching was nothing like dairy farming in the East. Dairy farms in the East were small family businesses that produced mostly milk, butter, and cheese. Compared to these farms, western ranchos were huge. In the arid Southwest, large grants of land were needed to provide enough food and water for cattle herds. Instead of dairy products, the main products of ranchos were meat, hides, and tallow.
Ranch life followed traditions that had been developed in Spain and perfected in Mexico. Rancheros spent most of their day on horseback, overseeing their land and herds. Caring for the cattle was the work of hired vaqueros, or cowboys.
The Roundup Among the vaqueros’ most important jobs were the rodeo, or roundup, and branding (using a hot iron to burn a mark into the hide of cattle). Branding was essential because herds belonging to different owners mixed together on unfenced grasslands. To avoid conflicts, every owner had to mark his cattle with a distinctive brand.
During the rodeo, vaqueros drove unbranded calves to a roundup area. There, the calves were branded with the brand their mothers bore.
As Americans took up ranching, they adopted the rancheros’ practice of branding cattle. Along with cowboys and the roundup, cattle brands are still part of ranch life in the West.
During the rodeo, or roundup, vaqueros drove unmarked cattle to special roundup areas. There the animals were branded with a rancho’s distinctive identification mark. Such a practice was necessary because cattle belonging to different owners grazed together on the same open range.
adapt to change in order to survive in a new or different environment or situation
Hollywood movies make it seem that nothing is more American than the western cowboy. Cowboys, however, learned their job from the Mexican vaquero. Across the Southwest, vaqueros were admired for their skill at riding, roping, and handling cattle. American cowboys adopted the vaqueros’ clothes and gear, and much of their language.
Cowboy Clothes and Gear From head to toe, cowboys dressed in clothing borrowed from the vaqueros. For example, the cowboys’ “ten-gallon hats,” which shaded their eyes and sometimes served as a water pail or a pillow, came from the vaqueros’ wide-brimmed sombreros. The leather chaps that protected the cowboys’ legs from cacti and sagebrush were modeled on the vaqueros’ chaparreras. The high-heeled, pointed-toe boots that slipped so easily into the cowboys’ stirrups were based on the vaqueros’ botas. Even the poncho that protected cowboys from cold and rain was borrowed from the vaqueros.
Mexicanos also invented the western (or cowboy) saddle, with its useful horn. The saddles brought to America from Europe did not have horns. When a vaquero on a European saddle roped a steer, he had to tie his rope to the horse’s tail to keep it anchored. This method was hard on both the horse and the rider. By adding a horn to the saddle, vaqueros made their job easier—and their horses’ job as well.
Cowboys borrowed another essential piece of gear from the vaqueros—la riata (the lariat). Vaqueros were masters of the art of throwing a 60-foot rope long distances with amazing accuracy. This skill was especially useful for roping calves during a roundup. In a remarkable display of roping skill, a vaquero named José Romero once roped a full-grown eagle right out of the sky!
Cowboy Lingo American cowboys borrowed or adapted many ranching words from the vaqueros as well. The terms bronco, stampede, corral, lasso, burro, buckaroo, and vamoose all come from Spanish-Mexican words. So do mesa, canyon, mesquite, chaparral, and other terms used to describe the southwestern landscape. The cowboy slang word for jail, hoosegow, came from the Spanish juzgado. And of course, the terms ranch and rancher came from rancho and ranchero.
From his hat to his boots, the American cowboy copied the dress of the Mexican vaquero. Each item of the vaquero’s clothing helped him with his work. His sombrero shaded him from the sun. His neckerchief, when worn over his mouth, protected him from dust. His high-heeled, pointed boots kept him secure in the stirrups of his saddle.
17.5 Sheep Raising
In New Mexico, the most important industry was sheep raising. From the founding of the province up to the Mexican Cession, sheep fed, clothed, and supported Spanish and Mexican settlers.
The Spanish brought a long tradition of sheep raising to the Americas. Two kinds of sheep were raised in Spain—the beautiful merinos with their fine wool, and the ugly churros with their coarse wool. The Spanish brought the scrawny churro to New Mexico, and for good reason. This tough little sheep knew how to survive in a dry environment like that of the Southwest.
The Spanish Sheep-Raising System When Americans came to New Mexico, they did not think of sheep raising as a business. In the East, a farmer might raise a few sheep as a sideline, but not large herds. Once they saw the Spanish sheep-raising system in New Mexico, however, some Americans changed their minds.
Under the Spanish system, sheep raising was a big, well-organized business. The Spanish governor of New Mexico, for example, once owned 2 million sheep and employed 2,700 workers.
At the top of this business stood the patron, or owner of the herds. Below him were several layers of managers. These supervisors and range bosses spent their days on horseback, checking range conditions and the health of the sheep.
The lowest-level worker was the pastor, or herder. Each pastor was responsible for 1,500 to 2,000 sheep. A pastor stayed with his flock night and day, slowly guiding it from place to place so that the sheep could graze as they moved. During spring lambing season, the pastor assisted with difficult births, cared for orphaned lambs, and helped the newborns survive. One pastor described this busy time as a “month-long hell of worry and toil.”
Americans Adopt the Spanish System Americans soon adopted the Spanish system as their own. Large-scale sheep raising spread from New Mexico across the Southwest. In California, the churro was crossed with the merino to produce a sheep with far better wool. As a result, between 1862 and 1880, U.S. wool production soared from 5 million to 22 million pounds a year.
Sheep raising was the most important industry in New Mexico when the area belonged to Mexico. An owner of a sheep ranch might have over a million sheep.
17.6 Irrigated Farming
Americans coming to the Southwest knew as little about irrigated farming as they did about mining, cattle ranching, and sheep raising. In the East, enough rain fell year-round to water a farmer’s crops. Irrigation was unnecessary and unknown. But in the Southwest, where six months could go by with no rain, irrigation was essential.
Mexican settlers in the Southwest brought with them irrigation techniques that had been developed centuries earlier in Spain and North Africa. They borrowed other techniques from the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. When settlers first arrived, the Pueblos were irrigating between 15,000 and 25,000 acres of crop land in the arid Rio Grande Valley.
The Mexican System of Irrigation Bringing water to fields involved an enormous amount of work. First, farmers had to redirect water from local streams to their fields. They began by building a dam of rocks, earth, and brush across the stream. The water that backed up behind the dam was brought to the fields by irrigation ditches.
To keep from wasting this precious water, Mexicanos carefully leveled their fields. Then they divided the fields into squares. Each square was marked off by a wall of earth high enough to hold in water. When one square had been soaked with water, farmers made a hole in its wall. The water then flowed to the next square. The farmers continued in this way until the entire field was soaked. This method of irrigation was known as “the Mexican system.”
America’s Fruit Basket Using crops introduced by Mexicanos and the Mexican system of irrigation, American settlers turned the South-west into America’s fruit basket. Among the many fruits brought by Mexicanos to the Southwest were grapes, dates, olives, apples, walnuts, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and quinces. Mexicano settlers also brought the first citrus fruits—lemons, limes, and oranges—to the region. Many of these fruits were unknown in the East, where the climate was too cold for them to grow. But they thrived in sunny Arizona and California. With the help of Mexicano farmworkers, American farmers transformed dry deserts into irrigated fruit orchards and citrus groves.
The Mexicanos introduced a system of irrigation that allowed settlers in the Southwest to turn deserts into productive, fertile fields.
irrigation a system for bringing water to farmland by artificial means, such as using a dam to trap water and ditches to channel it to fields
17.7 Mexican Food
In 1835, William Heath Davis became one of the first Americans to settle in California. There he got his first taste of Mexican food. Davis later wrote of the Californios:
Their tables were frugally [simply] furnished, the food clean and inviting, consisting mainly of good beef broiled on an iron rod, or steaks with onions, also mutton [sheep], chicken, eggs…. The bread was tortillas; sometimes made with yeast. Beans were a staple dish…. Their meat stews were excellent when not too highly seasoned with red pepper. Davis may not have known it, but the food he was enjoying in California brought together the best of two worlds.
A Food Revolution The conquest of Mexico in 1521 began one of the great food revolutions in history. The Spanish came to Mexico in search of gold, but the greatest treasures they found were Indian foods unknown in Europe. These “New World” foods included corn, tomatoes, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, beans, squash, avocados, coconuts, sunflower seeds, and chili peppers.
The Spanish shipped these new foods back to Spain. From there they spread throughout Europe, greatly expanding people’s food choices.
In turn, the Spanish brought the foods of the “Old World” to Mexico. They introduced meats such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, and goat. They brought nuts and grains such as almonds, walnuts, rice, wheat, and barley. They planted fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, grapes, olives, lettuce, carrots, sugarcane, and potatoes (which they discovered in Peru). And they introduced herbs and spices such as cinnamon, parsley, coriander, oregano, and black pepper.
A New Style of Cooking Mexican cooks combined these Old and New World foods to create a rich and flavorful style of cooking that was neither Indian nor Spanish. It was distinctly Mexican.
As Americans settled the Southwest, they were introduced to Mexican food. Many of them liked the new tastes, and they borrowed recipes from Mexicano cooks. In Texas, the mingling of Mexican and American dishes resulted in a style of cooking known as “Tex-Mex.” And across America, a spicy stew of beef and beans known simply as “chili” became as American as apple pie.
Corn, a food of the native Indians, was a staple in the Mexicano diet. Here, a Mexicano woman is grinding corn that she will use to make a flat cornbread called tortillas.
17.8 Spanish-style Architecture
Throughout the Southwest, the Mexicano contribution to architecture is easy to see. Many buildings can be found with the thick walls, red tile roofs, rounded arches, and courtyards that are typical of Spanish architecture.
Spanish architecture took root in Mexico during the colonial period. Mexican settlers brought their knowledge of this tradition to the Southwest. Their missions, homes, and other structures were simple and attractive. And they were ideally suited to the hot, dry climate of the Southwest.
Adobe Buildings Since wood was sparse in the Southwest, Mexicanos used adobe bricks as their main building material. Adobe is a mixture of earth, grass, and water that is shaped into bricks and baked in the sun. Mexicanos covered their adobe homes with colorful red clay tiles. Besides being attractive and fireproof, a tile roof kept the adobe walls from being washed away during heavy rains.
Many adobe buildings featured patios and verandas. A patio is a roofless inner courtyard, often located at the center of a home. A veranda is a roofed porch or balcony extending along the outside of a building. Patios and verandas allowed Mexicanos to spend much of their time outdoors while still protected from the hot sun and dry desert winds.
Newcomers Adopt the Spanish Style Americans moving to the Southwest quickly saw the advantages of building with adobe. Because of their thick walls, adobe structures stayed cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the wood buildings that Americans from the East were used to. Adobe structures could also be easily constructed from locally available materials.
American settlers used adobe to build not only homes, but also courthouses, trading posts, post offices, and other buildings. Later, builders adapted Spanish architecture to new materials such as concrete and stucco. By the 1930s, nearly a million Spanish-style homes had been built in California. “Who would live in a structure of wood and brick if they could get a palace of mud?” wrote an admiring easterner. “The adobes to me [make] the most picturesque and comfortable [homes]…and harmonize…with the whole nature of the landscape.”
Courtyards, rounded arches, thick adobe walls, and red tile roofs are characteristics of Spanish-style architecture.
17.9 Mexican Laws
The Mexicanos of the Southwest were used to being governed by Mexican laws. These laws often differed from American law. For example, Mexico had outlawed slavery in 1829. Slaves from the American South sometimes ran away to find freedom in Mexican settlements. (Recall that Mexico’s abolition of slavery was one of the issues that led Texans to fight for their independence from Mexico.)
In time, both Mexican and American legal traditions would shape laws in the West. Particularly important were Mexicano laws governing mining, water, and community property.
Mining Law Before the discovery of gold in California, there was so little mining in the United States that Americans had no mining law. Once in the goldfields, the forty-niners desperately needed rules to keep order.
With the help of Mexicano miners, Americans developed a “law of the mines” based on Mexican mining law. California miners later carried this law of the mines to other parts of the Southwest.
Water Law The water law brought west by Americans worked well enough in the East, where rainfall was abundant. Under American law, water flowing across a field or farm belonged to the owner of that land. Landowners could use their water in whatever ways they wanted.
This principle did not work well in the West, where water was scarce and precious. Disputes over who controlled streams led to endless legal conflicts and even water wars.
To end these conflicts, settlers wrote new laws based on Mexican “pueblo law.” Pueblo law said that water was too valuable to be owned or controlled by any one person. Instead, water belonged to an entire community and should be used for the benefit of all.
Community Property Law For women, the most important legal principle borrowed from Mexican law was the idea of community property. In eastern states, married women had few property rights. Any property acquired by a married couple—such as a home, farm, or business—belonged solely to the husband.
In contrast, Mexican law said that all property acquired during a marriage was “community property.” If a couple separated, half of that property belonged to the wife, half to the husband.
American settlers liked the idea of sharing the gains of marriage between husband and wife. Today, Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, and Louisiana are all community property states.
The Mexicano legal principle of community property gave women property rights they did not have under British law. According to the Mexican principle, women were entitled to half of all property acquired during a marriage.
17.10 Mexicano Entertainments
The Californios, observed William Heath Davis, “were about the happiest and most contented people I ever saw.” Californios worked hard. But they also knew how to entertain themselves with music, dance, and fiestas (celebrations). Americans settling the Southwest shared in these entertainments.
Music and Dancing Mexicano music greatly influenced country and western music in the South-west. The most important contribution was the corrido, or folk ballad. A corrido is a dramatic story sung to the accompaniment of guitars. The subjects of corridos ranged from exciting tales of heroes and bandits to sad songs of love and betrayal.
American settlers greatly admired the color and energy of traditional Mexicano dance. Dancing was an important part of any Mexicano fiesta. Favorite dances included the jota, the fandango, and la bamba. The last of these, the bamba, was danced by a young woman balancing a full glass of water on her head. Generations of schoolchildren learned another popular dance, the jarabe tapatío, or “Mexican hat dance,” as part of their southwestern cultural heritage.
Fiestas and Rodeos Throughout the year, Mexicanos held a variety of religious fiestas. One of the most important honored Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. In San Antonio, Texas, Tejanos marked this day (December 12) with an elaborate procession to the cathedral. After attending church services, the Tejanos danced all night long in their homes.
Today, the most widely celebrated Mexicano holiday is El Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May). This holiday commemorates an important victory in Mexico’s fight for independence from French rule in 1862. Cinco de Mayo fiestas bring together Mexican and non-Mexican Americans to enjoy Mexicano music, dance, and food.
For millions of Americans, rodeo is an exciting professional sport. Rodeo’s roots go back to cattle roundups on Mexicano ranchos. During these get-togethers, Mexicano cowboys competed with each other in events such as calf roping, bull riding, and bronco busting. American cowboys joined in these contests, and soon rodeos became annual events in western cities. To its many fans, the rodeo, with its mixed Mexicano and American heritage, represents the best of the West.
In the picture above, the couple is performing the fandango. During this popular Mexican dance, the man and the woman play castanets, which are small pieces of wood held in the palm of the hand and clicked together.
In this chapter, you learned about Mexicano contributions to the culture of the Southwest. You used a matrix to organize your information. Movies and television often portray the settling of the West as a story of white pioneers taming the wilderness. As you have seen, the story is not that simple. Long before whites arrived, Mexicanos had learned to survive and even thrive in the harsh landscape of the Southwest. Although often mistreated by pioneers from the East, their knowledge would prove to be more valuable than gold to the newcomers.
American settlers learned about mining, cattle ranching, cowboy life, and sheep raising from Mexicanos. They adopted irrigation techniques that had been pioneered by Mexicanos and by Pueblo Indians. They learned to appreciate Mexicano food. They borrowed the Mexicanos’ architectural styles and laws. And they learned to enjoy Mexicano entertainments.
Today, Mexicano culture survives in such American adaptations as the organization of ranches, Spanish-style homes, popular foods, and legal traditions regarding water and community property. The American language is enriched by Spanish and Mexican words like patio, rodeo, and poncho. From San Francisco to San Antonio, hundreds of place names in the West and Southwest echo the Spanish-Mexican heritage. Millions of Americans celebrate the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. It is hard to imagine what the United States would be like without this rich legacy.
Mexicano contributions played a central role in turning the southwestern United States into a unique, prosperous section of the country.
An Era of Reform
This page, from a scrapbook kept by Mary S. Anthony, pictures women who led various reform movements.
In 1851, a group of people gathered in a church to discuss the rights of women. A tall African American woman made her way through the crowd and sat down. Her name was Sojourner Truth. Back when she was a slave, she had learned to pay careful attention to white people. Now she listened as whites discussed whether women should have the same rights as men.
Sojourner heard one minister after another explain that women didn’t need more rights because they weren’t smart or strong enough to do much besides raise children. Women, they argued, needed help from men. One man summed it up by saying, “Women are weak.”
With that, the former slave had heard enough. She rose slowly to her stately height of six feet and walked to the pulpit. The room grew quiet as everyone waited for her to speak.
“The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and over puddles, and have the best places everywhere,” she began. “Nobody helped me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place.”
Her voice rose to a thunderous pitch. “And ain’t I a woman? Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head [outdo] me—and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! I have borne thirteen children, and seen most of ’em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me—and ain’t I a woman?”
When she finished, people applauded. Some cried. One witness said, “She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely.”
As a woman and a former slave, Sojourner Truth represented two of the great reform movements in America in the 1800s. Between about 1820 and 1850, American reformers devoted themselves to such causes as ending slavery, promoting women’s rights, and improving education. As you will read in this chapter, women like Sojourner Truth not only participated in these movements, but emerged as powerful leaders.
Graphic Organizer: Illustration
You will use this illustration to learn about the Era of Reform.
18.2 The Spirit of Reform
It was fitting that the meeting attended by Sojourner Truth took place in a church. New religious movements played a key role in inspiring thousands of Americans to try to remake society.
The Second Great AwakeningA revival of religious feeling swept across the nation in the 1820s and 1830s. Church leaders called this period the Second Great Awakening. Day after day, people gathered in churches and big white tents to hear a message of hope. Preachers like Charles G. Finney, a leader of the movement, urged Christians to let themselves be “filled with the Spirit of God.” Their listeners prayed, shouted, and sang hymns. Sometimes they cried for hours or fell down in frenzies.
Like the First Great Awakening during colonial days, this religious revival fired people’s emotions. But the Second Great Awakening also offered something new. In the past, most Christian ministers had said that God had already decided who would be saved. Now preachers told their flocks that everyone could gain forgiveness for their sins. Many of them taught that one way to be saved was to do good works. Christians, they said, could build “heaven on Earth.”
Preachers at religious meetings, such as the one pictured below, proclaimed that people could earn salvation by doing good works. This message encouraged many people to work to improve society.