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IN THE DAYS OF THE VAQUEROS: America's First True Cowboys

Russell Freedman, Author
Russell Freedman, Author . Clarion $18 (80p) ISBN 978-0-395-96788-1
Reviewed on: 09/10/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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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 péon ("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 José 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.)

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