Russell Freedman gives us an inside depth look at the rugged life of the legendary cowboys In the Days of the Vaqueros:
America's First True Cowboy. "They called themselves vaqueros, or cowherders, from vaca,
the Spanish word for cow." They were nothing more than poor laborers whose trade can be traced back in time before George
Washington sailed the Delaware.
Freedman goes back to the beginning of the vaqueros "herding cattle on the Mexican plains nearly five hundred years ago."
Later wealthly Spanish colonists and the missions began "introducing cattle to Mexico's rugged northern provinces, then to
the wild frontier regions of New Spain." In Rodeo, we learn how the men "flushed cattle from their hiding places
in thickets, gullerys, and ravines and sent them trotting across the countryside toward a central roundup ground." We
gain an understanding of how they used a lariat, or lasso, and dally where the vaqueros tightened the rope around the saddle
In Contest and Games, the horsemen enjoy "their favorite pastimes - test of horsemanship" in such games as: Colear
(tailing the bull), carrera del gallo (pulling a live rooster out of sand) and La sortija ( the ring race). They
had little free time to enjoy while they worked for the hacendado, the owner of the estate. Most of the owners
"employed several hundred vaqueros." The hacineda owner would continually lend them money in order to keep
them working to pay off their debt.
Freedman has chosen wonderful drawings, such as Swapping tales around the campfire and Waving his
sarape to haze cattle, for his book from Frederic Remington that were included in Harper's Monthly
during the 1890s. Frederick Coffay Yohn's Battle of the Alamo is also pictured. Black and
white pictures, color paintings, drawings and actual photographs depict the life of the vaqueros and the American buckaroo,
showing style of clothing worn, hats, and accessories, such as bed rolls and extra ropes, which were attached to the saddles.
Without such detailed pictures the book would not be as successful.
The research that Freedman has put into this book helps to give validity to the subject. Freedman has listed a bibliography
page where he presents the list of works that he has consulted in order to put the book together. Cowboys of the
Americas by Richard W. Slatta (talking about the rise and demise of the cowboy) and Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five
Centuries by David Dary (exploring the working cowboy) were two very helpful books. The book's bibliography is
personalized by the how Freedman tells a little bit about each book instead of just listing the sources.
Two very helpful additions to the book are a glossary and an index. A two page glossary and prounciation key of Spanish
words used in the book is included at the back. The glossary helps the reader gain a true understanding and feel of
the story. Examples of words used in the book are: Espuelas (ess PWEH las) which means spurs, desjarretadera (dess hahr
reh ta DEH ra) which means a hocking knife used to disable cattle, and sortija (sohr TEE ha) which means a ring race.
The index includes bold print numbers which refer to pictures in the book and parenthese to help explain the Spanish words
such as Calaveras (place of skulls), 25.
Freedman has documented how the vaqueros taught their skills to the American settlers. "It was from the vaqueros
that cowboys derived their distinctive clothing, saddles, and lingo--words like lasso, dally, and buckaroo. But it is
the cowboy whose fabled reputation we remember, while the vaquero has all but disappeared from history."
Freedman, Russell. 2001. In the Days of the Vaqueros: Americ'a First True Cowboys. New York: clarion
Books. ISBN: 0395967880.