Texas was Mexico before it was Texas. Spanish settlers brought horses and cattle to Mexico some 400 years ago. In Spain, cattle were not allowed to roam free because space was limited. However, in the vastness of the New World, they were set free to graze and reproduce. Soon there were huge herds and large Spanish ranches throughout northern Mexico. The Spanish trained local Indians to ride horses and work the cattle. They became known as vaqueros, from the Spanish word vaca, which means cow. This is where the legend begins.

In a very real sense, the first cowboy was a vaquero. When the Spanish brought cattle north to what is now Texas, they were dressed in chaps, (chaperaras, pronounced shaps) spurs, and broad brimmed hats (sombreros) to protect them from the sun. Their outfits had evolved over a long period of Spanish history, and were both ornate and objects of pride and stature. Their spurs were large and elaborate and their saddles embroidered and mounted in silver. The higher on the economic scale, the more ornate and distinctive were their garments. This was true of the American cowboy as well; ranchers and successful businessmen had saddles that were finely carved and tooled, boots with silver engraved heels and toes, and guns with beautifully engraved designs and pearl or ivory grips. The lower on the economic ladder, the more basic were the decorations.

*Friedman, Michael. Cowboy Culture, (Schiffer 1992)