“From Andalusia to Far West Texas,” by Alpha Unit

The wild ancestor of modern cattle is the aurochs. This nearly seven-foot-tall beast ranged throughout North Africa and Eurasia. Domestication occurred independently in Africa, the Near East, and the Indian subcontinent between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. Humans have been raising cattle for their milk, meat, tallow, and hides ever since.

But the practice of raising large herds of livestock on extensive grazing lands didn’t begin until around 1000 CE, in Spain and Portugal. Cattle ranching, in particular, was unique to medieval Spain.

During the Spanish Reconquista, members of the Spanish nobility and various military orders received grants to large tracts of land that the Kingdom of Castile had conquered from the Moors. Pastoralists found that open-range breeding of sheep and cattle was most suitable for these vast areas of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, and Andalusia.

It was in Andalusia that cattle ranching took hold, with cattlemen owning herds as large as 1,000 head or more. Those cattlemen oversaw the first cattle drives. Cattle could be driven overland as much as 400 miles from summer pastures in the North to winter ones in Andalusia. The vaqueros who herded the cattle were freemen hired for the year and paid in coin or in calves.

Andalusian ranchers introduced the use of horses in managing cattle – a necessity in the long overland drives to new pastures. They also established the customs of branding and ear-marking cattle to denote ownership. By the time Columbus left Spain on his first voyage, the cattle industry of Andalusia had undergone a few centuries of trial-and-error improvement. On his second voyage Columbus unloaded some stallions, mares, and cattle on the island of Hispaniola, introducing cattle to the New World.

Conquistadors who arrived in the New World in search of gold continued what Columbus began, turning Andalusian cattle loose throughout the Spanish West Indies and other parts of Spain’s colonial empire.

In 1521 Gregorio de Villalobos defied a law prohibiting cattle trading in Mexico and left Santo Domingo for Veracruz with several cows and a bull, importing the first herd of Spanish cattle to Mexico. Hernán Cortés brought horses and cattle to Mexico as well, and by 1540 Spanish cattle are permanently in North America.

Cortés had set about using enslaved Aztecs to herd cattle. Slave labor to herd cattle was overseen mostly by Spanish missions, which came to dominate ranching. Under Spanish law no Indian slave was permitted to ride horses, but this obviously impractical law was ignored. Aztec Indians became the first vaqueros of New Spain (Mexico), where conditions for raising cattle were even better than those in the West Indies.

By the 1600s there weren’t as many Native slaves, as thousands had died over time from exposure to smallpox, measles, and yellow fever, in outbreaks that began among the Spaniards and to which Natives had no immunity. As a result, the vaquero labor force came to include mission Indian converts, African slaves, and mestizos.

New Spain’s borders spread northward into what is now the US Southwest. The sparsely populated northern frontier regions of northern Mexico, Texas, and California didn’t have enough water for farming but the climate and acres of wild grass and other vegetation made them ideal for cattle ranching. Cattle and horses were now a feature of American life and were beginning to shape American identity.

Beginning in the 1820s, Anglo settlers moved to the Texas region of Mexico in search of inexpensive land. Texas was severely underpopulated, so Mexico had enacted the General Colonization Law of 1824, permitting immigration to all heads of households regardless of race, religion, or immigrant status. Anglo Texans were largely farmers and didn’t warm initially to the Spanish-Mexican concept of large-scale ranching. But ranching became popular among Anglos after immigration agents began promoting it. Texas cattle were so plentiful and cheap that most people could begin raising livestock without a large investment.

Anglo Texan cowhands and their counterparts throughout the US were the latest incarnation of the vaquero that got his start in southern Spain. The vaquero rides on, whether he’s Native, mestizo, Black, Hispano, or Anglo.


Filed under Africa, Agricutlure, Alpha Unit, Americas, Amerindians, Animals, Blacks, Caribbean, Colonialism, Cows, Domestic, Eurasia, Europe, European, Europeans, Guest Posts, Hispanics, History, Horses, Immigration, India, Labor, Latin America, Livestock Production, Mestizos, Mexicans, Mexico, Mixed Race, Near East, North Africa, North America, Political Science, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, South America, Spain, Spaniards, Texas, The Americas, USA, West, Whites

12 responses to ““From Andalusia to Far West Texas,” by Alpha Unit

  1. deSPICable Me

    The land in Castile was best left to Grazing as opposed to planting?
    That would make sense given the climate.

    I had always heard there was a large Berber presence in the province up until the Umyyads took over. This would well explain a ‘herding’ way.

    Thank you for this great post.

    • Alpha Unit

      Thanks for that information about the Berbers.

    • Olive groves are huge in Southern Spain. I took my mother there.

      That is about the only thing that grows.

      Southern Spain is desert. They filmed the Clint Eastwood films there. It is pretty rugged.

      • deSPICable Me

        You’re correct.
        Even in the modern day North Spain is better off (GDP/capita) although the whole country is in bad shape.

        I am unsure why the Umayyads were so desperate to have this place. I can only assume it was primarily a ‘launching pad’ to harass Christendom.

        • Ireland and Arabia meet in Iberia with France in the middle.

          Northern Spain is a place I have never been. But Southern Spain is a desert and the buildings Arab. The people look quite Arab-blooded as well.

          Northern Spanish have the usual red or brown hair with deep-set blue eyes you see in Ireland or Western France of pure Celts.

    • deSPICable

      Arabs from the Arabian peninsula actually ranked hire than North African Berbers in their own Caliphate and commanded Berbers.

      The Muslim rulers of Spain were not Berbers from North Africa but Arab born commanders of Berber troops. Imams, Arab equivalent of nobility were administrating Southern Spain with Berber soldiers.

      It is not just North African but outright Arab blood in Spain.

      • deSPICable Me

        Yes, you’re correct.

        Berbers seem to have only ‘ruled’ or been dominant between West Rome’s fall in the 400s and the late 600s conquest by the Umayyads.

        My point was to Alpha some elements of their culture remained; the roots of what she is writing here.

      • deSPICable Me

        Having lived in Dubai I’m sure you’re aware that Bedouin types are not Imperial.
        Even Muh mmad was an urban merchant.

        • Bedouin types did not mount the military campaigns throughout North Africa and later Spain.

          They are almost like a separate ethnic group in the Middle East who trace their roots to the Jibali from the Yemen border.

        • deSPICable Me

          North Spaniards are basically British Islanders.
          They do not have the blue eyes and light hair of Nordics, but rather brown and green.

          There was a great history of contact between the two

          Iberian blood is apparent in Irish like him.

          He does not look Med but British.

        • deSPICable Me

          replied to the wrong comment on that last one.


          The Aboriginal Canary Islanders were closely related to Berbers, yet had red hair.
          Weird stuff seems to have happened with Arabs, they’ve got some Black blood, are apparently inbred, etc.

          WNs like to use this to show how Arabs could’ve been Civilization builders 2000 years ago but are not ‘primitive inferiors’. I am not sure how factual they are being.

        • deSPICable Me

          meaning Berbers went one direction and Arabs another.

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