OLD MEXICO AND CALIFORNIA
This author’s color rendering is based on a detail from an 1852 sketch by A. de Vauducort showing the plaza mayor in El Paso. I was so transported by the accuracy of the artist’s original sketch that I could not resist bringing it to life in color with all the details of Spanish-Mexican dress and equipment. I particularly admire the way the artist has captured the perfect aplomb of the caballero and the lively elastic step of the horses— a walk, yet so full of life it is almost a trot. These animals are of pure Spanish Colonial extraction; I’ve chosen to show two more of the wide array of their unusual colors—the ponied horse a linebacked dun with four white socks and a blaze, and the ridden horse a gateado rojo ( red grulla) with zebra stripes extending high up the legs. In 1913, this Mexican militiaman, or possibly a raider ( bandito), rides an apple-horned esqueleto ( skeleton) saddle with exposed stirrup leathers and bullnose stirrup- covers ( tapaderos). The horse carries a ring-bit or chileno, the Mexican ancestor of the California spade; he wears the bosalillo or thin rawhide noseband that is used on finished horses. The braided leather mecate ( Anglo-American “McCarty”) is attached to the bosalillo by a metal ring rather than tied over a heel knot. It hangs to the left and would be coiled and tied to the left side of the saddle. The rider uses closed leather reins rather than a romal outfit. The Cayuse he rides shows mostly Spanish character, but the head belies some Thoroughbred influence. This type of horse can still be found throughout rural Mexico and Guatemala, as well as in the mountains and backcountry of Central America.
Dating to about 1895, this photo was almost certainly taken in California; note the rider’s “hybrid” clothing and tack, showing both Spanish and Anglo influence. The horse is likewise a mixture, a type used by range bosses and ranch managers who worked for the giant Miller and Lux outfit that once controlled thousands of acres in California and Oregon. Henry Miller, a German butcher who came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, hated Mustangs because they competed with his cattle for available grass, and hunters in his employ exterminated most of the herds that developed after secularization. Nonetheless, some were preserved, and Miller bred them to Morgans to produce this type of horse.
marvellous rendering of Californios in about 1835. The scene shows a hacendado ( ranch owner) who is also a caballero ( horseman or gentleman, the two terms being synonymous in Spanish). He is, of course, also an hidalgo ( important person), shown out riding on a Sunday afternoon with his daughter, sidesaddle on the California sorrel, and his son astride the rabicano bay. At a waterhole they have met the hacendado’s mayordomo ( ranch manager or range boss), who respectfully doffs his hat. The mayordomo’s baldfaced black wears an embossed and fringed leather armita or croup-cover, a direct descendant of Medieval European horse armor. The mayordomo’s thighs are covered by a sheet of bullhide called a chapa, meant to protect the horse’s breast and the rider’s legs from thorny brush. All the horses wear bosalillo, mecate and spade, and every part of costume and equipment that could be embellished bears an almost baroque level of decoration.