Letters to the Editor: American cowboys owe their lifestyle to Mexican vaqueros

Men in cowboy hats walk into an arena with a line of flames nearby
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the nation’s only touring Black rodeo competition, begins in Las Vegas on June 13, 2021.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Your article on Black cowboys was awe-inspiring. I have always appreciated meeting folks on horses, even in Griffith Park on the trails or elsewhere.

I do want to note that the original cowboys were from Mexico and taught Americans how to ride in the “Mexican fashion” in the 1820s. In his epic 1931 book “The Great Plains,” historian Walter Prescott Webb shows how a new method of riding had to be created to deal with the cattle business and to ward off raids.

The very word “cowboy” comes from the Spanish “vaquero.” Many of the words and phrases used by cowboys also come from Spanish — for example, “la soga” gives us lasso, rodeo is a Spanish word, and “dolly welter” (a term for wrapping a lasso around a saddle horn) comes from “dale vuelta,” which translates to “give it a turn.”

As your article notes, many Black people contributed to the cowboy mystique and culture, and no one should deny their contributions to the taming of the West. But credit is also due to the Mexican vaqueros.


Richard C. Ponce, Los Angeles


To the editor: I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Black cowboys. You mentioned Charlie Sampson, the first Black bull rider to win a world championship.

I had the privilege of meeting him this past summer — he was working at a dude ranch that my family visited in Wyoming. A kinder, gentler or more thoughtful man you could never meet.

He is also an inveterate liar — always with a straight face, and always with the goal of making you laugh.

One true story of his was about his head colliding with a bull’s during a rodeo ride attended by then-President Reagan. He broke more than 100 bones in his face (except his nose!) and the president called him in the hospital to check on him.

If I ever thought that cowboys weren’t tough, that story surely proved otherwise.

Christine Hunt, Arcadia



To the editor: Why would a person’s color make it more acceptable to abuse animals? Animal abuse is prolific in all rodeos, and your story only perpetuates this abuse.

JC Corcoran, Glorieta, N.M.