By Jean-Benoît Nadeau & Julie Barlow
Spanish might be the last thing people in Calgary, Alberta, were thinking of while they celebrated their annual Stampede. Yet most of the vocabulary of ranching culture actually comes from Spanish. The word “stampede” itself is an Anglicization of the Spanish estampida (which means “suddenly,” or “in a rush”). Some ranching vocabulary is recognizably Spanish, like lasso, rodeo, bronco, and pinto. Other terms are less obvious, but Spanish nevertheless, like mustang, which come from mesteño (“wild,” or “untamed”), buckaroo, from vaquero (cowboy), chaps from chaparreras and jacket, from chaqueta.
The reason for the Spanish influence? Ranching itself comes from Spain. It started in the Middle Ages, when Castilians, Basques, Galicians, Aragonese and Leonese began free-range sheep and cattle grazing. At one point Spain organized these territories under an owners’ guild called a mesta. When Spain started colonizing the Americas, it implanted ranching techniques in the Americas, where they took root and developed.
Both the lasso and the cowboy saddle were developed in 16th century Mexico. Ranching arrived in what is today’s U.S. Southwest after Juan de Oñate, the “last conquistador,” forded the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) at El Paso, and opened all the northern territory as Nuevo Mexico for settlement.
Centuries later, when Americans arrived in Texas, they discovered a totally unfamiliar mode of agriculture. Free-range cattle raising simply didn’t exist in the East, where farmers raised small herds behind fences on mid-size farms. The Texas Longhorn itself was a new brand of cattle, a mix of two or three varieties of Andalusian cows.
When the conquest of the west was over at the end of the 19th century, cowboys moved north to Canada, and brought ranching culture with them. Incidentally, the “ten-gallon hats” that many Albertans sport at the Stampede comes from the Spanish term tan galán, meaning “how nice.”