Ropes and Lariats Used by the Vaqueros in the Old West

Posted by John Brand on

The Lassos were used by Vaquero’s to hunt wild cattle. Until the late 18th century, the Vaquero tied the lariat to the horse’s tail. But the development of heavier, more substantial saddles changed this technique. Vaquero’s began wrapping the end of the rope around the horn of their heavy saddles. This wrapping technique called “Dar la Vuelta” ("take a turn" in Spanish) passed over to the American cowboys, who corrupted the Spanish term into “dally” or “dally welter."

Vaquero’s and the cowboys who copied the practice could slip the rope against the saddle horn and gain leverage against a roped animal. The technique could be hazardous. A thumb caught between the Lariat and saddle horn might be amputated by the whizzing rope.

The Vaqueros skillfully braided long reatas from 4 rawhide stumps. They could make much of their equipment from leather. In making these leather rawhide riatas, the hides were stripped up into long thongs, which were either twisted or plaited with a four or eight plait. Much pounding and rolling was necessary to get them smooth, round, and even, and much greasing to soften and water-proof them. They also wove horsehair into a fine rope called a mecate ("McCarty"- the American corruption).

The lariats in California ran from 65 to 110 ft in length and about 5/8 of a inch in diameter. In Texas brush country, Vaqueros used shorter ropes that did not become entangled in the underbrush.

In addition to rawhide ropes and horsehair ropes, Vaqueros, used the tough, stringy fiber of the maguey plant to make ropes. Because maguey fiber stiffens in rainy weather, Vaqueros used it only on dry ranges.

Sisal, from the leaves of the agave plant, ran a distant third to rawhide and maguey as material from ropes.

Vaqueros threw a variety of loops, according to the task at hand. A figure eight would bring down a running animal. The piale, an under hand toss, caught the animals hind legs as it stepped into the noose. The mangana, an overhand throw opened to catch the animals forefeet.

The Texas Cowboys also used a variety of catches, such as the pitch, slip, heeling, backhand slip and forefooting. By the late 1860’s cowboys had developed the “hoolihan," where roper swings the loop only once above his head before letting fly. This fast throw is useful for catching horses by the head in a corral. The backhand forefooting catch is the vaquero mangana.

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