Purported “historical” defense of steer-tailing & horse-tripping misrepresents sources
For about as long as it took Mexican American Classic Charrería Organization founder and president Edward F. Ramirez to send ANIMALS 24-7 an email back on October 3, 2023, Ramirez appeared to make common cause with Showing Animals Respect & Kindness in denouncing charreada animal abuse.
That lasted only until ANIMALS 24-7 emailed back to Ramirez, pointing out that his purported strong stance on behalf of horses omitted any mention of the steers used in charreada, also called “Mexican rodeo.”
Though horses have been severely abused, steers have suffered the most and the longest of any animals shown in the extensive Showing Animals Respect & Kindness documentation of charreadas held in the greater Chicago area during 2022 and 2023.
Then Ramirez’s longtime public defense of charreada as originating in authentic Mexican cattle ranching practice disintegrated under scrutiny.
Ramirez started out well…
Ramirez wrote initially in response to the October 3, 2023 ANIMALS 24-7 article Charreada horse beater Christofer Dorado charged in Joliet, Illinois, in a comment posted in full beneath the article.
“The Mexican American Classic Charrería Organization categorically condemns the brutality perpetrated on [defendant Cristofer] Dorado’s and [defendant Jose] Aquilar’s mounts,” Ramirez fumed.
“We urge the corresponding authority to prosecute with the maximum penalty applicable to a deliberate act of animal cruelty as defined by law.
“Although this may not, probably will not, alter these individuals characters,” Ramirez acknowledged, “a stiff sentence will definitely reduce similar actions by others who may want to emulate such inexcusable dealings, venturing to predict it will eliminate completely this type of horse ‘training’.
“They will be suspended or expelled”
“If these individuals are registered with the Federación Mexicana de Charrería,” the principal agency governing charro associations,” Ramirez promised, “they will be summoned before its Comité de Honor y Justicia, the judicial branch of said institution, and will be suspended or expelled from the Federación for violating the multiple animal welfare and care clauses detailed in her rulebook.
“If they are not associated with the Federación” Ramirez said, “they will be listed as personas non grata in perpetuity from this organization.”
No mention of the steers
So far, so good, but as ANIMALS 24-7 responded to Ramirez, “What is missing from your presentation is any mention of the abuse of steers documented by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, including:
- Degloving steers’ tails, meaning that the skin is torn from the bone, a cruelty which was never a routine part of ranching practice either in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, or South America;
- Breaking steers’ legs, tails, spines, necks, and horns, abuses that are also common in American-style rodeo and are why SHARK and ANIMALS 24-7 have argued for more than 30 years each that American-style rodeo should be abolished;
- Leaving injured steers for hours without pain relief or other veterinary attention;
- Subjecting steers to repeated use and abuse, including as many as 15-20 runs in steer-tailing competition in a single day, and then as many runs again the next day at a different nearby venue.
- Electro-shocking steers repeatedly, including in the face. This is not acceptable, or even legal, at slaughterhouses, and most certainly should not be done at entertainment events.
No clear reference to steer-tailing before charreada became show business
“Regardless of how well the horses are treated,” ANIMALS 24-7 explained, “neither American-style rodeo nor charreada can ever be called humane if the steers are not also humanely treated.
“Incidentally,” ANIMALS 24-7 added, “we have personally researched the history of rodeos and charreada in the U.S., and found no published mention of throwing cattle down by their tails instead of roping them until after rodeo and charreada evolved from competitions among working cowboys and charros, into public entertainment events.”
Indeed, NewspaperArchive.com, collecting news media published either in English or in other languages within the U.S. and several other nations since 1607, includes just one clear reference to steer-tailing before 1967.
In that reference, on June 24, 1905, a Presbyterian clergyman in Laredo, Texas, took out an injunction to stop a steer-tailing stunt show.
“You may have overlooked the quote”
That detonated Ramirez, who is author of two websites defending steer-tailing and horse-tripping, a common charreada event that was banned in California in 1994 and is now also illegal in a dozen more states including Illinois.
One of the Ramirez websites is:
The other website, at https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Exhibits/Senate/NR/SNR439U.pdfAmerican, is entitled “Historical Proof of Manganas (fore footing) and Colas (steer tailing).”
Forwarding the links and content, Ramirez asserted, “You may have overlooked the quote that opens The Mexican American Charro Steer Wrestling Controversy.”
ANIMALS 24-7 traced the quote to source
The purported quote, as rendered by Ramirez:
“The boys, as soon as they can climb on a pony, are off to the prairie to drive stock. As they advance toward manhood their highest ambition is to conquer a pitching mustang or THROW A WILD BULL BY THE TAIL.” The Galveston News – August 16, 1866 (emphasis added).”
The “emphasis added” phrase, however, turns out to be both a minor misquote and a major misrepresentation of the context.
The Galveston News article of August 16, 1866, as a whole, is a scathing denunciation of the purported laziness, ignorance, and low moral character of west Texans, both white and recently freed African-American former slaves.
What the Galveston News really said
The specific quotation, in full context, by an anonymous Galveston News correspondent, is:
“So far as I can learn, and I have inquired faithfully, there is not a boy of American parentage learning a trade or reading for a profession west of the Colorado.
“It is rarely that you can find a country blacksmith capable of anything beyond pointing a plow––to shoe a horse as it ought to be done, is beyond his art––and if you are compelled to submit your buggy wheel to his skill to get the band tightened, you risk the total ruin of your vehicle.
Roping the kitten and the ducks
“But our youth have souls above the mechanical arts,” the anonymous Galveston News correspondent continued.
“The little children as early as they can walk pilfer their mothers tape to make lassoes to rope the kitten and the ducks, the boys so soon as they can climb on a pony are off to the prairie to drive stock; and as they advance toward manhood their highest ambition is to conquer a pitching mustang or to throw a wild beef by the tail.
“Manly exercises there, and calculated to fit our youth capable of taking their place among the most accomplished vaqueros.
“This ennobling occupation––the branding and marking of stock, with the attainment of the lowest patois of the Mexican language, sufficient to blaspheme fluently, and express ideas so low and filthy that the most hardened would blush to have them translated into English––these are the acquirements of the large majority of the rising generation.”
White boys, not “Mexicans”
The sarcasm of the entire passage, in an otherwise also overwhelmingly sarcastic article, should be self-evident.
Throwing “a wild beef by the tail” is offered as a logical extension of cruel and miscreant behavior beginning with stealing tape from mothers “to rope the kitten and the duck”; it is not at all presented as a positive aspiration or accomplishment.
The “little children” mentioned as aspiring to throw “a wild beef by the tail” are boys “of American birth,” i.e. white boys, not “Mexicans,” though “Mexicans” probably born right there in Texas.
The phrase “Manly exercises there” is wholly sarcastic.
“Most accomplished vaqueras”
The sarcasm is made further evident when the anonymous 1866 Galveston News author in mentioning “Mexican” cowboys refers to them as “most accomplished vaqueras,” giving the word “vaquero” a feminine ending, since he obviously regards throwing “a wild beef by the tail” as a less than manly accomplishment.
The anonymous 1866 Galveston News author goes on to make very plain his contempt for the language of the “vaqueras.”
The anonymous 1866 Galveston News author then makes a lengthy argument for educating the youth of Texas in quite the opposite direction.
Finally, the whole business of throwing “a wild beef by the tail” is presented not as a valuable ranch skill, but rather as a cruel and vulgar pastime, in which only a “vaquera” would indulge.
“No somos muchos pero sí somos MACHOS”
Ramirez in his defenses of charreada typically concludes with the slogan, “No somos muchos pero sí somos MACHOS.”
This translates, “We do not have much, but we have our manhood.”
Obviously the anonymous 1866 Galveston News author whom Ramirez quotes to open The Mexican American Charro Steer Wrestling Controversy had a very different impression.
The remainder of The Mexican American Charro Steer Wrestling Controversy presents equally questionable evidence.
16th century monk is also misrepresented
Quoting from the 1993 book Charrería Mexicana: An Equestrian Folk Tradition, by Kathleen Mullen Sands (1939-2018), The Mexican American Charro Steer Wrestling Controversy asserts that “The cola [steer-tailing] is also one of the oldest events of the charreada. It was documented as early as 1568 by a monk who ‘witnessed how a horseman galloped behind a bull over a level, wide, spacious plain,’ grabbed the tail, and threw it to the ground.”
This may be true, but in no way demonstrates that even then the cola was anything more than a cruel spectacle.
The full context, moreover, was that, as Michael A. Ogorzaly detailed in The Case Against Bullfighting (1993), in 1567, one year earlier than the monk wrote, “Pope Pious V in the papal bull De salute gregis dominici forbade bullfighting as an entertainment more proper of demons than humans. Pious V excommunicated emperors, kings and cardinals who would not ban bullfights, and clerics who attended bullfights, and excluded bullfighters from Christian burial.”
Though one would need access to the original statement by the monk mentioned by Sands to be definitively certain, the monk appears to have been assisting Pope Pious V in suppressing “entertainment more proper of demons than humans.”
The monk would not likely have found a routine aspect of cattle herding worthy of comment.
The Edward F. Ramirez web page “Historical Proof of Manganas (fore footing) and Colas (steer tailing),” apparently prepared as a ten-painting, one-sculpture portfolio presented to the Nevada state legislature, purports to offer visual evidence of both horse-tripping and steer-tailing as authentic ranch practices.
It actually does no such thing.
The oldest of the ten paintings, “Preparandose para Jinetear,” produced by Franciso Alfaro in 1880, shows a fallen bovine, gender unclear, who has been conventionally roped by the legs. The animal’s tail, stretched out behind, has not been involved.
The next oldest work, “Tailing a Bull,” produced by the renowned “western painter” Frederick Remington in 1894, actually depicts a lone cowboy tailing a steer on the open prairie, with no evident need for felling the steer.
The Remington depiction is suspect for several reasons.
As the 1991 Public Broadcasting System documentary Frederic Remington: The Truth of Other Days explains, “This painter, sculptor, author, and illustrator, who was so often identified with the American West, surprisingly spent most of his life in the East.
“More than anything, in fact, it was Remington’s connection with the eastern fantasy of the West, and not a true knowledge of its history and people, that his admirers responded to.”
Born in Canton, New York, in 1861, Remington died in 1909 in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Remington spent cumulatively less than two years of his life west of the Mississippi River, making only brief visits to six western states with short forays into western Canada and Mexico.
Remington’s depiction of steer-tailing, like much of the rest of his work, very likely began with a quick sketch made at an eastern “Wild West” show, redrawn in detail into a “western” landscape.
Charles M. Russell
Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) is represented in the Ramirez portfolio with six paintings, all from late in his career, after charreada became established as a spectator event.
The Russell paintings “Lassoing a Steer,” 1897, “The Renegade,” 1900, “Mexican Longhorn,” 1906, and “Mexico,” 1925, all show conventional roping as practiced in U.S.-style rodeo.
At least two of these paintings, and perhaps the lot of them, appear to have used the same models, since the postures and markings on the animals are similar, and in two cases are almost identical.
The 1917 Russell painting, “The West Is Dead, My Friend,” shows only a cattle skull on a post. Perhaps the animal was killed by use in steer-tailing.
The Russell painting “The Houlihan,” 1918, at a glance might appear to show horse-tripping on the open range, but the title testifies otherwise: the cowboy has attempted to “throw the Houlihan,” a head-roping technique usually used on corralled horses, and missed.
Staggering drunk vaquero
The 1930 Jo Mora sculpture “Steer-tailing” shows a longhorn steer being toppled, well into the era of charreada as a spectator event, decades after open-range ranching passed into history in almost all of the west. Mora (1876-1947) in late career produced illustrative material to promote rodeos.
Finally, for no clear reason, Ramirez included in his portfolio “San Antonio Texas Western Americana,” a 1911 painting by Harvey Dunn, showing no animals at all, but focused on a drunken vaquero staggering, supported by a fellow vaquero, past four apparently also drunken idlers seated on a bench outside a saloon, while a man appearing to be a caricature of Frederick Remington looks on from the saloon doorway, and a small boy trying to sell newspapers looks beyond the scene for more promising potential customers.
Steers used in charreada would have been easy prey
ANIMALS 24-7 has checked many historical accounts of U.S. ranching and hacienda procedures back to 1840, finding no reference to steer-tailing.
Eastern visitors to California during the pre-statehood era of Spanish and Mexican rule, including Two Years Before The Mast author Richard Henry Dana, were impressed by the skill of vaqueros with plaited leather lariats, but made no mention of anything resembling steer-tailing, done either as a ranch procedure or as a stunt.
This is for a fairly obvious reason: cattle thrown in such a manner as to break limbs and lose use of their tails as part of a procedure such as branding or castration would be ill-suited thereafter for life on the open range.
A steer suffering a degloved tail, a broken limb, or a broken horn would have been easy prey for the abundant pumas, wolves, and grizzly bears then frequenting the west.
Del Rio coverage never pretended that steer-tailing was anything but a stunt
NewspaperArchive.com shows that descriptions of steer-tailing as a stunt event became relatively frequent from 1967 to date in the news media serving a few communities close to the Mexican border, notably Del Rio, Texas, whose local media accounts for more than half of the total archived charreada coverage.
However, not even one of these accounts, published over a 56-year span, included any pretense that steer-tailing is, or was ever, a “traditional method of animal husbandry.”