My grandfather, Frank Gallego’s vaquero or cowboy legacy began with his father. His father, Florencio learned from his own dad, Casimiro. There is no written manual for “How to be a Cowboy.” These traditions are passed on from generation to generation. My tata taught his children how to care for the animals. My mom, Gracie often shares stories with me about how she used to be outside at the ranch and would ride horses with my tata. She would also go with him to local ropings.
My dad, Rene Rodriguez grew up on Tucson’s southside (next to St. John’s Church on 12th Avenue/President Street). Although he did not grow up with horses or cattle, my dad remembers visiting his grandfather’s farm/ranch in Magdalena, Sonora. My dad and his family would drive two hours south to Magdalena and would spend their summer and weekends at the ranch. His grandfather, Refugio was a nice man and very hardworking. He took care of animals, such as cows, chickens, pigs, horses and mules. These animals were used to farm the land. When my dad would return to Tucson, he would miss the ranch. Rene always had a place in his heart for this way of life. ♥
When my mom married my dad, my Tata handed the cowboy traditions to him. My tata Frank served as a mentor to my dad and would take my dad with him to Ocotillo Ranch and local rodeos. My dad said my tata introduced him to other old time cowboy and now, my dad has many cowboy friends!
When my parents were ready to build their own house, my dad said he knew that he wanted to invest in land so he could build his own ‘ranch.’ He always wanted a place to ride horses and that was not in the city. They decided to build their house, brick by brick on Tucson’s southwest side of town. My dad told me that when they purchased the land, there was no development in site. My brother was 2 years old when our house was built. Before that, my parents lived in a Silver Streak trailer. After our home was built, my dad then built a rodeo arena so he could practice roping in. Then I was born and my sister, Alyssa was born when I was 5 years old. It was the perfect place for my parents to build their foundation and to raise their children. We used the arena as our playground – and would play outside until night time. The animals also kept us entertained – we had horses, cows, chickens, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, fish, even a turtle, you name it! My dad often shares with me that caring for the animals has taught him patience and discipline. Every morning he still wakes up at 6 am to tend to the animals and to make sure everything is okay.
While growing up, my family traveled almost every weekend throughout the state of Arizona. My older brother, Rene Jr. participated in the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association. We would go as a family to his rodeos because both my father and brother participated in the competitions – team roping and calf roping. My sister and I would play outside while my brother waited to compete. My little sister, Alyssa also enjoyed riding the horses and she would help my dad get my brother ready for competition. Whereas I was more of a ‘scardey cat’ and would rather be their cheerleader from the grand stands (still am)! haha
It was always fun to venture out of Tucson and see different cities in Arizona, from Payson to Douglas. But it was more awesome to witness my dad and brother rope together, especially when they would win. Team Roping is “a rodeo event in which horseback riders compete in pairs to rope the horns and legs of a steer in the fastest possible time.” So partners rely on one another to make good time.
My brother participated in rodeos throughout his childhood years up and still today! I am proud of my brother because he is keeping the cowboy tradition. A tradition that many of his classmates while growing up quite didn’t understand. He sacrificed a lot of his years to focus on rodeo. During his junior year of high school, Rene Jr. and his team roping partner, Anthony Calmelat were State Champions in 2001. He even received a college scholarship from Central Arizona College and competed in the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming (http://cnfr.com). Today, my brother is passing on this tradition to his family.
His son, my nephew Augustine “Auggie” has been riding horses since he was practically in diapers! He loves everything horse related and loves to be outside by the corrals. When I see my dad and brother with Auggie, I reflect on my tata Frank and all the cowboys in our family linage that carried on this role. Last February, Auggie participated in La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo for the first time. He participated as a ‘mutton buster.’ Mutton Busting is a rodeo event in which small children ride sheep (safe-kid version of bull riding or broc riding). Although the event only lasts a few seconds, my heart was pounding the whole time. I can only imagine the excitement (and nervousness) my brother and sister in law, Andrea felt when the gates opened for Auggie. It was so neat to see him out there riding and carrying on the vaquero legacy. We will be cheering him on again this year at the Tucson Rodeo on Friday, February 24th. If you have never been to the Tucson Rodeo (www.tucsonrodeo.com), you should check it out!
Although I am not a ‘true’ cowgirl, I respect the cowb@ys, especially because it is a dying tradition. Now, that I am living the ‘city life,’ here in Los Angeles; I miss the tranquility of the desert. I also miss hearing the animals, especially the chickens! It is an awesome feeling to return home and introduce Sofia Luna to the same place where I grew up. She is playing in the same arena that I played. I don’t want her to be afraid of the horses, cows, or DIRT but to embrace the lifestyle. I want my daughter to appreciate how our ancestors cared for the land in Tucson and that we have a strong vaquer@ legacy to continue.
Want to learn more about the ‘Vaquero’? Check out Vaquero : The Forgotten Cowboy. Videos below: