Once a common sight on the High Desert, woven willow branches set between juniper posts formed corrals. Some were up to two-feet thick and eight- feet high. Volunteers at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, built a willow corral outdoors at the Miller Ranch and a partial willow fence indoors in the Spirit of the West exhibit.
Riders who moved the first cattle herds to the High Desert in the 1860s and established the region’s earliest ranches were Hispanic vaqueros, America’s first cowboys. They brought the traditions of training horses and working cattle that began in Spanish colonial California in the late 18th Century. Over time, an array of horsemen, from immigrants and discharged soldiers to Paiute and Western Shoshone, worked the region’s rangeland. All followed the ways of the vaqueros, Spanish word for cowboys. Eventually, the term vaquero evolved into buckaroo.
Non-Spanish speakers fail to understand how vaquero transitioned to buckaroo. Vaca is Spanish for cow. To Anglos, vaca sounds like baca or bucka, thus ba-care-o or buck-air-oo became the Anglicized corruption of vaquero.
The early vaqueros wore flat-brimmed, low-crowned hats on the California rangeland. Buckaroo Stetsons of the late 19th Century followed the same style in contrast to the stereotypical cowboy hat.
Early buckaroos, and some today, roped cattle and horses using a hand-braided rawhide reata up to 100 feet long. These horsemen, who followed the traditional California ways, prided themselves on their finesse in crafting artistic and functional rawhide gear from reins and reatas to hobbles and hatbands.