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Horsemen are Brothers

An address by Edward Larocque Tinker on 30th April 1954

New York author, horseman and philanthropist Edward Tinker had a lifelong interest in the Iberian tradition in the Old and New Worlds.  He founded The Tinker Foundation in 1959 and directed the Foundation's overall focus on Latin America, Spain and Portugal.  For more information about the Foundation, please visit its website.

As a young man I spent five exciting and unforgettable years in Texas and, since then, incredible changes have taken place. In those days yours was a land of unlimited prospects: today it is a region of magnificent realizations; and I cannot tell you how glad I am to be back. A nostalgic desire to return has never left me for, quite frankly, I like Texans, and admire their courage, independence, enterprise, and forthrightness. Also, I am deeply grateful to your state for a most important part of my education. It was here that I learned to know my country, and to realize what splendid people there were in every walk of life.

Tonight, I would enjoy reminiscing about my adventures on the border, in those thrilling days of the Mexican Revolution: but in these times of international strife and strain, one can only afford to look at the past when it lights the road to the future.

So, with your permission, let us discuss the reasons why should co-operate with our Latin-American neighbors, and what contribution we each can make to solidarity in this hemisphere.

The human race has always had an unfortunate tendency to dislike and distrust the man from another country - the foreigner with different ideas and habits - a characteristic that has spread much blood and suffering in this world. The little parable of the desert tribesman may hold a mustard seed of hope, however. One misty morning as he looked out. of his tent, he saw approaching through the dense fog what appeared to him to be a wild animal. As it drew near, he realized that it was no fierce beast, but some kind of human being and, as it came nearer still, he recognized his own brother.

Thornton Wilder said the things that separate men from one another are less important than the things they have in common; so let us talk a bit about the gaucho of the pampas, the huasso of Chile, the gaoucho of Brazil, and the llanero of Venezuela, so that you, who know the cowboy so well, will see how closely he re­sembles his brother horsemen. Thus may we dispel some part of the mist, for the love of the horse has always been a bond between men, a kind of international lingua franca that bypasses the barrier of language, and brings them closer together.

It is to Spain that all these horsemen owe their being, for Columbus and the Conquistadores brought over the first horses and cattle that eventually populated North and South America with vast feral herds.

Even riding gear and handling methods came from the Iberian Peninsula for, long before 1492, Spanish cattlemen branded their herds and sang to them at night, wore chaps, used a reata, tailed bulls, and made long drives to better pastures.

As for the ring bit used throughout this hemisphere, it was in­vented before the Christian era by the Arabs, taken by them to Spain, and it finally came to the New World in the mouths of the horses of the Conquistadores.

Last summer, I found this bit in a surprising place.  Riding  down the Champs Elysées, I saw a troop of turbaned Spahis (the Algerian cavalry of France) their red and white burnooses billowing in the breeze, as they trotted by on white barb stallions.  They were so picturesque that I went to their barracks, and was sur­prised to find they still used the ring bit invented by their Arab ancestors.  Their high-pommeled, high-cantled saddles were exactly like those the Spaniards had copied, and which the Conquistadores brought to America.

The Mexicans adopted this Conquistador saddle in almost every detail, but moulded the pommel into a large wooden horn for dallying.  When we took it over, we improved it by replacing the clumsy wooden horn with a neat metal one, and we also discarded the ring bit for one less severe.

On the pampas of South America, however, wood was scarce, so the Argentine saddle was made of more easily obtainable materials.  Patterned after the Silla de Brida of Northern Spain, it was built up, like a cake, in layers of sweatcloths, leather, and sheepskin. It served also as a bed, for its components could be spread out as a mattress upon which the gaucho slept rolled up in his poncho. As it had no horn, the end of the reata was tied fast to the surcingle ring.

The llaneros of Venezuela had a different method. Their gear was so poor and rotten it could not be trusted to bear the strain of roping, so they braided the end of their reata into the horse's tail, and let the animal stand the shock.

The South Americans antedated us in the cattle business by some hundreds of years for, by the seventeenth century, wild stock had increased so quickly on the pampas that big expeditions were organized to hunt them for their hides and tallow. These outfits often had remudas of as many as a thousand head and were accompanied by mile-long trains of lumbering ox-carts, each sus­pended on two groaning wooden wheels, nine feet in diameter.

When a herd was sighted, the mounted gauchos pursued them and hamstrung as many cattle as they could with their facones - long knives that every gaucho carried stuck in the back of his belt, just as our punchers wore six-shooters. After as many cattle were crippled as possible, the riders returned to slit their throats at leisure, skin them, and try out the tallow.

During these long excursions, often lasting six months to a year, almost the only amusements were emu hunts.  The riders fanned out in a large circle and, closing in, drove the big birds to a central spot.  Finally, in a last fast dash, they swung their boleadoras, a weapon inherited from pre-Columbian Indians, and launched them at the fleeing emus.  Then, dismounting, they tore out the tail feathers to sell to Europe, where they were popular.

When, after months of this strenuous labor, the ox-carts were stuffed with all the fat, feathers, and hides they could carry, the expedition began its long, dangerous trek back to civilization, and was frequently forced to fight off Indian attacks.

The gaucho, who more often than not had a strain of Indian blood, was a man of iron and rawhide, fearless, almost indestruct­ible, and a superb horseman. Even his games tended to increase his skill and hardihood. One of them, called "Pato" (the duck), became so rough, and so many contestants, as well as bystanders, were killed, that it was banned by law.

Their most daring stunt was the Salto de la Maroma, which has never been attempted anywhere else. The performer sits on the crossbar, called La Maroma, that connects the corral gate posts. When he gives the word, the gates are thrown open, and a dozen or so wild broncs stream out hell-bent for leather, and the gaucho drops from his perch onto one of them and rides him to a finish.

The cow supplied most of the gaucho's simple wants. His sole diet was meat and maté, a tea brewed of dried holly leaves, and he sat on stools made of cattle hip bones lashed together with rawhide. From the cow's skin he made his boots and horse gear, and, when he wanted a bowl, he cut off a cow's udder and dried it.

His tropilla of from eight to twenty geldings, for no gaucho would demean himself by riding a mare, was his dearest possession, and was trained to follow a faithful bell mare. At a whistle, the animals lined up and stood quietly while their owner saddled a fresh mount. This enabled the gaucho to make phenomenal rides, with his tropilla galloping beside him.

His Creole pingo was a sturdy, chunky, little horse of un­believable stamina, about fourteen and a half hands high, that owed its thick neck, slightly Roman nose, and low-set tail to· its barb ancestry. It did not have the refinement of outline and proud way of moving of the best of the Mexican horses, whose larger admixture of Arab blood shows in their dish faces, close coupling, large, luminous, eyes, and graceful tail carriage.

In comparison with South America, the United States was a late corner in the cattle business, for we only began after 1846 when, as the result of the Mexican War, we annexed California and the Southwest with their huge wild herds. The Mexicans had been working these cattle for generations, and we fell heir to the lore and methods they had inherited from Spain. We also borrowed a large part of their vocabulary. I checked a dictionary of cowboy terms, and found one out of every fifteen was of Spanish origin.

But that is not all, for Texas has inherited part of the great Hispanic culture that moulded Mexico and the other countries to the south. The Hispano-Mexican Missions, outstanding archi­tectural monuments in Texas, were built by the early padres and soldiers, and much of the regional architecture of the Southwest today shows Spanish characteristics. The great collection of books and documents in the distinguished Hispanic Institute of the University of Texas contains additional evidence of the influence the region has received from that source.

In addition to these inheritances from Spain, gaucho and cowboy have another thing in common.  Each inspired a literature that sang his praises and made him a national folk hero – a symbol of courage, manhood, and the pioneer spirit.  The pampas books, however, are more important as literature, for the gaucho played a far longer and more vital role in the history of his country than the cowboy in ours.  He was the backbone of the armies that freed the colonies from Spanish hegemony, and his part in the economic development of the Rio de la Plata Valley was on a national, rather than a regional scale.  Also the best writers of Argentina and Uruguay devoted their talents to the pampa theme, while this is not the case in our country for, although our authors of the Western scene have produced a collection of good, red-blooded books, some of which are excellent regional history, the majority, I fear, come under the heading of “escape literature.”

If you care to sample the pampas story, let me suggest you begin with José Hernández’ great epic poem, Martin Fierro, in the fine metrical translation done by Walter Owen.  Then you might read Don Segundo Sombra, a wonderful novel by Ricardo Guiraldes of a boy’s adventures on the pampas, guided by a grand old gaucho who typified all the virtues of his class.  It would be great literature in any country and has all the appeal and enchantment of Huckleberry Finn.  An excellent English translation may be had from Penguin Books.

These many similarities have been cited to show that our Latin-American neighbors are not so foreign after all, and that, as knowledge and friendship increase, they will emerge from the mist of misunderstanding as brothers

That this be brought about is vital to our future.  I might base my argument on high moral grounds and Christian principles;  but, instead, I will list only a few of the purely selfish reasons.

You do know that 39 per cent of all our foreign exports are sold in South America, but you may not realize that Japan and Germany, rehabilitated by our machines and money and aided by much lower labor costs, are making a desperate effort to take these markets away from us, and that, if we lose them, it will seriously affect our economy.

Remember, too, that much of our essential raw materials, like iron, oil, copper, and nitrates, comes from Latin America: so a general strike in the production of any of these vital necessities would seriously hamper our efforts in the event we are attacked.

In the next war, the safety of the United States, and possibly that of the entire free world, might well depend on a close co-operation between the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.  The threat of Communist infiltration in some of the Latin-American countries and the vulnerability of the Panama Canal to attack are self-evident features of the contemporary scene.  With relative ease an enemy plane, aided by the connivance of a leftist government in Central America, could bomb the Panama Canal, an immeasurably important factor in hemispheric defense, thus immobilizing our navy and immolating our commerce.  Think of the danger to our country if enemy air or submarine bases were established on the bulge of Brazil, or even worse, on the coast of Mexico, where it would be so difficult to protect our soft "underbelly" — that long imaginary line that separates the two countries.

What can each of us do to strengthen the bonds of friendship with Latin America?  In the first place, we can try to understand these people better, and realize that they have inherited from Spanish ancestors a fierce and sensitive pride.  They have the suspicion of the weak for the strong, and have acquired an in­feriority complex because of the difference in their wealth, power and success, and ours.  To compensate for this they are at times over-assertive and pugnaciously nationalistic.

They say to themselves: "Maybe we haven't got so many automobiles and washing machines as Uncle Sam, but at least we are cultured and refined, while the North Americans are money-mad, overbearing and bad-mannered."  We counter by accusing them of being lazy and trifling.  Both sides are tragically wrong.  We are all members of the human race, with the same vices and virtues, and with as many like qualities as gaucho and cowboy.

The important thing to remember is that we are boxed up together on this hemisphere, facing terrible common dangers.  In the approaching struggle we can betray each other, or help each other: and, whether we do, or not, depends upon the emotional climate — on whether we like, or hate and distrust each other.

We cannot afford to alienate the allies geography has imposed on us — nor can they. We must avoid the inadvertencies that cause needless irritation. We all have touchy friends who need special treatment. Why can we not expand that circle and take in our fellow hemispherians and individually assist in getting the co­operation the world needs so badly. It would be pure patriotism, and no peace is possible unless we do.

Columbia University is playing its part by inviting distinguished scholars from every Latin-American country to participate in its celebration this fall, so that their leading minds may know our country as it really is, and dispel some of the mists about theirs.

I am reminded of an interview Mrs. Dewitt Wallace had with the Emperor of Japan, when she was arranging for a Japanese edition of the Reader's Digest. His first question was embarrassing for he asked: "Have you seen the destruction caused by the bomb?"

When she admitted she had, the Emperor added: "But have you seen the reconstruction, that is what counts!  The Americans are the kindest and most idealistic nation the world has ever known"

Every one of us can help to spread this good opinion abroad, and the Texan has a God-given opportunity, for his state shares so long a border with a Latin-American country.

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