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During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Spain held much of the land that is the American West. Established missions raised cattle for America’s flourishing market. The need grew for skilled horsemen to handle and manage the herds. Many of the men running the missions were of Spanish nobility, trained in skills of horsemanship and roping practiced in Spain for centuries. These skills were passed on to their workers, known as “vaqueros”. Once these lands were converted to privately owned ranchos during Mexico’s rule, the vaqueros found work running cattle and managing the rangelands. Even after the United States gained control in 1848, these vaqueros continued to work, alongside their American counterparts.

The ending of the Civil War, when cattle herds spread throughout the west, the numbers of American cowboys grew. Once or twice each year, cowhands rounded up the cattle on the open range and drove them through miles and miles of vast open land to various marketing centers (stockyards). There in celebration of their job completed, informal competition was common. Cowboys might issue challenges to each other to see who really was the best at cutting cattle or throwing a rope. Spectators would inevitably gather.
Taken from: http://pages.zdnet.com/scottt1962/greatnorthwest/id24.htm
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