Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rawhide...The Mexican Iron Used by the Vaquero's

Clint Eastwood In Rawhide

  You may have heard the term rawhide ( and I am not talking of the 1960's series starring Clint Eastwood) when speaking about different types of leather horse tack. Rawhide is the hide of an animal that has been kept in its natural state and has not been treated. This is different from the leather process. Leather is the hide of an animal that has been altered by a special "pickling" process called "tanning". After this process is completed the hide is termed "tanned". These different processes make the look and feel of leather quit different than the look and feel of rawhide. Leather's strength and utility properties are also different than those of rawhide.

Most rawhide originated from the skin of buffalo, deer, elk or cattle. It was prepared by removing all the fur, meat and fat. The hide was then usually stretched over a frame before being dried. The resulting material was hard and translucent. It could be then shaped by rewetting and forming before being allowed to thoroughly re-dry. The rawhide was then rendered more pliable by bending repeatedly in multiple directions. This happened by rubbing it over a post and even sometimes using a traditional method of chewing. The rawhide was also oiled or greased for a degree of waterproofing.

"California Vaqueros," painted by James Walker, 1875.

Rawhide was one of the most useful products of the pioneer cattleman. From it he made ropes, hobbles, clotheslines, bedsprings, seats for chairs, overcoats, trousers, and shirts. The rawhide was used to patch saddles and shoes. Strips of rawhide was used to bound loose wagon tires or used to lash together pieces of broken wagon tongue. It was also used as a substitution for nails. Indians used the rawhide to make drum heads and shield covers. Rawhide was so tough and durable it was known as the "Mexican iron". That is why the Vaqueros used this "Mexican Iron" for their beautiful horse tack.

The Vaqueros used many types of fancy braided rawhide horse equipment during their daily activities in the old west. It was common to see the vaqueros using these beautifully crafted braided rawhide headstalls, bridle reins with romals, riatas, hobbles, quirts, hackamores, and bosals. The vaqueros took special pride in having good quality braided rawhide equipment and a well-trained horse.

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