The white stallion with black ears was a legend in West Texas and New Mexico for over a hundred years. He had a herd of mustangs like ghosts that no one could catch. Many people know a wild horse can only live for twenty years, and stallions only keep control of a herd for five or six years. A son from the bachelor herd or a stallion from another herd was always ready to challenge the herd stallion’s right to control his harem and the juvenile colts and fillies.
The sightings of the fabled black eared stallion continued for well over a hundred years, many people were skeptical, but horsemen knew it was possible the sons and grandsons of the white stallion with black ears could have the markings of the original stallion and control of the elusive herd of mustangs.
Confrontations for control of the herd often ended with the maiming or death of either the challenger or the herd stallion, bur sometimes, a stallion would use discretion during a battle, decide he was outclassed and retire with dignity before he was ruined or killed. Defeated, his wild spirit broken, but still alive, he would spend the rest of his life days with the bachelor herd. Nature can be demanding at times, the right to control a herd of mares and the right to breed those mares is a right that was earned in blood during personal combat.
Horse society is consistent in the wild, the stallion is one of the few males of any species that guards his family during the entire year. Most males including humans are only worried about family responsibilities during the breeding season, after they have their ashes hauled, many males prefer to hang out with other males or to be alone.
We who think on these matters, often ask, which species is more civilized?
The herd stallion guards his mares and juveniles with his life. A predator or another stallion knows he is risking his life by provoking the ire of a herd stallion.
The same colts that are protected by the stallion will be driven out of the herd when they reach a certain point in sexual maturity. At this point in a colt’s life, he may join the bachelor herd or take off on his own, to look for a different herd. The breeding stallions all have the same retirement options; they either concede defeat to a younger stallion or fight until they eventually die in personal combat.
The bachelors act as the sentinels for the main band, they stay an arbitrary distance from the herd stallion and his band. The older bachelors accept that they will never be a breeding stallion, but among the colts, there will be a few, who are willing to risk death to be the next herd stallion. The colts stage mock battles and sometimes these battles end with debilitating injuries that become a death sentence for a colt; since chronic lameness means a horse won’t keep up with the herd, and it is only a matter of time before a slower horse is pulled down by a predator.
In our modern sense of fairness and reality, the plight of wild horses seems cruel, but according to nature, it is the method that keeps the wild horses fast and strong, and able to run with the wind.
Carlos Campo, A Man Of The Soil
Carlos was born on a hacienda near Zacatecas, one of the great silver mining areas that made Spain the richest country in the world. His mother was a native girl who was duped into falling in love at the age of thirteen. She believed Don Juan Onate, 1550-1628, was in love with her; eventually, he was to become known as the Last Conquistador.
The Onate family had magnificent wealth from silver mining, ranching, and the Indian slave trade. Young Don Onate proved himself to be an able administrator and fearless officer of cavalry, but he had bigger dreams.
Onate had to get his priorities in order; a marriage was arranged with a rich and powerful young woman, Isabel de Tolosa Cortés de Moctezuma, an illegitimate granddaughter of the conquerer of New Spain, (Mexico), Hernan Cortez and a granddaughter of the former Aztec ruler of Mexico. In the world of the Criollo, those of Spanish ancestry, but born in New Spain instead of Spain, her lineage was highly respected; although, the Criollo class was considered to be lazy, stupid, and ineffectual by Castilians.
He needed the political connections and the dowry; to insure that there would be no complications, he sold his lover, the mother of Carlos, into slavery. She was sold to a friend, who had a hacienda south of La Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City). Before she left, Onate arranged for their six year-old son, Carlos, to be indentured with one of Mexico’s most famous riders, Paco Santee, an equestrian bullfighter and respected Castilian.
In his mind, Don Onate thought he was fixing a difficult situation. His bastard son was nearly seven years old, and could ride well enough to become a true caballero (gentleman or horseman, the same word in Spanish), and Santee was arguably the greatest horseman in Mexico, if not the world.
Onate arranged the internship through an intermediary, a trusted non-commissioned officer of his cavalry, Hector Lopez.
Santee was a proud Castilian caballero, of the old tradition. He was without fear, and managed to instill poise and courage in his horses. He could turn three pirouettes at full speed in the length of the bull fighting arena in Mexico City and lean down to touch the horns of the charging bull with each turn. He could half pass at the speed of a charging bull for the length of the arena and maintain a distance less than a man’s stride between his horse and the bull. When it was time to make the killing stroke with the sword, he never failed to deliver the thrust of muerte (death).
While the bull stood waiting to die from internal bleeding, Santee would dismount, signal his horse to leave the arena, and walk up to the bull to pay his respect. Normally he patted the bull on the forehead, while the bull was in the agonies of death, but if the bull was especially brave, he knelt on his knees and kissed the bull’s face just before the bull collapsed.
The crowd loved him, and he could have romanced many women and lived a life of opulence and excess, but Paco Santee was a simple man who preferred to be close to his horses and oversee the breeding of the fighting bulls that would face him in the arena someday.
Santee was considered a mago or magician with horses and bulls.
Don Onate arranged the internship through an intermediary, a trusted non-commissioned officer of his cavalry, Hector Lopez. Hector was to arrange the contract, including payment for the education, feeding, and care of Carlos, until the boy was grown into manhood. He was arranging a situation that was convenient for everyone.
During the early morning ride to Santee’s adobe, Hector told young Carlos that Santee was, “un hombre del tierra,” (“a man of the soil,”) and that was all that he would tell him about Santee.
In his mind, Don Onate thought he was making the best of a difficult situation, his bastard son was nearly seven years old, and could ride well enough to become a true caballero (gentleman or horseman, the same word in Spanish), and Santee was arguably the greatest horseman in Mexico, if not the world.
Santee’s reputation was of a strange man, who was a mago or magician with horses and bulls. Poor Carlos was scared of the great bullfighter who had killed so many bulls and could teach a horse to do almost anything.
During the early morning ride to Santee’s adobe, Hector told young Carlos that Santee was, “un hombre del tierra,” (“a man of the soil,”) and that was all that he would tell him about Santee.
It was arranged for Carlos to meet Paco Santee at the arena in front of his humble log and adobe cabin, a half hour before daylight on the first day of February. Carlos was to be provided a good horse to start training on, a horse that would become Santee’s property, and he was to bring all his earthly belongings on a pack mule.
When they arrived in the early morning hours, it was arranged that Hector was to let the boy ride up to the old man alone. Santee calculated every move for the best effect, when training horses; it would be the same with the boy. The drama was designed to make the boy realize, he would be away from his home until he was a man, and Santee was now his father, mother, and professor, for the most important lessons of his life, the lessons that would make him a man.
Santee could see the boy was riding an ill-trained horse, a horse that was more horse than the boy could handle safely, but Santee remained aloof and stared off into the gray mists of the morning. The boy rode close to the old man, and his horse became quieter and more relaxed upon seeing the powerful, well-trained stallion Santee was riding. Santee and his horse stood without moving; slowly, Santee turned to the boy and said, “Ah, mi vagamundo para donde vas?” (Ah, my vagabond, where are you going?)
Young Carlos trembled as the old man spoke to him, partly from the cold, but mainly from being in awe of the great horseman. Carlos recognized the clipped nasal Castilian accent of a native-born Spanish aristocrat, and answered in the tiny voice of a Criollo boy, “Querido tío, voy a ir contigo al cielo o al infierno, voy contigo. Tú eres mi maestro y yo soy su estudiante“ (“Dear uncle, I go with you to heaven or hell, I go with you. You are my teacher and I am your student.”)
Santee looked at the boy with a faint smile, his dark eyes were of Moorish heritage, eyes that had a gold ring around the dark irises, eyes that made the man seem mystical and mysterious. He chuckled inwardly at the boy’s bravado, and said, “Somos como Dios nos ha hecho,” (“We are as God made us.”)
Santee thought to himself, the horses and the bulls will test the boy’s nerve, soon enough, but he admired the boy’s intelligence and his unproven valor. He silently cursed Don Onate’s poor judgement, he overmatched the boy with this ill-trained horse. The horse was a good physical specimen, but it lacked manners and discipline. Oh, but what could he expect from a pretend caballero who was a Castilian in name only. Hopefully the boy would not be thrown, and lose his confidence, before he could find a suitable mount for the boy.
It would be simple enough to retrain the horse and make it useful, but Santee was unimpressed. He wanted the boy to learn to ride a trained horse well, fighting to stay on a poorly trained horse was a waste of time, but there would be many horses and many lessons.
The horse of Santee twitched his ears in anticipation, but otherwise, he remained perfectly still. Santee dropped both heels and made his spur chains clink slightly in the stirrups. Santee’s horse became tense and seemed poised to spring into action. Santee raised his rein hand and shook the reins in a barely perceptible manner, the horse trotted backwards without glancing behind him. Santee tilted his rein hand to the left and the horse did a pirouette to the left. He tilted his hand to the right and the horse did a pirouette to the right. He gave the reins two tugs and leaned back, the horse stood on its hind legs in the classic levade stance. Suddenly, the horse leaped forward and ran directly toward Carlos and then slid to a stop in the dirt, directly in front of Carlos and his horse.
Carlos was used to watching great Spanish horsemen, but after seeing Santee do his short demonstration, the horsemen of the his past seemed crude and clumsy. He now understood why the horsemen spoke of Santee in hushed reverent tones.
Don Onate wanted no traces of his former mistress or his illegitimate son to destroy his prestigious and politically advantageous marriage. Onate and his wife were Criollo, Spanish heritage, but not born in Spain. Even though they were rich and powerful, they were stigmatized with this distinction in Spanish society. They were considered intellectually, physically, and morally inferior to a native-born Spaniard.
Don Onate proved himself to be a competent military leader during campaigns against the ChiChimeca Indians of Northern Mexico, while in his early twenties. His bravery and leadership were noticed and recorded.
He developed a close friendship with a Viceroy, Luis de Velasco, who was the king’s personal representative in New Spain.
In 1573, the King of Spain, Felipe II, signed The Colonization Laws of Spain. This document outlined the responsibilities for those adventurers who wanted to exploit the wealth of new lands and elevate their prestige with the Spanish crown.
On September 2, 1595, Viceroy Velasco, as the direct representative of the king, granted Don Onate the concession to colonize El Nuevo Mexico, (The land of New Mexico included the land south of Canada, west of the British and French colonies to the Pacific, including land, minerals, and people), after receiving glowing reports from Franciscan monks who were near Santa Fe.
With the nod, Onate was required to outfit two hundred men, who would serve as both soldiers and colonists. He had to provide mining equipment, tools, seed, farming equipment, medicine, trade goods, blacksmithing equipment, a thousand head of cattle, a thousand head of wool sheep, a thousand head of sheep for meat, a thousand goats, a hundred head of black cattle, one hundred and fifty mares, and a supply of jerked beef.
Explorers were expected to pay their own way, but the King owned the land and if the explorers found wealth, 20% belonged to the King, this was known as the quinto or the “King’s Fifth.”
Onate would be appointed ruler of all the lands he colonized, and paid 6,000 ducats a year. He could borrow three artillery pieces from the Royal Arsenal, if he needed them. He could make land grants to settlers, and collect tribute from the native people. He was allowed to set up a royal treasury, build forts, appoint officials, and control the mining.
The opportunities for graft and corruption were limitless, but it was essential to find gold or silver in New Mexico.
Carlos learned of his mother’s fate, in 1582 at sixteen years of age. Soon after this time, Santee had come to the realization that he had nothing more to teach Carlos, but Carlos didn’t leave Santee. Old age was taking its toll on his beloved mentor and Carlos was devoted to the only father he had known for the past ten years.
Like a colt that is kicked out of the herd, the rage seethed in Carlos. Since his father refused to give him the aristocratic name Onate, he took the name Campo. In Spanish, Campo refers to the earth or the soil. In his own mind, he was Carlos of the soil.
It was Santee who kept the renegade heart of Carlos in check, but Carlos remained civilized out of respect for his beloved mentor. Santee returned the boy’s devotion with the love a man bestows on a son. They lived in Santee’s one room adobe and log cabin near Zacatecas for ten more years. Carlos was 26 years old, when Santee died at the age of 72.
Carlos was no longer bound by the moral conventions of civilized men. He gathered up the gold and silver, he and Santee had earned selling and training horses, and performing in the arena, as well as their precious few belongings and burned down the cabin with the body of Santee still in his bunk.
When the cabin was burning at its peak, Carlos rode away with two pack mules and a remuda (band or group of loose horses) of eight young horses. He felt the urge to cry, but he had no tears; without knowing why, he tilted back his head and let out the mournful cry of the wolf, the cry they make when a pack member dies.
On the mesas and in the valleys of the north of new Spain (Mexico), the vaqueros, Indians, and hidalgos, checked the locks on their doors and made sure their weapons were next to their beds, for the eerie wolf call continued through the night and the campesinos knew there was a new predator in the mountains that night, a predator that would never be brought to bay.
Carlos rode northeast and threw in with the Comanches. He taught them his secrets of horsemanship and they taught him how to survive in a harsh land.
The Spanish horses had been escaping and running wild for years. Don Onate estimated he was losing up to 30% of his horses and cattle from their desire to run wild in this fertile new land. Soon feral horses, descendants of previous escapees, would raid the pastures and steal domestic horses, and now that Carlos was teaching the Comanche the horsemanship of Santee, horse theft was destined to become a major enterprise, among the plains’ tribes.
Horses were prolific breeders in the North American grasslands, and within a few years their numbers were increasing exponentially, until they numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The Comanches had tens of thousands within two decades, but they were devious, thanks to Carlos, he convinced them to let Don Onate breed and raise the best young horses, so they could steal the young ones, while being careful to leave him with good seed stock.
The Comanche went on raids as far as Mexico City to steal horses, women, and children. It was a business for them, one they learned from the Spanish.
The Comanches were not only accomplished horse thieves, they were adept at breaking horses from a wild herd within a few hours, an unbelievable short period of time, thanks to Carlos and his signature technique. The Comanches would drive the horses into a blind canyon or into a large corral, with a log gate operating as a trap. Once the horses were inside, the Indians would rope their choices around the neck with the sixty foot, rawhide reata or Spanish lariat, from the ground. The Spanish mustangs would fight the frightening ligature until they were suffocating; in other words, they were near death from a lack of oxygen. When the reata was released and the horses started to breathe once again, his new owner was sitting on the horse’s neck, with the colt’s head cradled in the man’s arms and against the man’s chest, he would then breathe his breath or essence into the nostrils of the wild horse. The theory was that the human brought the horse back from death and owned the horse, body and soul. Unfortunately, some horses didn’t recover and died, but most of the horses that were brought back from death were good horses and served their riders well.
Carlos lived into his seventies and died over a hundred years before the American Revolution. He rejected Spain’s old world aristocracy and feudalism, just as the Americans rejected the British and their colonial system. He lived as a free man like the wild mustangs he and the Comanches depended upon for hunting the wild buffalo and for raids.
His people became wealthy among the Indian nations; although, the plains indians measured wealth in horses, a Comanche portfolio included slaves, gold and silver. They were catapulted from a Stone Age Culture to an Iron Age mounted culture within a few years.
They could make an iron arrow point in one percent of the time it took to make a flint arrow point. Iron knives and axes made life so much easier, and copper kettles were remarkably durable compared to the fragile ceramic cooking vessels that were always breaking during food preparation.
They became the premier horsemen of the American west if not the world, but their horse knowledge had been passed on through generations of horsemen, from master to student for over two thousand years. From the Middle East, the technology traveled west with the Moors of North Africa. Spain was already at the center of horse culture and knowledge in Europe, but when the Spaniards and Europeans saw the advanced cavalry tactics and the horses of the Moors, the theory of horsemanship and cavalry tactics began to evolve rapidly.
The Moors occupied portions of Spain and France for nearly eight hundred years and during that period, the European horse and the style of riding was changed forever by the blood of the Barb from the Barbary Coast, with its unique dorsal stripe, and the Arabian horse, a breed that probably originated in Iraq or Iran and was later adopted by the Bedouin of Arabia. Although the concept of breeds was not yet defined, these ancient stockmen and warriors still appreciated a brave horse, with speed, agility, and endurance.
The Moors demonstrated the advantage of light cavalry using light weapons with fast smaller horses, employing harassing tactics and evasion over slower, heavy horses. Tactics designed to break apart stationary infantry formations and meet similar forces and horses in head to head to head confrontation were becoming obsolete.
The Comanche took this modern form of cavalry tactic to its most advanced level in both buffalo hunting and warfare. Mounted buffalo hunting increased the chances of success and of mortal danger immeasurably. Derived from the traditional European riding technique of la brida, sitting deep in the saddle, with the toes forward in long stirrups placed near the horse’s shoulder, while sitting back in the saddle against the cantle. Some Western riders use this style today, but it was most efficient for the Spanish picador who moved the recalcitrant Iberian cattle breeds, of blacks and brindles, with a blunt tipped lance. This la brida style of riding was easily adapted by the mounted buffalo hunter seeking to drive a lance into the vital organs of a galloping buffalo. The Comanche could have made the kill with or without a saddle, either way, he was using the la brida style. The mounted bow hunter used the riding style brought to Spain by the Moors, la jineta. He rode forward in the saddle or in proximity to the withers (most upward portion of the shoulders) without a saddle. He was either sitting on his single rein or more likely had it tucked under his belt, while controlling his horse with his legs and body position, both hands had to be free for the bow. The mounted buffalo hunter usually would overtake a specific buffalo from the hind quarter and let loose several arrows into the area of the heart and lungs. The buffalo was a dangerous quarry, he could pivot toward the hunter and his horse and gore either one with a toss of his head. The rider depended on his horse’s ability to evade the head toss that could upend the horse and rider: it was the rider’s responsibility to respond to the evasive maneuvers of his horse and stay mounted while firing his deadly arrows from close range.
The rider who could buffalo with lance or arrows became an accomplished rider or he died. The chances of surviving a fall during a buffalo hunt with stampeding buffalo were slim.
Carlos saw the advantages of mounted buffalo hunting and he embraced it as a sport. The techniques were copied by other Plains Indians and they became such efficient mounted warriors, they were only defeated when the buffalo herds were decimated by the White Man with his rifle.
The great herds were exterminated to make leather; later on, the bones were ground up for fertilizer. The plains were fenced and the native grasses were turned under with the plow. Herds of a half million buffalo disappeared, the world’s greatest grassland was destroyed, and the world’s greatest mounted warriors were defeated, but not in battle, they were defeated through starvation and the government reservation policy. A forerunner of the concentration camp, it was designed to make imitation white men out of the Native American population.
It was Carlos who was one of the first to grasp the concept of freedom in North America; although, he lived long before the founding fathers were born, his concept of freedom helped germinate this idea of freedom in Western America.
He and several of the Comanches decided they had to catch the white stallion with black ears. He had escaped capture so many times, they wondered if he might be a ghost. They had been on his trail for three days and he had eluded them in the canyon country, but he finally made a mistake and had taken his mares onto a pie shaped mesa with a 90 foot drop off. This time, there was nowhere to go.
His band of mares and colts milled around in fear as the Comanches began to close in on the white stallion’s band. The stallion raced from one spot to another looking for an escape route, but they were trapped, and the men with their reatas were closing in on them.
With a wild look in his eye, the stallion neighed a farewell to his band and tan for the precipice. He jumped, the impossible jump, into the void. His body sailed forward, until he lost forward momentum and crashed on the boulders below.
Carlos now understood this ultimate quest for freedom, for the stallion chose death over the loss of freedom. Carlos had based his whole life on being free and evading capture. He turned away from the band of mustangs with the promising colts and fillies sired by the brave black-eared stallion, he never hunted mustangs again.
Epilogue: Don Onate, his wife, and the Viceroy are historic figures, his inhumanity and treachery are far worse than I have portrayed, but there will be more to the story. Don Onate was a victim of bureaucracy as well as someone who was trying to manipulate the system and the supposed riches north of El Paso. Those who wanted his position held up his expedition for two years on the Rio Grande, with meaningless inspections and regulations. The delay was a tremendous expense, Don Onate lost many horses and cattle who resented the poor pasture and limited water they were assigned by authorities, they opted for the feral life and became the vast Spanish Mustang herds and brindle Longhorns. His men resented the delay, they were opportunists and wanted to attain the rank of Hidalgo by occupying the “new country” for their king, over a period of five years.
Onate was allowed to proceed after two years of frustration. He established his capital at Santa Fe and mounted two missions of exploration. The first explored into Kansas and brought about a war with a large Indian nation. The second expedition traveled west to the Salton Sea and on to the Pacific. They found no gold or silver, but Onate’s cruelty toward the Indians caused a summons to be issued by the King. In Spain, he was stripped of the land grant that represented two-thirds of the land that was to become the United States, and reduced to being an inspector of mines in Spain.
His dreams of unimagined wealth as the Last Conquistador were crushed, for the sins of acting like a conquistador, but the not even Spain was willing to up up with the bloodletting of its recent history. Of course, Don Onate might have received dispensation, if he had found gold.