vaquero days laurie and buddy.jpg

Driving up the canyon, two miles east of San Juan Bautista on a rugged, narrow road, through overhanging tree-limbed tunnels, led to the St. Francis Retreat.

The Vaquero Heritage Days, Aug. 19-21, awaited horsemen/women and anyone interested in the history of the vaquero – the name for the first cowboy in the region. The 73-acre St. Francis Retreat on Rancho San Justo, and now the home of Franciscan Friars, was where the Californian Vaquero’s history began.

The weekend showcased everything related to the Vaquero era, including vendor sales of cowboy gear, cowboy and ranch fine art, and jewelry, accessories, books, music, and horsemanship presentations.

Buddy Montes and Laurie Montes gave presentations on the Vaquero style of horsemanship during the Saturday morning event.

The Vaquero style of riding on bridle horses was taught to Buddy two generations ago, he said, and added, “It took a whole lifetime to figure it out. The old guys wouldn’t say a word. They just waited until you made a mistake. When I wanted to hurry up, they told me not to tire out the horse.

“If you ran that horse, you better have a good reason,” were the words from the older riders, Buddy stressed. “The horse knows what he wants to do,” he added.

Buddy had a lot to say about roping. He practiced about five years before the older horsemen finally let him do it.

Then there was that teepee cowboys slept in while looking over the herd.

“That teepee is OK when you’re 18, 21, or 22,” he said. “I like to look at it, but those days are over.”

The Montes’ came back to California from working on cattle ranches in other locations in the 1980s and Buddy now works as the cow boss, and Laurie manages the cattle operations at Booth Ranches in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Laurie knows as much as me,” Buddy said.

Laurie was riding Rosie during the demonstration and spoke about what it is like working in cattle with the men.

“We wear our hair pulled back, no makeup or jewelry. The women do the same job as the men,” she said.

Laurie demonstrated the style of riding by taking Rosie in circles, using imperceptible movements to get the horse to respond.

Two other demonstrators in Vaquero style riding during the afternoon were Jeffrey Mundell, manager of el Rancho Cienega del Gabilan, and high school student, Chantz Albrecht, from Pinedale, Wyoming.

Vaquero Heritage Days founder Jane Merrill, owner of Southwest Roundup Studio Gallery in San Juan Bautista, said she has always been interested in California history, and the part the Vaquero played with the padres at the mission. She saw the need for public education and preservation of the vaquero history.

Merrill started the Vaquero Heritage Days in 2010, and in 2012 moved the event to the St. Francis Retreat.

The smell of cowhide perfumed the air with chaps, hats, boots as well as all types of horse gear in an atmosphere of old California.

To keep abreast of the Vaquero history, go to