INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
1985 Texas Folklife Festival
August 2, 1985
Oral History Office, ITC
L: Rowdy, what's your specialty out there? Here at the
L: They've got you rawhide ... how do they list you?
P: They've been calling me quirt maker which, yes, I am.
But I make anything that's made out of rawhide.
L: Anything made out of rawhide. How did you get interested
in working with rawhide?
P: I've done it all my life. My father did it and coached
all the old ranch hands. Did some of it and little ole kid
followed him around. If one of 'em throwed down a piece of
string wasn't long enough or something, why I'd grab it up
and play with it, cut me a few strings, say I was interested
in it, they'd help me and show me a little bit. Really I
can't remember when the first time I had a piece of rawhide
foolin' with it.
L: Braiding it or ... ?
P: Well, it's all kind of different braids and plaits and
l"(~ o b~ -~.
mobs .(~) It's just a whole bunch of different stuff.
L: In your recollection, what did you make first? What was
the earliest thing you remember doing that you were proud of?
P: Well, I made a quirt, they fixed me up a handle and
everything, got me started, and the first thing I ever made
was a quirt that was something more or less worth while.
L: What other things do you make besides quirts?
P: Quirts, ropes bridles, bosals * (a leather rawhide or metal
ring around the horse's head immediately above the mouth;
used in place of a bit; from the Spanish ~l, meaning muzzle . )
any cowboy equipment made out of rawhide.
L: You say bosals?
P: The piece that goes around the horse's nose.
L: So you 've been doing this pretty much all your life.
P: Yes sir.
L: Now you've also made . ropes.
L: What were the circumstances that gave rise to using rawhide
for making ropes? Ropes are usually made from hemp, aren't
they? Is there any particular feature, attraction, to a
rawhide ... ?
P: Just availability of it, I imagine. I imagine a twisted
rope cam~irst, fiber rope. Of course, I don't know but .•.
Neanderthal, or whatever he was, that first got to tryin'
* Western Words, Adams
Rowdy Pate 3.
P: to wear hides and he needed a piece of string here and
yonder and he was usin' vines and he finds out there's fiber
in some of 'em that would twist. After he got his stone tools,
he discovered he could cut that hide into strips, twist it and
make him a piece of rope. Just gradually evolved into braidin'
and plaitin' and stuff.
L: How many of these Festivals have you been to, now?
L: Been at all of them?
P: Missed the first one.
L: Missed the first one. How wide spread is the practice
of rawhide? You say the popularity is up these days?
P: It's increasing. For instance, a couple of years ago,
Western Horseman did a series of articles on rawhide. Here
in the United States, it's increasing some.
L: In your part of the world ... you 've seen your dad, some
other folks working with rawhide, when you were a youngster.
Do they still do it to that extent where you live today?
P: No. It's practically died off. Nobody learned it.
Very little bit of it. I guess you could say, maybe it's
increasing. For two, three years, I've taught several boys
how to work rawhide in a little kind of informal get together
at my house. They was various ones . there were three or
four that were really interest that were real steady. And
then various ones come for a little while. There's
Rowdy Pate 4.
a couple of boys that I thi nk twenty, thirty years from
if they took a notior~~y5~ down and made a quirt, I think
could make a quirt; a rope or something. They did enough
of it I'm satisfied that they could do it later on.
L: Is there any particular trick or skill that is involved
in creating, let's say, a quirt?
P: Well, it's know-how. I suppose you'd say it was skill to
doin' the braidin'. Mostly it's just patience and havin'
somebody show you.
L: What kind of hide do you use? What kind of leather?
P: Any kind of hide. Just quit or crudlei~j ust dried hide.
No treatment of any kind. You can make 'ern out of deerhide
or horsehide or cowhide.
L: It's untanned hide?
P: Untanned. It's just dried. You stretch it and dry it.
From there, it's ready to use.
L: What gives it its resiliency? It's flexibility?
P: Lots of elbow grease.
L: Lots of elbow grease.
P: Yes. If you take a piece of rawhide, strap I guess
you'd call it, toggle!?) is the word I learned. A piece, a
strap cut . . say you're going to make a whip and you want a
piece of strap startin' out an inch at one end, then comin'
to about three inches at the other. Well, after you scrape
the hair off and clean the flesh side as best you can, get it
Rowdy Pate 5.
P: as equal thickness as you can all the way, you dampen it
and you just roll it up and unroll it and twit it and pull it
around a post and keep workin ' with it 'til it dries out and
it is a little bit more limber.
Then, too, you can rub a little tallow or saddle soap in it
if it's dried out . That adds a little bit of the natural oils
back to it. Any time you're workin' rawhide, you usually want
it just a little bit damp to give it a little bit of flex-ibility.
And after you get an article made . of course
you hang it up there and it's stiff again when you get ready
to use it, then it takes lots of . . . I usually use beef
tallow on it and lots of work, just wigglin ' and twistin',
bendin' and r ollin' .
L: Just prior to removing the hair off that hide, do you
treat it with anything or how do you get the hair, what kind
of an instrument do you use to get that hair off?
P: Just a sharp pocket knife.
L: I see. And just give it a good hard scraping?
P: Yeah. A good sharp knife and just scrape it off. A
piece of glass. Lots of times, old timers would pick up a
piece of glass, use a broke edge to scrape with. You can
put it in lime water; put it in clear water two, three days
and the hair will slip but it smells. You can put it in
lime water and it won't smell. Let it sit three, four days.
You can reach in there and take hold of the hair and give it
Rowdy Pate 6.
P: a little pull and it comes out. Take it out and throw
it on a flat surface and take an old garden hoe or something
and just rake the hair. Also, the old timers, nearly all the
old big ranches had a pit dug where they throwed their ashes.
They throwed the dirt out the side of kind of a rise where)
in case of rain, it wouldn't flood out. And they'd throw
all their wood ashes there. And when one of 'em wanted to
work hide, he'd put his hide in there and cover it with a
little layer of them ashes and keep it damp for a day or
two and that would cause the hair to slip.
L: I had heard of that but I didn't.. til you mentioned
it, I hadn't thought about that. So nowdays, the use of rawhide
is limited pretty much, I suppose, to making quirts?
Is that right? Is there a market for ropes or things other
P: The market is collectors. In the first place, the labor
involved in it is too much. I get 250, 300 dollars for a
rope; rawhide rope.
L: It takes you how many hours to make?
P: Oh, I don't know. I never did really set down and make
one . you know, entirely. But I would say . well it's
hard to say because you get this hide and stretch, nail it
on a board or something, put the flesh side out ... every
time you come by, have a little time, you pick a little
meat off or a little tallow, or work on the flesh side a little .
Rowdy Pate 7.
P: Then cuttin' strings ... say you wanted a sixty foot
rope, that would be probably 280 feet quarter inch string .
it's goin' to take you a good while to whittle 280 feet of
quarter inch string off a hide. You don't do it all at once.
Your hands cramp and you quit. But I imagine probably forty
hours might do it.
L: But you'd hate to think of spending full time making a
P: That's the reason I don't do it commercially at all.
It would take the fun out of it. Another thing. . those
old fellows . I never did see them sell anything. One
could make a quirt .
END OF TAPE I, SIDE I. >t"m;n~+e.$·
TAPE I, SIDE 2
L: When you were growing up, people had access to rope
made of fiber as well as rawhide. They had to have a quirt
made of rawhide as a necessity but was the making of rawhide
rope, in your life time, has it ever been anything more than
a curiosity item?
P: No, it hasn't. Not in my lifetime it hasn't been used
because in the first place, rawhide hasn't got the strength.
When I first got big enough to use one, we used one called
silk manila, Plymouth Cordage Company ·made it, silk Manila
Yacht Line. Rawhide just couldn't compare to it in
Rowdy Pate 8 .
P: strength. And in our country down there in the
brush country, we always tie our rope from the saddle horn.
Whenever we rope something it's tied to us. And that
rawhide rope just won't take the strain that other ropes
would. And that's the reason they're long, 60 and 70 feet
long, because they're dally * ropes, they take two or three
wraps around their saddle horn and feed it out slow 'til
* Dally - To take a halfhitch around the saddle horn
with a rope after a catch is made, the loose end
being held in the roper's hand so he can let it
slip in case of an emergency or shorten it. The
expression daled, vuelted, dale vuented and dolly
welter are also used, all from the Spanish phrase
dar la vuelta, meaning to take a turn or twist
with a rope.
The early American Cowboy gave the expression
the nearest English pronunciation, -dolly welter,
which brings to mind a story told by S. Omar Barker
of a tenderfoot roper who made a lucky catch and
was immediately advised from all sides to "take
your dolly weltin;" where upon he retorted that
he "didn't even know the gal." Later the expression
was shortened to dally, which is now the most
Rowdy Pate 9.
P: they get the animal stopped without really takin'
a jerk. Down here in the brush, there's no way; you
don't have the whole country to do that. There are just
so many things that can happen . . horse will fork a
tree with you if you tie him solid, you're going to
break a rope; jerk both of 'em down; something's goin'
to happen. With rawhide rope if you was trying to dallY,
first thing you know somethIng would be running off with
your r ope on.
That was . just as quick that they got something
better, why of course, they went to usin' it.
L: Do you know any other people who are working rawhide
as you are in Texas today? Is there any fraternity of rawhide
P: I think there is a national deal. But I .don't
know anything about it. It seemed while the Western
Horseman was runnin' those articles, it had something in
there about a club or whatever. I just don't know.
No, I don't think there's anything in Texas.
L: What you're doing with rawhide, in other words, is
strictly what you might call utilitarian, functional, as
opposed to ornamental or-decorative.
P: I've made some fancy headstall bridle reins that
are a little bit too much work involved in 'em to be
Rowdy Pate 10.
P: everyday equipment. Anything I see or hear of, I
try to copy it. Run across a fiddle in a museum in New
Mexico was made out of rawhide. So I tried to make me
one. It didn't work. (laughter) It looked like a fiddle
but it didn't work.
L: The sounding board maybe was
P: Well, that's true. I didn't know nothin' about a
fiddle when I started. I knew less when I got through.
I had one to hang up there; it looked like a fiddle;
people recognized it
"Look at that, the re's a raw-
I'm sure that that one was real. Of course in the case
in a museum, I couldn't really look at it. I'm sure they
had that thing where it would work. And one of these
days I might give it another shot.
L: Well, better luck the next time, as they say.
I don't know what else at this stage of the game to ask
you about the making of objects out of rawhide. Have you
ever had occasion to do any research of your own into history
of it. . how it spread from one civilization to another?
P: No. I never have. I hav e a book by Bruce Grant. I
think he's probably the top authority on rawhide; in fact,
he's the only authority I know of. But he did have a little
bit in there about the braidin' and stuff; probably came
from Arabia and Spain and from Spain to the United States
Rowdy Pate 11.
P: with the conquistadores. On into Texas from Mexico.
I noticed myself that California equipment and one town in
Oregon and up in there, they have a lot of different and
fancier stuff than we do ... actual working stuff.
L: I was going to ask you how the working of rawhide was
any different from one part of the country than the other.
P: Yes, definitely.
L: Could you give some specific examples? Compare, say
Texas and California and Montana. To say it's different is
one thing but . . .
P: Well, one good example is our hobbles. The California,
the northern states, their rawhide work came from Old
Spanish haciendas in California. And those were more the
charros; the fancy. Their hobbles are braided out of real
fine rawhide with lots of intricate knobs and work on 'em.
Down here in the brush they are a long strap of rawhide
that's been wet and doubled where it has smooth edges and
won't rub the horse's leg. And you get your fork in a
mesquite tree just the right distance apart, right side,
put these wet hobbles around it, you go in the middle; double
it in the middle around one limb, twist 'em, and come
around this other limb and cut a buttonhole one end of the
strap and put a button on the other one, like a leggins
button, a regular rolled up, hole punched through it, feed
the whole works. Cut four strand in your strap and tie 'em
Rowdy Pate 12.
P: on whatever would make a good button ... wet it, after
it dries, it retains that shape. And then you do a lot of
working to get it limber enough to use . . But still it
retains that shape.
And like the .bosals . all this real fancy rawhide
braidin' has come from California and the north. In the
last few years, people were travelin' more, rodeo hands
were seein' different things.
L: But you're saying the start in California grew out of
rawhide workers put more ornamentation in their work than
the Texans did.
P: Our stuff come out of northern Mexico cattle country
and they were workin' for a livin' and makin' things they
had to have.
L: You mentioned Montana as being a place where rawhide
is worked a great deal. How does that tradition, perhaps,
differ from California and Texas?
P: I don't know; I've never done any travelin' but from
the pictures and everything people told me and stuff, I
think it's the same.
L: The same as what?
P: California. All the northern states.
L: Back in the 1870's, 80's, Montana was awfully heavily
populated. Cowboys came out of the Texas brush country. So
that's why I asked the question about Montana.
Rowdy Pate 13.
P: I believe that was ..
L: You'd think that in Montana the work would more closely
resemble Texas than it would California. But that may not
P: No. It all completely changed. Their saddles used to be
different. South Texas hands used a full double rig. The
northerners used a center fire* or three quarters center fire
and until recently when all the rodeo and get togethers
One particular thing, I believe you-all have one, I believe
they call it a romal*, a kind of quirt-looking affair on their
reins, braided rawhide reins, with a deal that buttons on
there . . it's kind of like a quirt.
*California saddle: A light, high-horned saddle with one cinch
placed near the center of the saddle and covered stirrups. This
saddle is not much good in mounta i nous country, for the cinch
will not hold when the horse is going downhill. Also called
California rig, center fire, single-barreled saddle. Western
Words, A Dictionary of the American West, Ramon F. Adams.
* Romal: A f lexible whip made on the bridle reins when they are
fastened together, from the Spanish ramal, meaning branch or
ramification. Thus, attached as it is by the loop of the
briddle reins, the romal becomes but a "ramification " of the
rein, a handy addition that may be used as a quirt and dropped
from the hand without fear of its getting lost . Western Words,
A Dictionary of the American West, Ramon F. Adams.
Rowdy Pate 14 •
P: That's California and into Montana, Wyoming, Oregon.
You see pictures of their rawhide work. I've never seen
anything down here in this country like that. I feel like the
stuff we do is strictly ~- for use; are the oldtimers. They
were a little more decorative out there. I would imagine that
more of the old time Spanish craftsmanship went into it. The
southern part of Texas and everything was just for use. I
don't know, I just.
But I know when lots of the old trail drivers, what few
pictures there is, if you're really interested in the riggin'
and stuff, nearly all of 'em looked to me like they had fiber
ropes. I guess by that time they had got fiber ropes. I'm
sure there were some rawhides and stuff like that, but
From what I can tell from pictures I can see, I don't think
there was much rawhide ropes and stuff like that.
L: Certainly rawhide, as far as I know, has not been particularly
accounted for in the writing about the history and culture
life in the cow country in the west and southwest.
I know of only one. There was a guy named Stuart Edward
White who wrote many books but one of them, and his best one,
was c a lled ARIZONA NIGHTS. And it's a collection of campfire
stories. And one of them is called RAWHIDE. And it's a
pretty good story. This cattleman discovers his wife and one
of the cowboys are having an affair. He catches the boyfriend
out on the range somewhere and ropes him and sews him into
green cowhide and leaves him there in the sun.
Rowdy Pate 15.
P: I think that's the end of the story. (laughter)
L: At any rate, that's the only gruesome literature that I
know anything about.
P: We had a story down there at home that this old Mexican
farmer, he worked for a rancher and did a little farming on
the side. When it came time to pull his corn, he didn't have
a team or wagon or anything. And the rancher had an ole
wore-out set of harness and a wagon that he loaned him. So
the Mexican, he built him, throwed him up a hide and got on
his horse and pulled up over at the big ranch to get the stuff.
He knew the harness was wore out so he carried his hide to
patch it with. And he patched and he patched; he finally got
it all put together except the traces, the tugs. So he just
cut him some rawhide tugs and started on back, going t o pull
his corn the next morning and it went to rainin' on him just
before he got home. Just before he got to his house, the
wagon broke down and the mule just kept walking. It stretched
and it stretched and he got to the house, unharnessed his
mule, hung the harness on a post, went on about his business.
Next morning, it quit rainin', sun shining. By the time he
got ready to harness up, that rawhide had done drawed up and
pulled the wagon down the road and had it settin' down at
the gate, ready to go. (laughter )
Rowdy Pate 16.
L: They tell tales about some of these pioneer Texans who
were wearing rawhide trousers and getting caught out in the
rain with them, creating problems. (laughter)
Listen, I thank you very much for coming up here and visiting
with me for a little bit.
END OF TAPE, Side 2, about 17 minutes
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