The foundational bull ranches

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Jock Richardson

It has always seemed appropriate to me that the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, in their monograph Geografia Espanola del Toro de Lidia, uses the valleys of the major rivers of Spain to structure their study by geographical area. In it the ganaderías are pinpointed along the courses of the Duero, the Ebro, the Tagus, the Jucar, the Gaudiana, the Guadalquivir and others. Any sally into how the earliest ganaderías came about leads one into the valleys of Spanish rivers such as the Ebro, the Henares, the Jarama, the Yeltes and the Guadalquivir.

It is tempting to think of the bulls roaming wild in the unenclosed pastures in the river valleys and gradually being gathered together into ranches as the fiesta de toros developed and the secrets of genetics emerged from Mendel and Darwin so that the descendants of these early animals are still grazing in the same pastures as did their abuelos and abuelas dozens of times removed. Such a thought is probably too fanciful to be close to the truth, of course, but it seems clear that the emergence of what have come to be known as the “castas o razas fundacionales” emerged in distinct geographical areas. Bulls had been supplied for fiestas by specific individuals for at least a century before these founding breeds started to be mentioned in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Filiberto Mira summarises these in his El Toro Bravo, Hierros y Encastes. “…All the authorities I have consulted are in agreement in acknowledging the existence of the Royal Herd – possibly the root of the foundational Jijona breed – in Aranjuez even before 1606. Also from the 17th century come the names of the ranchers Juan de Vargas, of Alcal· de Henares; of Antonio Valencia, of Zamora; of Francisco Meneses, of Talavera de la Reina; of Rodrigo Cárdenas, of Salamanca; of Gaspar Valdés; of one Fabiana whose family name is unknown; of Antonio Madrid, of Consuegra; of the Duke of Béjar; of Luis de RincÛn; of Jacinto María Calvo; of Franciso Reoli; and in this century, the name Jijón, which was to achieve so much renown and is the only one which was to survive into the next century.” For those who wish to read of the very early ranches Luis Uriarteís book, El toro de lidia EspaÒol, ensayo de revision historica de las ganaderias en su origen, goes into far greater detail than any other easily accessible work. He mentions names which sometimes crop up in discussions of the bulls of today: Santacara, Guendulain, Carriquiri, Jijón.These are but names, of course, and of little or no significance to the bulls we see today.

The second half of the eighteenth century is probably the epoch in which bull breeding as we understand it came into its own and knowledge of which is necessary if we are to fully understand the modern manada brava of Spain. As Alberto Vera Areva has it in his Historial de las Ganaderias Bravas, “The second half of the eighteenth century signals a notable milestone in the annals of the breeding and improvement of the fighting bull. Given that, with undeniable enthusiasm and the employment of rational method on the part of the breeders, the innate bravery and external characteristics of the bull were put on the right track through selective methods which wrought a transformation of ample and meritorious proportions on the fundamental element of the fiesta.” Apparently this selective breeding process was taking place in sufficiently discrete areas for several breeds of animals to emerge. And each of these breeds had its own distinctive characteristics.

They are defined and explained in every book on the fighting bull worthy of the name and they provide the starting blocks from which to accelerate into a study of the ranches which exist today; they are also my reason for writing this essay. I intend to translate the account given in the 1993 Yearbook of the Asociación Nacional de Ganaderías de Lidia. Their treatise is one of the most detailed of the half dozen or so in my possession and the one which mentions numbers of nineteenth century ganaderos whose names are still fairly common currency today. Before commencing, there are some points to be made about semantics. The notion that blood has anything to do with the characteristics of animals is, of course, a false one. Characteristics are transmitted from generation to generation through the genes. It would be more accurate, therefore, to discuss the breeding of cattle in terms of genes rather than of blood. The idea of blood being the material in which characteristics are passed is so common in writings and discussion of bull breeds that blood has become a metaphor for genetic material. I will, therefore, use the convention of referring to blood and bloodlines just as other writers do. Specific meaning for the words casta and raza, especially the former, are difficult – perhaps impossible – to find. It seems to be fairly widely accepted that they may be used synonymously to mean “breed”. Thus, one might find either word used in Spanish to indicate a breed or bloodline. For example, the foundational breeds that I am about to write about are sometimes called the castas o razas fundacionales.

This modern bronze statue featuring seven bulls pays tribute to ranchers in the area of Aguascalientes who raise bulls for Mexico bullfighting arenas.
This modern bronze statue featuring seven bulls pays tribute to ranchers in the area of Aguascalientes who raise bulls for Mexico bullfighting arenas. © Diodora Bucur 2010

At another level the word casta is sometimes used to indicate a particular genetic pathway leading from the foundational breeds to the modern ones. Thus one might read of the Casta Saltillo or the Casta Parlade and translate the phrases into the Saltillo bloodline and the Parlade bloodline or the Saltillo breed and the Parlade breed. But the words are also used in the sense of breeding as used in the word thoroughbred with reference to horses or pedigreed with reference to dogs. It is also possible to read of a bull having casta in the sense of courage or temperament, either in a positive or a negative sense. It seems to me that the best ways of dealing with this problem are for the translator to interpret what the author of the original means or to leave the word in Spanish and let the reader work out its meaning from the context in which he or she finds it. Another difficult area is that of hair colour. Often a single word serves to describe a highly multicoloured bull in Spanish and when one wishes to translate it into English one almost has to write a book to do so. Aldinegro, for instance, means mixed red white and grey or chestnut or grey which has black hair over the lower half of the body for its entire length as long as it is not berrendo (which means having white patches over more than a quarter of the body area mixed with another colour). And, of course, when discussing bull breeds the colour of their bodies is no unimportant matter. Perhaps someone will find time to write a glossary of all the possible skin colours of fighting bulls. With these points in mind we may proceed into the treatise mentioned above. “The fighting bulls of today originated from five breeds: Jijona, Cabrera, Vazquena, Vistahermoso and Navarra, although the last mentioned is not counted as one of the founding breeds. I do not know why that is, or why the same could be said of the ganadería of Raso de Portillo which, given its age, was given pride of place in all the royal fiestas.

The Jijona Caste.

This breed was very famous until the middle of last century, when it started to decline and lose the favour of the public as new ganaderías formed with other castes captured the attention of the aficionados. Taking this into account their respective proprieters started to cross them with cattle of different caste, leaving such a limited number of ganaderías in which Jijón blood remained – and in them very adulterated indeed – that the fingers of one hand suffice to count them. In such ranches a throw-back occurs from time to time and an animal is born with some of the characteristic features and the body colour of the jijónes. The historians say that in La Mancha, and more specifically in the valleys and rougher mountains of the so-called Mountains of Toledo, herds of cattle pastured in a savage state and that in the early years of the seventeenth century don Juan Sánchez Jijón Salcedo translated groups of them to Villarrubia de los Ojos, where he lived. Through careful selection he contrived to make a ganadería of fighting bulls which in due course won great renown. These Jijóna bulls acquired their greatest splendour in the times of Miguel and José Jijón. They were bulls of great size, with well developed heads (horns), rough hooves and fine hair. Their principal characteristic was their fiery red skin colour which led to all bulls of that colour being called Jijónes. The Cabrera Caste It is not known when it was formed and from where these powerful animals first came, although theories exist that it was from the countryside around Talavera where great herds of cattle of great corpulence, predominantly of red hair colouration and with partridge eyes, were bred.

The Cabrera bulls were of great height, long, greyhound-looking and, therefore, of great weight; their hair was silken and fine. They had well-developed horns; they were very strong, agile during the lidia and very brave. The hair colour of the Cabrera cattle was dark, black, red and white pied, red with partridge eyes, grey or grey with white spots. The founder of the ranch was don Luis Antonio Cabrera in Utrera (Sevilla) in the 1730ís, and it is very possible that his animals were descended from those from some of the ranches, or, to put it better, herds of cattle, which the Religious Communities created with their tithes, whose origin, as we have already said, is unknown. His daughter, Bárbara, inherited from Sr Cabrera in 1768, She was married to her second cousin, D José Rafael Cabrera Angulo and it was under their direction that the ranch achieved great renown. Don José Rafael died in 1832 and the ranch passed to his third wife, Da María Soledad NÒez del Prado y Ayllon Lara from whom it was inherited by her sister, Da Jerónima, in 1835. In 1852 Da Jerónima sold the ranch in two lots. One went to D. Ramón Romero Balmasada and the other to D. Juan Miura, who had already, the year before, acquired a significant number of cows and bulls from Da Jerónima. It is in the herd of Miura that this “CabreraÒa” caste is conserved with most purity today, and although various crosses have been effected, it may be assumed that they have not taken place with every cow, but rather with isolated groups of females.

This supposition is based on the fact that across the years greyhound-like bulls with long and flexible necks like no others and of great height from hoof to withers have continued to predominate in the herd; these are the characteristics of the primitive Cabreras recorded in the chronicles. The crosses just mentioned were realised in 1854 with two bulls from D José Arias de Saavedra (of the Vistahermosa caste) in 1879 with a bull of the Duke of Veragua (VazqueÒa caste) and in the same year another bull from D. Manuel de Val (Navarrese caste) which had in its turn been descended from the cattle of the Tudelan rancher Pérez Laborda, and, in 1918 another seed bull of Sra Marquesa de Tamarón (Vistahermosa). The Vistahermosa Caste This is the caste which has given the greatest and best results and from which almost all the fighting bulls in existence to-day are descended in distinct bloodlines such as Santa Coloma, Saltillo, Murube and Parladé, all growing from the same branch but morphologically distinct in themselves; it is a thing which has not happened with any other caste. These Vistahermosa bulls in the beginning distinguished themselves with the excellent results they gave in all three stages of the lidia. They are fine of conformity, have good and well-proportioned horns; – the heads of some emerge slightly small -have small hooves; they are very brave, swift of movement and of great nobility. The caste was founded by Don Pedro Luis de Ulloa y Calis, count of Vistahermosa, who bought some cattle from some rich farm workers called Rivas from the Sevillian village of Dos Hermanas in 1772. Don Pedro never saw the results, for which he had placed great hopes, because he died in 1776, and it was his successor, his son don Benito de Ulloa y Halcón de Cala, who in reality, after some years of painstaking selection, managed to place the ranch at the head of all of the ranchers of the epoch.

His brother Don Pedro Luis, third count of Vistahermosa, succeeded him in 1800, and he was in turn succeeded by his sister Da Luisa in 1821. The following year she sold this most famous ranch in five parts or lots: one to Fernando Freire, son of Manuel Freire García and of Dolores Zembrano who, on acquiring the Vistahermosa lot was already proprietor of another ganadería of vazquez origin inherited from his grandfather Fernando Freire; another to Joaquín Giráldez; to Antonio Malgarejo Montes de Oca; to Salvador Varea and, finally, to Juan Domínguez Ortiz, known as “Barbero de Utrero” (from whom inherited his son-in-law, José Arias de Saavedra). The origins of the cattle of los seÒores Rivas is not known. The most common hair colour in the cattle is black, black with a brown back streak, grey, red, chorreado (a bull with darker stripes of its own body colour running vertically down its sides) and peach. The Vázquez Caste The founder of this caste was don Gregorio Vázquez, inhabitant of Utrera (Sevilla), with cattle of unknown ancestry. Years later he incorporated cattle from Cabrera, which added size and weight, and from Juan Becker, formed with cows of Cabrera and seed bulls of El Raso de Portillo (q.v.), which were not exactly renowned for their nobility, but for their sentido. On his death, which occurred in 1780, his son, Vicente José, took charge of the cattle and he saw that his ganadería lacked the principal qualities necessary in the fighting bull: bravery and nobility. In those days there was another recently founded ganadería which combined all the qualities lacking from his, but here he stumbled at the great inconvenience that these excellent cattle belonged to the count of Vistahermosa who didnít want to sell a single one of them.

He did not alter his position in the face of requests, friendly approaches or even the fabulous amount of money he was offered for each cow. Sr Vázquez was not disheartened by this problem, and as a result of his having great resources, as much of an economic nature as of other kinds, decided to lease the paying of the tithes owed by herdsmen and farmers to the diocese of Seville in return for gaining access to cattle he desired. To avoid possible fraud, in the receipt of other cattle than those desired, he took all class of precaution, taking mayorales and cattle experts to the place where the payments with cattle were to be made. It served the count of Vistahermosa naught that he desired to pay in nothing but males. He had to give in to the petition of the lessee of the tithes and hand over females as well. Once the one-year-old cows and bulls were in the power of Sr Vázquez, he had to wait till they reached an age suitable for testing them. With all of the cattle – males and females – the selection was extreme and only those of superior quality were allowed to pass. He was fortunate and the cattle of count bore the desired fruit. He came to be, with Cabrera and Vistahermosa, one of the trio of breeders who captured the attention of the public. The skin colours and appearance of the cattle are varied owing to the number of bloodlines employed in their formation. There are broad bulls, of very good-looking conformation although somewhat rough of the skin because it is thick, short in the leg and very well horned. The hair, as we have already said, is varied in colour. There are bulls which are black, white and red combined; pied red and black; red; black-eyed; chestnut; grey; black; peach; those of distinct head colour and dirty white.

The hair colour was generalised into thirteen different types when the Duke of Veragua was the proprietor of the ranch. On the death of D. Vicente José Vázquez in 1830, his will divided the herd into five parts: one to D. Antonio Mera, who already possessed another lot which he had acquired from Sr Vázquez in 1826; D. Francisco Taviel de Andrade; D. José María Benjumea; D. Francisco Ziguri and D. Fernando Freire, who acquired the most numerous part in the name of King Fernando V11, who transferred the ganadería from Utrera, where it grazed, to Aranjuez. D. Manuel Gaviria took charge of the ganadería, by royal decree, in 1831, and effected a cross with six seed-bulls from his own ganadería and four of D Julian de Fuentes, of the same jijón origin. The Duke of Veragua, an enemy of crosses, made an agreement with Mínguez, the mayoral, and when the first offspring of the cross started to be born they were all marked with a distinct earmark so that when he took over the herd he was able to easily eliminate those which were not of pure Vázquez caste by their different earmark. Fernando V11 died in 1833 and the ganadería passed to the Queen Regent, Da. María Cristina De Borbón, who ceded the royal herd to the dukes of Osuna and Veragua, the latter becoming sole proprietor in 1849. The Navarrese Caste Knowledge of the ancestry of these cattle, which enjoyed great and well- merited prestige in the last century, is lost in the mists of time. They could be the descendents of the primitive BOS BRACHYCEROS given their similar morphology and perhaps on passing across the Pyrenees they became established in Guipuzcoa and Navarra. They descended later to the pastures bathed by the rivers Alhama, Aragón, Arga, Cidacos, Egea and, principally, those of the Ebro, the farms of which were around Arguedas, BuÒuel, Caparroso, Corella, Cortes, FustiÒana, Funes, Peralta, Lodosa, Tafalla, Tudela, Villafranca and Alfaro, where they bred and reproduced. Many branches sprouted from the roots of this legendary caste, but few of them acquired any fame. In 1670 the figure of D. Joaquín Antonio Beaumont Ezcurra y Mesia, Marqués of Santaclara appeared. In time he became proprietor of a ranch of fighting bulls by caring for and selecting from the fabulous prime material which he owned. In time he established the trunk from which the most prestigious navarrese herds branched forth. There is evidence that bulls of the Marqués were fought in Pamplona in 1690 and in 1701, from his chaplain, Juan Escudero Valero, who transferred the ganadería to Martin de Virto, an inhabitant of Corella. In the early 1700s Isabel de Virto y Luna came to be proprietrix of the cattle. Years afterwards, in 1755, her son Antonio inherited the herd. He sold the animals in 1774 to Francisco Javier Guendulaín, inhabitant of Tudela; to Antonio Lizaso of Tudela; to Joaquín Zalduendo, of Caparroso and, finally, to Felipe Pérez Laborda, also of Tudela. It is from these ganaderías that the main navarrese ranches sprung. Of all the navarrese ranches none ever equalled that of the banker Nazario Carriquiri, whose bulls derived as much popularity as those from the most renowned castillian and andalucian ganaderías.

This ganadería was acquired by Carriquiri in 1850 and he ceded it to his relation the count of Espoz y Mina, who had been his partner since 1868, in 1883. D. Nazario covered a restricted number of cows with two seed-bulls of Picavea de Lesaca seeking what they had never had: size. The cross did not bear fruit because what was gained in size was lost in courage and the entire crop of animals for the cross was eliminated. For many years those bulls were the terror of the toreros, as much those on foot as those on horseback. It was something like what occurs with the bulls of Miura today. Given their small size they led those who saw them for the first time to think that due to their small stature they lacked what they in fact had to excess- great strength. They treated the picadors to extremely dangerous falls and often jumped the barrera, not as a symptom of cowardice but in pursuit of toreros. The fame of these “rusty bullets”, as these small, agile, resistant, red bulls – hard as rocks; spicy as the green peppers of the region; indomitable of courage and with great difficulties to overcome – came to be known in the area, given their temperament and that they never merely knocked the torero over but always caught and wounded, was such that they eventually eclipsed the rest of the navarrese ganaderías and it came to pass as a general rule that all of the navarrese ganaderías were descended from that of Carriquiri. An idea of the antiquity of these animals is given by the fact that Juan Gutiérrez Altamirano, a cousin of Hernán Cortés, took cows and seed- bulls of the navarrese caste to Mexico in 1552 to found a ganadería of brave cattle, that which gave rise to the Atenco ranch of today – the name of the farm to which they were taken. Also, in the XV1 century, missionary fathers took brave animals to Ecuador, to guard their fields, the security of which had been entrusted to fearsome dogs of which the Indians had no fear. The Indians invaded the fields and carried off the fruit. It occurred to the monks to replace the guard dogs with brave cows and bulls of which the Indians were ignorant and for whom the new danger proved insurmountable. The missionaries had the idea of enclosing their fields with a double fence of quadrilateral plan with narrow corners which were difficult to pass through. They aimed to ensure that the animals would not be seen but hidden away. One animal was placed in each callejón ready to attack the least noise or movement that it detected. It was enough to render the fields invulnerable.

The archetype of this race is: small head; short and inward-pointing horns of a caramel colour; large and bulging eyes; a short, wide neck; a small body of very fine lines; a small almond-shaped rump; a long tail with a brush of thick locks of dense hair; abundant hair on the face and neck, including on the shoulder-blades, but short fine hair elsewhere; aldinegro , dark red, red, chestnut, peach, and in a few cases, black in colour. Today there exists a very reduced number of cows of this famous caste. I can verify this fact, having seen them spread all through the provinces of Navarra, Rioja and Aragón and, very few, in Tarragona and Castellón. It is sad to see them with their proud, insolent gaze, as if they knew of the splendour and prestige enjoyed by their forebears in earlier times. Raso de Portillo [sometimes called Castellanos or de la Tierra] The origins of this very ancient herd are unknown, as are the names of its original owners, or whether it was a single ganadería or several which grazed in the region known as “El Raso de Portillo”. Thus it is impossible to give a name or names to one or all of the herds which existed in this area in that period when salty and marshy pastures existed there, as they did in other marshy zones, and which, by decree of the regency of General Serrano, in 1870, was partly drained. The said region is located in the municipal areas of Boecillo, Aldeamayor de San Martín and la Pedraja de Portillo in the province of Valladolid, at the feet of the Castle of Portillo in which D. Alvaro de Luna was imprisoned.

Given the little or almost nil information about the origins of this ranch or ranches, and for the characteristics of those for which we have information, it could be that these bulls had their origins in the navarrese caste, perhaps crossed with cows from the area – salamancan or from the banks of the Jarama. It is reported that their size was not great, rather, they were middle-sized, and that their hair colour was generally black with a brown back-stripe, chestnut or grey. They were very light and brave, as was the bull of navarrese origin. The first owner of whom records exist is Alonzo Sanz, born in la Pedraja in 1715 from whom his children Gregoria and Victoriano inherited. Gregoria was married to Toribio Valdés. The ganadería passed, in 1863, to Pablo Valdés Sanz, son of Toribio and Gregoria, from whom D. Trifino Gamazo y Calvo acquired, in 1880, a good part of the finca and the entire ganadería, from which cattle had already been sold to [Joaquín] Mazpule in 1840 and [Julían] Presencio in 1841. Cattle from the Heirs of the Count of Espoz y Mina were added to the ganadería in 1908 and in 1926, from Juan Cobaleda, one of the last lots of cattle sold by him which were descended from D. Nazario Carriquiri. D. Trifino Gamazo y Calvo died in 1919. D. Germán Gamazo y García de los Ríos and his brothers inherited, until the death, in 1948, of the gentleman mentioned.

Today the ranch is the property of the grandchildren of the first, Sres Gamazo y Manglano Hermanos, sons of D José María who have proceeded to complement the old cattle with others of Parladé and Santa Coloma origin. Of the antiquity of this ganadería, which went on grazing in the same pastures since the fifteenth century, there can be no shadow of doubt, given that it had the privilege of opening the plaza in all the royal fiestas. In the said XV century, they were fought in Granada in fiestas.

Published or Updated on: August 1, 1997 by Jock Richardson © 1997
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2 thoughts on “The foundational bull ranches

  1. Good evening. I am looking for the Fighting Bull Breeder that furnished a bull for the corrida 20 November 1952 for Jesus Guerra. I have the mount and his cape. I would like to add the corrida was at Plaza de Toros, Merida, Mexico. Please help. Thank you. Mark Tasca 1.310.889.8390

    1. Mark, If you haven’t already done this, your query would likely get more responses if you can also post it on a Facebook group dedicated to bull fighting. Just a thought, TB

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