A Vaquero

Ismael & Ernesto & Diablo.jpgII

tending horses


As you leave Casa Rotunda walk down the dirt road to the dead end, take a right under an overhead canopy of pines and eucalyptus branches covering the bright blue Mexican sky. Climb an incline and you’ll see a spacious corral surrounded by a white wooden fence with a metal sculpted toro inside, an exchange for money due. There in front of you is the trailer where the vaquero and his son lived.

Ismael & Ernesto & Diablo

the vaquero and son

The vaquero’s mother had been searching for him for three weeks. I’d been holding his water money. He’d ridden El Nino to the beach, leading a contingent of Americans the weekend before he disappeared. He’d appeared troubled since separating from his family, not his usual jaunty easy-going self with a wave for every guy and a smile for every girl. His son was still living with him, but the rest of his family had gone.

We’d been friends since before he was fifteen. He’d trip down the hill in chaps so long they dragged on the ground behind him, and his spurs jingled softly scratching the hard surface of earth that led to my house.

He’d helped me with my horses for over twenty years. I’d owned four. Marimba was my first, an old war horse who knew how to dance. Two different vaqueros exercised him twice a week and my friend walked him to his final resting place some fourteen years ago. At the time I owned a handsome big, brown gelding with four white socks above his hoofs. The Mexicans named him Shoes. I changed it to Zapatos. I also took care of my neighbor’s horse, Romeo while she worked state-side. He was a one-eyed brown bomber, well known at the local rodeos as a strong, tireless steed. Then I bought the pinto, El Nino, the baby. I’d always wanted a pinto since the days of Duel in the Sun, the film, do you remember the trick pinto pony ridden by Gregory Peck? El Nino came to me green-broke. After riding him for two years, he threw me off like a bucking bronco breaking my glasses. I was too old to fall. I worried I’d break something more debilitating than sun-glasses.

The vaquero took over his training becoming the sole rider of my tri-color horse. Nervous and high-strung back then, he continually was plagued with shying, sudden turns and bucking, but managing him easily, the vaquero looked grand and athletic in the saddle. The pinto never became completely calm. He was always a handful, shying at every piece of paper on the trail, at every noise in the brush, bucking each time he left my corral.

In his mid-thirties, the vaquero had one son with eyes so big and round and black they seemed haunting. The lad could ride and rope a horse almost as well as his father. Now nine-years-old, he’d been helping his dad since he was three. His cowboy boots never completely reached the stirrups, but never mind. Together they saddled and rounded up horses grazing in the back canyons to lead the Americans on horseback to the beach.

News travels fast. The vaquero was dead. What? I couldn’t believe these words. It couldn’t be true. But it was. They’d found him lying in the arroyo, his arm draped across his face, a gun nearby. He was hardly recognizable. Some said it was suicide, but circumstances looked suspicious. He was too young and vigorous — I couldn’t imagine. Nothing made sense. There was no obvious evidence of foul play. La Mision is a small, tight knit community. There had been trouble. Neighbors didn’t ask questions. Everyone was respectful and quiet.

When I heard the news, I felt some of the old pangs of loss I had twenty years earlier when my son died.

His three brothers living in the area built him a stately mausoleum. They placed a photo of the vaquero and his son covering the entire side of the building. A neighbor who worked at the nursery across from my house brought me an armful of purple and white long stemmed flowers to take to the service.


memorial service


As I entered the building his son stood in the doorway looking up at me, his eyes dark and true were filled with questions. I hadn’t seen him in several months. I swept him into my arms and hugged and kissed him, then lay the flowers beside the urn on the alter. The vaquero’s chaps and spurs were lying next to the podium. My friend lit a candle.

My heart was heavy — what about his son? what would happen to him? Some said he was with his mother and sisters living in an orphanage across the way. Who would ride my pinto now? Who would stumble down the hill anytime I called to ask the vaquero to round up my horses, trim their feet, shoe them, fix a fence, roof my house, bring me water to fill my pila, or build a chicken coop? A loss of a life gone somewhere somehow into the deep blue Mexican sky, leaving many questions…

But as my philosopher father told me long ago there are no answers. And being the philosopher’s daughter my questions remain.


  • I can’t believe how well you write. You draw pictures with words-and in correct grammar!. I am so impressed with your growth and your strength. I hope we see each other again. Bet

    • Dear Bet… you make me cry too… I’m not really up on this blog thing, but am happy to have a place to write…. yes, I’ve fallen in love with words in later life, funny isn’t it… I hope you’re well… I wish we could see each other again, thanks so much for posting! love, jennifer xooo

  • Jennifer, this brings tears to my eyes. So will written and so many memories. I too loved that boy. The loss is so great. Little Ernesto will never be the same.

  • Katie O'Brian-Robles

    Oh Jennifer.. what an incredibly heartfelt and lovely tribute to this fine gentleman. His loss will be felt by many and especially you who knew him so well and loved him so true.
    Your words ring with a sadness that touches my heart. Thank you for sharing your Vaquero with us..

    • Thank you dear Katie… I finally found your comment or it was sent to me this morning…. much to learn about blogging… I’m glad the story touched you it, took my heart away…. love and thanks!

  • Dear Jennifer, I am so sorry for your loss of a very dear friend. It is so sad to hear of such a young life lost way too early. Thank you for sharing this very touching story and the pictures. It made me cry and I also feel for his young son. Elisabeth

    • Dear Elizabeth, Thank you for taking the time to send me a note… it has been a difficult time for that poor family. The Vaquero was a special person… a life lost and such a good one, is very sad… thank you for writing… hope to see you soon and I love hearing about your journey… looking forward to seeing you soon… hope you’re writing and having a good time… love, jennifer

  • Jennifer, the story touches my heart. I can see how much you love Vaquero. Hugs

    • Hello Adriana,

      Thank you for writing and commenting on my story. I had it translated to give to the family. When it’s typed I’ll get it to you for your input into the poetry of the story and the translation, which you can grasp and help with… thanks, love, jennifer

  • How tragic, Jennifer. What could have happened to him? I guess time will tell.
    I really like your powerful and touching style and thank you for sharing a slice
    of your life. God bless the vaquero and his son. I know you’ll miss him and I can
    understand how his loss would trigger your feelings for Michael. Robert d”Amore
    took a wonderful picture of the vaquero and his son that I’m certain will be of great comfort to his boy and his family for many years to come. I look forward to reading
    more about your life on here, because I’m not there with you. At times like this,
    I wish we lived much closer… L, Diana

    • Dear Madison…

      Thank you for your note… I too wish you lived closer it would be great…. to see you every once in a while… Glad you liked the story… I will send you the negs of Michael, please send me your address again.

      Much love, jennifer

  • Oh, Jennifer…I have to admit that while I was reading “A Vaquero” I thought it might be the beginnings of another book/memoir….and then. I am so sorry for the loss of this young man’s life. His own young son will have only memories. I’m actually down here in La Mision right now, so I feel especially close to this tragic story. Thank you for your story and photos….and thank you for bringing this “gift” to our lives. Oracion por la familia de vaquero.
    Hilarie (sister of Valerie) (dance student of one day)(reader of The Philosopher’s Daughter/a memoir)

    • Thank you Hilarie… how nice of you to send me a note… It is a tragedy I hope one day to understand… but maybe that’s not life, to understand… maybe life is instead is meant to be lived… but we all here on the hill will miss our favorite Vaquero… How is Valerie? I haven’t seen her in so long and we used to run into each other all the time… thanks again for the note… one day another memoir… hopefully… 🙂 best, jennifer

  • A poignant and loving tribute, Jennie.

  • Vickie Chantlos

    Beautifully written ! I felt very close to your story, since this wonderful young man became a part of my life through you. When you sent me out riding with this Vaquero you were confident I would be in good hands, even when neither of us spoke the others language.My very first year in LA Mision horseback riding the trails and ocean front with this very special Vaquero. These are special memories, I will hold on to forever!(as the tears roll down my face) Thank you my friend for the memories!
    Love, Vickie

    • Thank you so much Vicki…. he was such a young bright star… It was a joy knowing him…. much love to you… I’ve been working out at home these days… xoxoxo love and kisses,,, trying to find my way to La Fonda on Tuesday nights for $1.00 tacos::)… LOVE

  • Can not believe it; what a great story and done so well !!

    …….did you build the blog all by yourself…GREAT !!

    • Thank you dear Lenny…. It was a horrific event, so sad… the little guy will never be the same…. whatever happened happened… my heart goes out to the family… thanks for writing… I had a wonderful Web designer…

      • Really cool, great story!

        • Thanks Bud…. thought you might like the horses and stuff… hope you’re off having fun somewhere… I am… but boy DD’s spread sounds spectacular!, bravo on her and Princeton and all those old days so long ago… I got hummingbirds… just fed their feeder…

  • Lovely writing and soo sad.

  • Yes. It was a sad day and a melancholy time… I’m glad this piece is getting a little attention. I’ve had it translated for the family, and I’ve been invited to enter it into a Mexican Writer’s Anthology:)… Little did my vaquero friend know he’d set the world on fire, but I think he did know… thanks William for your good words… love, j

  • My darling, I did not know your friend, but am so sad for the loss of him from his son and his familia and the community there. Did Jose and Isay know your friend and his son? Sounds from your writing that the loss of the Vacquero leaves holes in many hearts that will never be filled. My love to you and your little family. Jane, Portland Oregon

    • Hello sweet pants… Thanks for writing and commenting on my story. It may be picked up as a short story, and put into an Anthology of Mexican writers… wouldn’t that be nice, it is an offer… and I am honored…

      I heard from Manda this am and she tells me you’ve been very sick… I’m so upset to hear that…. hope it didn’t come from any of your surgeries… I always worry about that…. yes , my friend in this story… Ismael was a prince in La Mision and he took such good care of me and my animals for years… a good and true amigo… I hope you’re taking good care of yourself, blessings and LOVE… xoxoxo

  • A poignant story, beautifully written. Hope it will get picked up and published. I know a couple of anthologies that would be interested. Look forward to more stories.

    • Thank you Penelope James, your site looks interesting… I will have to spend more time absorbing all or some of what you have to say. Thanks for reading A Vaquero, the story meant a lot to me…

  • Dear Jennifer – thanks again for sharing this poignant piece with me. I posted it in the FB group Mexico Writers just this morning. Lots of “likes” for the story and the way you wrote it. Yes, it’s going to be in the first anthology of Mexico Writers published sometime this summer, which has first rights for the eBook version. However, you get to keep all future rights, so follow up with Penny about other places to publish. I think this story has “legs” far beyond your blog!!! Besitos.

    • Thank you Mikel for your good words about A Vaquero…. I sent it as a submission to Lin from your Mexican Writer’s site. Yes it would be great to get it out there and to attract attention to The Philosopher’s Daughter…. hopefully… besos, jennie….

  • Beautiful. Sad. Painful and beautiful. Life, death and mystery, rendered in your thoughtful voice and words…Thank you for sending the link, to the story of your friend, Jennifer…Sending love.

    • Thank you dear Kim, each time I reread it I tear up… life is a mystery full of love and pain, loss and joy… wow… it goes on… thank you for taking the time to read A Vaquero, it means a lot to me… kisses and hugs, love, jennie

  • I’m so sorry, Jennifer. This story really touched me. Thank you for sending it. You write so eloquently.

  • Thank you dear Eileen… Yana just arrived found me on my way to the shower… we had a nice gab… a little worrisome about Marilyn…. I hope she’s okay… I sure love all you girls… take good care of yourself and your beautiful daughters… kisses xoxoxo

  • Beautifully written and so sad. The questions will never be answered.

    • You are the sunshine of my life… miss you! can’t wait to see you again… off to Catalina how nice, and it is Keith, not Kevin… I finally remembered, I hope:-) love you….

  • Dearest Jen,

    What a sad and poignant story movingly told. It calls to mind a gentler, more innocent era when you and Didy rode together in Princeton.

    • Thank you Cowbie… I’m working on getting an Audio Book together… wish you could do my father’s voice… the Epilogos before each chapter… could you? xoxox Am posting a new blog today or so, titled, The Velveteen Rabbit on Becoming Real… xoxo

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