The smell of new leather wafts through the entrance, an appropriate greeting for a museum all about cowboys.
Museo del Vaquero de las Californias (MuVaCa for short and the Cowboy Museum of the Californias in English) opened in the tiny Baja town of El Triunfo the first week of November. (It’s still hard to believe this was once the most populated town in Baja California Sur.)
This ode to cowboy history is as well done as the mining museum (Museo Ruta de Plata/Silver Route Museum) that is on the same street.
The museum captures more than 300 years of cowboy traditions throughout the Baja peninsula. Details include aspects about life before the Spanish arrived, their influence, life after they were conquered, and the war with the United States that resulted in a large swath of Mexico becoming part of the U.S.
One display points out, “During the war between the United States and Mexico, rancheros and vaqueros joined together to defend their lands. On December 6, 1846, at the Battle of San Pasqual (in present day San Diego County), Californios defeated U.S. forces while armed only with lances, swords, and a few firearms.”
In other words, the Mexicans won at least one battle before losing the war.
Information is written in English and Spanish, as is the case at the mining museum.
Walking in there are displays of cowboys in all their garb. The circular layout then leads visitors to the small theater where a film (also in English and Spanish) gives a thorough history about the vaqueros up to present day.
This is a good foundation to have before visiting the main museum which is in a separate building across a walkway that includes a tiered concrete seating area where outdoor presentations could be conducted.
There is so much to read, see and absorb in the museum that it would make sense to go multiple times. There is no way to grasp everything in one visit.
While the story and evolution of the Baja cowboy are fascinating, I seemed to be most enamored by the clothing for the people and the horses. The detail in the saddles was stunning. It was like artwork.
One display said, “The Baja California Sur saddle was designed to manage cattle safely in the harsh environment by protecting mount and rider from spines and thorns.”
The desert is not a forgiving place so protection is necessary, even today.
Because living off the land is hard work no matter where one does it the early vaqueros had to be resourceful.
“As the population grew, hides, tallow, milk, cheese, and other products were transported through the Sierra of the peninsula to towns and cities that depended on the ranches for their supplies. In Alta California, the international tallow and leather trade gave rise to a boom; some families amassed huge tracts of pastureland for thousands of cattle,” one display reads. “The importance of livestock ranching as the economic base and the proliferation of wild cattle prompted the systematization of rodeos, the establishment of controlled herds, and the mark of ownership through branding.”
Today, one does not have to go far out of any town in Baja Sur to come across a ranch. Cowboys are still very much a part of the 21st century.
“The mountains of Guadalupe and La Giganta are home to hundreds of families who live a life similar to their ancestors of over 300 years ago,” the museum teaches. “Today, nearly 5,000 people continue living much of that lifestyle: tending the garden; making tools, leatherwork, cheeses, and knives for sale preparing food; and performing the many tasks it takes to remain on the ranches.”
- Hours: Thursday-Monday, 10am-5pm
- Cost: 100 pesos ($5) adults, 75 pesos for BCS residents, 60 pesos seniors
- Email: email@example.com
- Address: Calle Ayuntamiento (entre Gral. Márquez de León y Minero Num. 1), El Triunfo