VAQUERO. The vaquero, or cowboy, the mounted herdsman of the Spanish colonial period and his Mexican counterpart of the nineteenth century, is a historical figure that, like the Anglo cowboy, has attained romantic features and near-mythic stature. Actually, the Hispanic and Anglo cowboys faced many of the same harsh working conditions and had more aspects in common than is traditionally recognized. In Texas this was the case because Anglo stock raisers were heavily influenced by the Spanish ranching institutions that they found upon their arrival. Over a period of time, particularly between 1821 and the trail-driving era, many Spanish stock-handling techniques passed into the Anglo way of doing things, and the distinctions between the two traditions blurred. Although such was also the case in other border states, the influence of the Texas “system” was larger, since it extended onto the High Plains and overshadowed other methods of working cattle on the open range. Spanish vaqueros in colonial times were generally viewed by their society as a rough and rowdy lot. Many of them operated outside the law and preyed upon unbranded cattle that roamed the vast estates of northern Mexico. Often they were mestizo or semicivilized Indians on the lower rungs of the social ladder, but they were invariably noted for their horsemanship and stock-tending skills. As ranching made its way north to Texas through the tier of provinces along the Rio Grande, these herdsmen were the vanguard of Hispanic colonization. In many cases they attached themselves to a patrón (an influential rancher who owned a grant of land from the king), married, and built a shack on his property. Their children were born and raised in service to the patrón, an arrangement that sometimes spanned generations. Early Anglo ranch owners in South Texas, such as Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy, fell heir to this tradition, which continued well into the twentieth century.
Full article on the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas Online