Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Hawaiian Cowboy...by Tanya Hanson

If you’re like most folks, you likely think the Old West stopped at America’s Pacific Coastline. Which it does if you travel three thousand miles farther. Yes indeed, Hawaii has a cowboy history all its own. It even involves vaqueros!

Those first cowboys, Mexican vaqueros, taught Texan buckaroos how to lasso, make lariats and herd cattle. But much earlier in the 1800’s, those guys traveled across the Pacific and roped longhorns in Hawaii.

What? Longhorns in Hawaii?

Captain George Vancouver brought Hawaii’s first longhorn cattle as a gift to King Kamehameha I in 1793. Vancouver believed he’d delivered a new resource to the islands, but His Majesty imposed a ten-year kapu (restriction), making them a protected species. The animals were allowed to roam wild and breed freely.

Consequently, the herds became a nuisance, harming native vegetation and forests. Upon descending the uplands, the cows knocked down fences, trampled village gardens, and destroyed taro fields.

So vaqueros from Mexico and Portugal were imported to control the cows and teach native ranchers how to oversee the herds. The islanders called these guys paniolo. Ranchers constructed stone walls and cactus barriers to stop the foraging beasts. Tourists today sometimes view old rock walls in Hawaii and assume they’re ancient heiau (temples) or home sites. But more often than not, these rock piles are just leftover cattle walls!

Like cowboys everywhere, a paniolo relied on his horse to round up the wild pipi (cattle) from the places they shouldn’t be in a particular method called Po'o Waiu, which is now a rodeo event.

In 1908, a paniolo and rodeo champ named Ikua Purdy set the rodeo world on fire with his roping and riding skills at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. A year ago, Purdy was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame. This year, the Paniolo Preservation Society sent a large Hawaiian delegation to Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, and an exhibit featuring the Hawaiian cowboy will be on display at the Old West Museum there throughout May 2010.

In turn, Wyoming sent a reciprocal delegation to The Waiomina Centennial Celebration in August. Waiomina means Wyoming in the Hawaiian language. It’s a year’s worth of rodeos, trail rides, concerts and festivities honoring Hawaii’s cowboy and ranching culture.

2008 is designated The Year of the Hawaiian Cowboy by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and Harry Kim, mayor of Hawaii (the Big Island) County.

Today about 75 percent of the state’s cattle roam the Big Island of Hawaii. Fifth and sixth generation Hawaiian cowboys continue to raise, herd, brand, and market cattle. Parker Ranch is among the largest ranches in the United States, spanning some 150,000 acres across the Big Island. Established nearly 160 years ago, it is also one of the country’s oldest ranches.

The ranch’s story begins in 1809 when nineteen-year-old John Parker jumped the ship that brought him to Hawaii. He quickly came to the attention of King Kamehameha I for his new, state-of-the-art American musket. The gun got John the “privilege” of being the first man allowed to shoot some of the thousands of maverick cattle wandering the island’s remote plains and valleys. Due mostly to John’s efforts, salted beef replaced sandalwood as the island’s chief export.

A recent trip to the Islands took me to Koloatown on the sleepy island of Kauai. Established in 1835, it's often still called Homestead and looks like someplace you'd find in Wyoming, full of charm and history.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of aloha yee-haw! And I'm thrilled to announce the release date of my Nebraska-set Western romance, Marrying Minda. Look for it June 5! But before I sign off, which is your favorite of these United States for a Western romance to be set?


Kate Willoughby said...

That was so interesting! It makes me want to write a story about a Hawaiian cowboy. I have a book on the Hawaiian language on my research shelf that I intended to use once... Perhaps it's fate that you blogged about this subject. LOL

Paty Jager said...

Great subject, Tanya! I knew there were cowboys at one time, but I didn't realize it was a thriving business today still in Hawaii.

My favorite state is Oregon. Because I live here and it makes the research so much easier to do! I'm writing a book right now set in Montana and it is killing me trying to get the information I need!

Charlene Sands said...

Great blog today. Love hearing about the Hawaiian cowboys and how they came to be. In Maui, is the cattle grounds known as low-country or high-country, I forget??
I remember biking down the volcano and riding through the area. Great history lesson!!

Judith Leger said...

Thanks, Tanya! Great information about a part of history most people are unaware of.

Tanya Hanson said...

Good morning, everybody! Thanks for joining me here today.

Yes, Kate, I do believe in Fate myself. I think we both have Hawaiian cowboy stories buzzing around in our heads LOL.

Hi Paty! I just finished your book
Perfectly Good Nanny (while we were in Kauai, acatually. It was a totally Catch up on My reading vacation.) and the southern Oregon setting fit perfectly. I guess I always think of Mt. Hood and Crater Lake rather than ranchland. I enoyed Nanny very much and intend to get more of your books.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Tanya Hanson said...

hi Charlene! I also read your Desire, Five Star Cowboy, on our trip.

This is a great contemporary romance, girls. If you haven't been to Arizona, you'll know you're there with Charlene's crisp but perfect description. And if you know the state, you'll just feel the Arizona love.

Oooh...and the hero is hot, hot HOT.

I don't know for sure about Maui highlands or lowlands. We ate lunch at the ranch on the road to Hana...so I am thinking highlands. Something else my sponge-like mind can look up and absorb LOL.

Thanks for posting, Judith. I love researching interesting things...glad you enjoyed this.

Celia Yeary said...

Beautiful photos, Tanya, and your post was very interesting. Hawaiin cowboys--I never knew! I particularly like Texas for a Western romance--I'm a Texan, you see, but I love romances set in other states, as well--Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, even Oklahoma and Nebraska. Celia, and good luck with your book.

Tanya Hanson said...

hi Celia, thanks for the good wishes. Texas is always the # one spot, I think! Something about those cattle trails and Stetsons and wide open spaces.

Lauri said...

Great post! I must admit I don't think of cowboys when I think of Hawaii, I think of surfers! This was a great post, I really enjoyed it.

Right now my favorite setting in Kansas since all five of the Quinter Brides Books are based there,and that's what I'm working on...it also helps that I grew up there.


Helen said...

Great post, Tanya! My favorite state for a western romance is Colorado.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Lauri, I have Kansas ancestors and visited that wonderful state a number of times during my college days.

And Helen, I did my student teaching in Colorado. I agree...both places are wonderfully Western!

Thanks for stopping by.

Ashley Ladd said...

Thanks for the extremely interesting bit of history. I had no idea. I never would have thought so. But here in Florida, we have a lot of cattle, too, and I wouldn't have thought that before I moved here.

Loretta said...

I enjoyed reading this excellent article. The photos are beautiful.We tend to forget that cowboys and ranching didn't always take place in the *old* west.

Paty Jager said...

Tanya, I'm pleased you liked PGN. Thank you for reading it. And yes, Central and southern Oregon are a whole different topography, climate, and lifestyle than the Cascade range and Willamette valley, even the Northeast corner of the state.

Tanya Hanson said...

Good morning! I am so excited people are reading this and posting.

Ashley, I agree, I could never have thought about cattle in Florida. We took the kids to DisneyWorld, Space Center, Cocoa Beach etc. and I remember green along the highways and lots of rain.

Loretta, thank you! I was also surprised that Southern California has a gold-mining history although not as major as the north. So I decided to set a wip there LOL.

Paty, keep up the good work.

Linda LaRoque said...

Didn't Charleton Heston play the role of a Hawaiian rancher in a movie in the 50s or 60s? I love it and have read several novels about ranching in Hawaii but it's been a long time, back in the 70s I think.

I'm still prejudiced to Texas cowboys, next comes Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and the list continues. Love 'um all actually.

Yeehaw back at ya!

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Linda,
I don't think I saw that Heston movie but I'll watch for it on TMC.

Thanks to everybody who joined me here.