Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Seven Cities of Bold and Cowboy Ground Zero

April 9, 2013
Yesterday we drove the length of Extremadura searching for the Seven Cities of Bold and Cowboy Ground Zero. Since I was a lad I have heard tales of the Spanish Conquistadors and their palatial homes built from the spoils of their conquests in the New World. But, alas, like their quest for the Seven Cities of Gold, the gold laden homes in the William Randolph Hearst mode turned out to be pretty much non-existent.

The Seven Cities of Bold
We did find the cities in Extremadura where most of the Conquistadors came from but other than a street named after them and a few small statues, there really wasn't much in the way of the plunder I was expecting to see. Also, since Extremadura seems like such a Wild West name (it actually means "the land west of the Duera River". Ha.) AND it's in Western Spain, I was expecting Zabriski Point and Death Valley, but the land actually resembles Sonoita or eastern Colorado. Very fertile, with rolling hills and small, nondescript mountains.

The seven cities are Zafra, Jerez de Los Caballeros, Badajoz, Merida, Caracez, Medellin (the birthplace of Cortez) and Trujillo. But what the landscape lacks in Wild West panoramas it more than makes up for in the bloodiest damn history I'e ever read. Certainly more than anything portrayed in "Deadwood."
The Romans encountered a savage, warlike people, tough and wiry with unkempt hair and a harsh way of speaking as if they were spitting daggers out of their mouths. These Iberians (the Romans called them Lusitanians) practiced rough justice, simply taking criminals to a cliff and throwing them off. And they were wildly superstitious, reading the entrails of slain enemies to predict the future. They carried poisonous plants in battle rather than be captured alive. For 200 years the Romans tried to defeat them and could not (they, however, conquered the French in a decade).

So it's no surprise that Extremadura produced so many of the Conquistadors who would conquer almost an entire continent from South America to north of San Francisco and east to Florida. It was in Spain that the cattle ranch originated as we know it. The Conquistadors are the ones who brought horses and cattle to the Americas and they established the first cattle ranches in Mexico and their offspring are the ones who met the anglo cattle herders, walking on foot, into Texas. So, to me, the Ground Zero for the birth of the Cowboy would be somewhere in Extremadura. Last night at 8 p.m. I found it:

Here I am standing in awe of the horseback rider from hell. The son of a legendary fornicator, El Largo, who fathered 150 sons including the dude on the horse—Pizarro, the conquistador who conquered the mighty Incas. He has what appears to be rattlesnakes coiling out of his helmet and he wields a mighty sword as he grins the grin of a mighty man who knows where he's going. This is in the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo, the hometown of Pissarro.

"Cowboy Ground Zero, indeed!"