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The Spanish Buck — cow hides
April 28, 2014, 05:00 AM

Photo courtesy of the Millbrae History Museum
D.O. Mills’ cows were milked in a barn on El Camino Real (east of Peninsula Hospital) until Borden Milk Co. bought them out in the 1930s.

Cows are a wonderfully beautiful group of animals. You can drink their milk, use their milk for cooking, make butter from the milk (and derive buttermilk), produce cheese, make yogurt and eat the meat of the animal and use the hide for shoes, etc.

Cows are not good forms of transportation as I found out as a child. You can ride a cow, but it is extremely uncomfortable and they do not handle well. Because they do not like being ridden, they immediately head toward a tree or barn to lean against. If you are not fast enough and pull your legs up from the sides of the cow you will get stuck between the barn and the cow. They can be very stubborn and do not go where you want them to. It is better to leave cows to what they do best and that is produce milk.

In the early 1900s, many communities were sparsely settled and land was usually available for an individual to have a cow or a number of cows. They did not take much care and many times the care of these cows was relegated to the children. The main chore that the family had to undertake was the milking of the cow in the morning and in the evening. The adult usually took this chore seriously but, as children are prone to do, they found a way to kill this unpleasant task with games. As soon as the cow was put in its stall and the process of milking was begun, the cats would amble into the stall and set down behind or beside the cow. Within a short time, the milker would be squirting the cat with milk and the cat responded by licking the milk from his fur and getting his breakfast. Much of the milk was drunk by the family, some was made into butter and the surplus was given to any pigs the farmer had. The milk was mixed with different grains, which were called “slop,” that was very nutritious for the pigs. The small-time farmer were family operations and the mainstay of society for hundreds of years.

The first cows that the Spanish brought to California were not great milk producers so the Spanish ate the cattle and mainly utilized their hides. The trip of the cattle from Tubac, Ariz. in the 1770s could only have been survived by rugged cattle that could feed on almost anything they ate. Many of these cattle died, but the ones that did survive were the primary stock that developed the herds for the early generation of settlers in California. Here the cattle thrived on the open grass that developed on the Bay side of the Peninsula. Before many years, the cattle outnumbered the people by great numbers as they reproduced phenomenally well in the brush and flat areas from San Bruno Mountain to San Jose. The main food source for the Spanish and much of their social activities revolve around the raising and eating of cattle. Their rodeos became famous as social events on the ranchos and the cow the main character that provided excitement along with the dances and feast. When the Americans traveled by the Ranchos on El Camino Real they were informed that they could slaughter and eat the cattle, but they must leave the hide for the Mexicans. The hide was more valuable than the meat and they became known as the “Spanish dollar” as they were worth one dollar American money. The meat was so abundant that, after slaughtering cattle, the meat was boiled down in huge kettles and the tallow contained in the meat could be sold and made into candles. From the hides they made their chairs, beds, blankets, hats, clothes, saddles, etc. The cattle were the mainstay of the Spanish Empire in California, and their main industry.

When the Americans arrived in California, they had a culture of drinking milk and eating many of the cow’s products. However, the Spanish cattle fell short in the American eyes and they began importing them from the East in great numbers. The first eastern cattle were driven by their owners across the United States. The trip was long and arduous and only the fittest survived the long and dangerous trip.

The Spanish were spread out throughout California, in small groups except for in San Jose and Los Angeles. When the Americans immigrated in the late 1840s, they concentrated mainly in San Francisco and developed a large metropolis of consumers. The conditions were ideal for the people who bought large tracts of land to acquire large numbers of milking cows to feed on the abundant grass that abounded on the Peninsula, because they knew they could sell the milk products.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.



Tags: cattle, their, spanish, california, could, numbers,

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