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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

There were rules in good-old days, too

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
"Losing our rights" has become a familiar term today. Whether immigration, smoking, or other regulations, the saying "wish we could return to the good-old days" seems to be the whim of many.
However, after reading the book "The Mexican Mesta," by William H. Dusenberry, who chronicled "The Administration of Ranching In Colonial Mexico" I learned the good-old days had lots of rules and regulations also, plus the punishment could be severe.

Such rules or laws concerning livestock began shortly after the beginning of domestication of animals about 6,000 B.C. First came sheep and goats then later cattle and pigs. Because there were few fences other than rock walls in the scattered settlements, domesticated livestock and large poultry often caused damage to growing agricultural crops.
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Disputes and damage claims became so numerous that a livestock association was formed to litigate these claims and create rules of prevention to be used by stockmen. This association was called The Mexican Mesta dating back to 1273. When the New World was discovered and the Spanish started livestock operations here in New Spain (Mexico) Mesta was introduced to supervise the first livestock production here in North America.

The first rules were published in 1537. Here is a sampling of the early Mesta rules:

No two livestock owners could have the same brand and no one was allowed to earmark livestock as an early earmark could be removed and replaced. All livestock sales or trades had to be filed with the local Mesta official who charged a small token fee for the king. Any livestock moved across the land to a slaughterhouse was required to carry a tar-pitch brand and be registered with Mesta officials.

You had to own land and livestock and be registered with the Mesta in order to obtain permission to have a branding iron made by a blacksmith. No blacksmith could make a branding iron without written, registered permission from the association. Anyone violating these rules was considered a thief and could be arrested and punished.

No animals under 2 years of age could be branded to prevent early weaning. Livestock owners with a registered brand also had to have a private trademark in order to sell animals. This kept thieves from stealing livestock to sell under illegitimate claims. Most thieves were peons who slaughtered animals for meat for their families then sold the untraceable tallow and hides minus the owners brand.

By 1580 most free land in New Spain was settled. The Mesta then limited new brands to owners who had lived on the land for four years and owned at least 50 head of livestock. All roundups and branding chores were public affairs carried out twice a year and were heavily supervised by the Mesta who also collected a token fee for the King's coffers. These officials were called up before the public once a year to answer any charges or complaints lodged against them.

The rules were strictly enforced by fines, public whippings and even banishment from the settlement for repeat offenders. So, when we wish for a return to the good-old days, we better be careful what we wish for.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" August 5, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
 
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