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Paniolos, Hawaiian Cowboys

You might be surprised to see so many cowboy things on the Big Island of Hawaii. But, Hawaii had cowboys first. Really.

Captain George Vancouver gave Kamehameha I a gift of cattle in 1793. The king put a kapu on them. It was criminal to kill them. So the herd grew. And grew.

These are not the pretty cows you might see at a dairy. These were descendants of the cows that had survived and bred in the American west. Tough ornery longhorns.

The kapu was lifted in 1830, but the cattle still kept increasing. By 1846 it is estimated that besides the 10,000 semi-domesticated cattle, there were over 25,000 wild cattle roaming the island in huge herds. They ate everything and caused erosion. Cattle literally ate people’s houses made of native vegetation. They destroyed crops and even attacked and killed people. Can you imagine a herd of wild cattle, each weighing up to 1,500 pounds, with six-foot wide horns?

Kamehameha III hired convicts from Australia’s Botany Bay to hunt and kill the cattle. They built traps, which caught cattle, but also people. Something else had to be done.

The king sent a representative back to America where the cattle came from to see how the cattle problem was handled there. He hired three Espagnole vaqueros, Kossuth, Louzeida, and Ramon. Espagnole vaqueros means Spanish speaking cowboys. They were the first Paniolos, Hawaiian Cowboys.

Kossuth, Louzeida, and Ramon taught the local Hawaiian people skills to work with cattle. This was even before the cattle drives of the American West.

The Paniolos collected the cattle into ranches, domesticated them and supplied cattle, salt beef, hides and tallow. The islands got to be a major provisioning port for the Pacific, especially for whaling ships.

Most of the Hawaiian islands still have ranches. The Parker Ranch alone is 225,000 acres with 50,000 cattle.