The Origins of the Bullwhip.

While there no doubt where whip designs that looked exactly like the bullwhip through out history, the term "bullwhip" is unique to the cowboys and buckaroos of the old west. As you can see just like whip enthusiasts of today they loved to show off their whips. The bullwhip was introduced to the United States by the Spanish Vaqueros. The vaqueros where the original cowboys. They where also expert raw hide braiders. A talent they learned from the Moors after they invaded Spain. The Spanish in turn migrated into mexico and taught the talent to the Mexicans and they also taught it to the ranch hands of the old west.

Braiding horse tack lariats or raitas and whips was a much needed past time in the old west. As well as a way to pass the time away while watching over the herd. It didn't take long for the cowboys to match the expertise of the Spanish vaqueros. You can see from the picture that they made some very nice bullwhips. That whip looks as good if not better than some I see being sold now days. I wonder how it cracked? I bet it was a joy. I mean just look at it .The plaiting is smooth and it doesn't look like it was made of latigo.Most likely it was made out of raw hide. It looks like the junction between the handle and the thong is very stable. From where I sit it looks like a pretty sweet whip. You can also tell that the handle was made out of wood. While this is not true of all bullwhips it was and still is very common. The reason being that it is much faster to make than if you have to braid the handle. The other reason this was a practical design is that small steel rods like those used in fully plaited handles where very difficult to come by in the old west. It was much easier to find a piece of wood you could shape into a handle.


The bullwhip was designed expressly for driving cattle. As such it was designed to be a long whip because it was generally used on horse back so length was needed to get close enough to the cattle to have the desired effect while still keeping the Cowboy and his horse safe. I don't know if you have ever been charged by a bull, but I have and let me tell you having a long whip is a good thing. Now that being said cattle generally move quite easily when they hear a loud crack like that from a whip. But bulls on the other hand can be a bit tenacious when they have a mind to. Hence the term "Bull Headed" So the bullwhip was really designed specifically to deal with bulls. Go figure, I mean a BULLwhip was made to deal with bulls? Who would have thunk it? Why no one ever mentions that little factoid in their definition of a bullwhip is beyond me. One trick the Cowboys used the bullwhip for was to get a bulls attention. Bulls get very territorial when they have a harem of cows to protect. Then again so do Momma cows when they have a calf to protect. In some cases the cows are a lot meaner than the bull. Anyway the cowboys at times would use the sound of the whip to keep the bull distracted while they rounded up the cattle. Once the herd was on it's way the bull would peacefully take it's place among them.

There is also some misconception that cowboys didn't actually hit the animals with the whip because they didn't want to injure the animal. Well given what they did to cows by branding them do you think they really would have been worried about hitting a bull if he was charging at them? I doubt it.


© 2006 Victor Tella

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