José Ozuna — Vaquero Número Uno

Don José Ozuna was born on May 5, 1908 to Cesario Ozuna and María Muñoz in Crestonio, Duval County, Texas.

At the age of eight years he was working on the King Ranch for $.25 a week plus room and board, which many times meant the open range as your room and your saddle as your pillow. By the time he was twelve he was classified as a vaquero número uno or a number one cowboy.

Ozuna recalled being on cattle drives where they would drive the herds of cattle to the loading pens and waiting trains at the shipping point which was between Kingsville and Bishop. They had to cross the creeks full of water watching out for snakes.

Most of the vaqueros had nicknames and José's was El Chicote or The Whip. We'll let your imagination wonder why he was called that.

José remembers when a film maker from New York came to film the vaqueros on the King Ranch. They wanted to film someone on a bucking horse and asked for the best vaquero. Caporal Mendietta motioned for José to mount a wild six year old mare. Bob Kleberg told Mendietta, "Es un chamaco" (he's just a kid). Mendietta said, "Es el mejor que tengo", he's the best I have. Ozuna mounted the mare and then the camp cook, Rafael, climbed the corral fence with a cup of coffee in his hand. When José went by on the bucking mare he grabbed the cup from the cook and started drinking his coffee. One vaquero said, "I can do that." Mr. Kleberg said, "Give it a try." He was immediately bucked off.

Another episode that Ozuna recalls was when Mr. Kleberg had bought some new saddles and wanted to test them to see how good they were. Kleberg told Caporal Mendietta, "Quiero ver si aguantan un tirón, I want to see if they'll hold a pull." Mendietta motioned Ozuna and he quickly lassoed a big Brahma bull, hump and all, jumped off his horse, running towards the bull with his horse backing up, when the saddle came apart. Mr. Kleberg said, "Ese es el tirón que quería ver", that's the pull I wanted to see, take the saddles back, they're no good.

When José left the King Ranch, Bob Kleberg gave him his saddle, which he still has today. Mr. Kleberg wanted him to stay but he was homesick for his parents and wanted to be closer to them.

In 1934, José married Basilia Palacios in Jim Wells County. They were blessed with three children, two girls, Natalia and Carolina and one boy, Cesario.

In 1939 Ozuna started working for Bob Reagan roping wild cows for $5.00 a head. He recalls making up to $200.00 in one day. He also remembered roping two mesteños, (wild mustangs), for the ranch.

In 1945 he bought his own place west of the Seeligson Ranch. His daughter remembers arriving at the location and there was no house, just lots of thick brush. After clearing out a patch in the brush, José set up a tent and the family lived there while he constructed a house.

Ozuna worked for Reagan up until the mid 1960's and then he went to work for Jack and Walter Storm.

José participated in rodeos and was the Grand Marshall during the 4th of July parade in Premont in 1990. He rode horses until he was 82 years old and then switched full-time to a pickup. During his vaquero days he was also known as an expert fence builder and was quite a dancer and singer.

El Mesteño wishes don José a very Happy Birthday as he will be 90 years old on May 5, 1998. Don José Ozuna is a living testament as to what a vaquero numero uno is.


• return to Sample Stories