Master Charro, Don Jose “Pepe” Diaz”
By Marilyn E. Short
The honorable, majestic and skillful horsemanship of the Charro is an integral
part of the Hispanic culture going back to the 17th century. In most
cases, the Charro tradition is passed between father and son and rooted in
the training, riding and roping skills developed in the cattle ranching industry
of Mexico, as with 87-year-old Master Charro, Don Jose “Pepe” Diaz of New
Don Pepe is a 3rd generation Charro and started riding
when he was only 6 or 7 months old. Don Pepe’s father, Jose Valentin
Sanchez Diaz, would strap him in a saddle and pony him while he went about
the hacienda. He helped his father train horses and work cattle on his
grandparent’s Palos Verdez Jalico, Mexico hacienda and can’t remember a time
when he didn’t ride horses.
Don Pepe’s family consisted of 5 brothers and 6 sisters
– and they were all involved in the workings of the hacienda. Not only
did they raise quality cattle and horses, the massive hacienda produced some
of the best milk cows in Mexico, and processed and sold cheese. They
would also go up into the mountains on the hacienda and cut timber, using
pack mules to transport the timber to the mill. Don Pepe worked in many
areas of the family business, but excelled at working with the horses and
developed a talent for repairing tack and crafting saddles. You couldn’t
just go out and buy something new on the ranch, so Don Pepe learned to fix
and build his own saddles and tack.
At the age of 19, Don Pepe went to Mexico City and started
training horses for Pancho Cardenas, the brother of the Mexican President,
Lazaro Cardenas. Pancho Cardenas respected Don Pepe and was very
disappointed when he moved on to work for Don Pepe Martinez in Cuidad Victoria,
|While at the Martinez Ranch he
entertained tourists with his superb horsemanship and roping skills…Senor
Martinez was so impressed with Don Pepe’s skills and the tourists he drew
to the ranch that he gave him half the interest in the cattle.
In the early 1940s Don Pepe obtained a work visa and went to work at the
Louis Grubbles Dude Ranch outside of Bandera, Texas. It was there
that Don Pepe was hired as a stunt double for Cisco in TVs “Cisco Kid” when
the series came to Bandera to film.
Word spread of Don Pepe’s horsemanship and Charro skills and many felt the
Charreada (Mexican Rodeo) and the skills of the Charro were becoming a lost
art. And those witnessing Don Pepe’s amazing talents for the first time wanted
to know more about Charro traditions and Charreadas. In 1944 Don Pepe was
instrumental in starting up the first Charro Association in San Antonio and
in the United States. Don Pepe was a pioneer in teaching the Charro
traditions so they could be understood in Texas and be cultivated and promoted
for generations to come.
Any place where Don Pepe worked, fellow ranchers and friends brought horses
for him to train or sought him out to discuss problems they were experiencing
Louis Grubbles had a rank ranch horse named Black Diamond who had bucked
off cowboys and trainers in and around Bandera who tried to tame him.
Grubbles had to leave the ranch for 3 months and assigned 3 horses for
Don Pepe to work while he was away. He specifically ordered Don Pepe
to stay away from the black horse, as he was too mean. Don Pepe was
curious about the black horse and while Grubbles was away he not only trained
the 3 horses, but broke Black Diamond of his bucking habit, and made him
into an exceptional ranch and exhibition horse.
Grubbles was amazed upon his return to find Don Pepe had tamed the assumingly
untamable black horse. He hopped in his Cadillac and headed into a
Bandera bar and picked up some of the cowboys who were unable to ride Black
Diamond and requested Don Pepe to show them what he had accomplished in only
In 1954, Barnum & Bailey heard of Don Pepe’s skills as a horseman and
entertainer while he worked at the dude ranch in Bandera and offered him
a job. At that time, Don Pepe felt he had to turn down the job because
he didn’t have a finished horse of his own. Mr. Grubbles was so impressed
with Don Pepe’s skills in training Black Diamond that he not only gave Don
Pepe permission to take Black Diamond on the road, but he very generously
gave him the horse.
In 1957 Don Pepe traveled back to Monterrey, Mexico and won the World Title
in Reining and Horse Catching.
Don Pepe was inducted into the National Cowboys of Color and Hall of Fame
on May 9, 2003. Don Pepe is known as the Father of Trick Roping and
his skills with the maguey rope were unsurpassed. The maguey is a grass rope
made of the agave fiber and one of the most difficult ropes to maneuver.
It takes a lifetime to become a Master Charro and acquiring the skills
takes a lifetime. In today’s world the training and teaching of horsemanship
is too quick and too fast. Over the years Don Pepe would have made a
lot more money by telling horse owners that the horse would take one year
or more to train. If he didn’t know the horse, he would
work the horse for a month or two and tell the owner where the horse’s talents
or abilities lay. If he did take a horse for training he would require
18-24 months for training.
To develop a true Charro horse takes years. The Diaz method of training
is to develop the horse to become an all-around athlete. The horse must
be trained to trail ride, jump a 4-foot fence, play polo, team rope, perform
reining patterns and advanced dressage.
Don Pepe compares training horses to building a house. “You must start with
a solid foundation before you can add the walls and roof. You can always
go back and work on the walls and the roof, but it’s more difficult to repair
a foundation – it needs to be solid from the start.”
Fourth generation Charro, Jerry Diaz’s fondest childhood memories are of
waiting by the window, watching for Don Pepe to return from work. Don
Pepe worked from 4 pm until 2 am at a restaurant to support his family, and
would come home and train horses until 8 am, sleep for a few hours and return
to the restaurant. Don Pepe didn’t have a round pen, it was more of
a triangular pen and there were no lights, he had to build a fire for light
to work the horses.
“My Dad would put me on the back of the horse and I’d tuck my hands in his
belt,” said Jerry. “I would bump my nose on his back when he made those
horses slide and spin. I loved it!”
Jerry Diaz chosen career began four generations ago and today he brings
the Mexican tradition of the Charro all over the world. Don Pepe’s
teachings and Jerry’s determination have enabled Jerry to perform at the
1996 Olympics, for President George H. Bush, the Prime Minister and other
heads of state. Diaz has earned the Federation of Charros' Golden Spur Award
for his outstanding contributions and commitment to the Charro tradition,
has a star on the Texas Trail of Fame in Fort Worth and was inducted into
the National Cowboys of Color Hall of Fame.
There might just be a fifth generation Charro coming up the ranks…2-year-old
Nicolas Diaz has already performed in Canada, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas!
“I’m not sure,” said Jerry, “but there’s a twinkle in his eyes when we’re
working together with the horses.”
Don Jose “Pepe” Diaz has lived and taught his children and grandchildren
the Charro’s strict code of honor…high ethics, expert horsemanship, chivalry
and a strong dedication to family and the Charro traditions, just like his
ancestors before him.
If you have questions for Don Pepe or Jerry Diaz, you can visit www.CharroJerryDiaz.com
or call Three Mile Creek Ranch at 830-629-2226.