Salute to 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 Braunfels, Texas.

    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, Tammaulipas, Mexico. 

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 with horses. 

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 3 months.

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.