FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It was an idea that began in a committee of the Fort Worth Arts Commission: Build a statue representing the hard work and enormous influence of Mexican culture in the Old West.
The model shows a vaquero on trotting horse, coiled rope in hand, sombrero-clad head looking to his left as if singling out the cow in the herd needing his attention. It would sit at Main and Central Streets, at the gateway to The Stockyards.
Cost: $250,000. Half from the city, half from donations.
The process took years. But on the final ten foot bronze statue there was one thing added by the artists they were specifically told not to add.
“It was something that was decided on eight years ago, that there would be no pistol,” said Manuel Valdez, a Justice of the Peace who also served as the Vaquero Committee Chairman. “That was an agreement by all of us, the artist and the committee.”
The completed statue has a holstered pistol and gun belt with bullets.
“They based it on the fact it was not historically accurate,” said David Newton, one of two artists who created the work.
What committee members say they wanted to portray was the Spanish and Mexican influence that led to the western culture. There is a cowboy statue on the North side of the Stockyards with a person wearing a pistol.
But Valdez argues only a small portion of vaqueros wore pistols and in a narrow time frame of the vaqueros history. He didn’t want the statue to confuse fact with a Hollywood image of a pistolero. “The vaquero has, for hundreds of years, no pistol.”
But the artists say they kept researching during their eight years of work. “During that research we found so much evidence that vaqueros did indeed have side arms at that time,” Newton said. “They were expected to have them, as all cowboys were.”
Newton said the side arms were used to protect the vaqueros and the herd from danger. So, the artists added the gun and triggered the controversy.
“They broke the agreement, in our point of view,” Valdez said.
“We were mandated in our contract to produce a vaquero circa 1890 that was accurate to that time,” said Newton. “So, we feel we have fulfilled that obligation.”
The artists can’t pull off the gun without a massive rework of the statue — not that the artists would do it anyway. “I really feel an obligation to be accurate about my time and take that very seriously because i’ll literally be judged by this piece a hundred years from now,” Newton said.
“It doesn’t belong to the artist,” said Valdez. “It doesn’t belong to the committee. It belongs to all of the community.”
Now its up to lawyers to settle this old west showdown and determine if the vaquero will take his place at the gateway to Stockyards.
Lawyers briefed the Fort Worth City Council on the standoff as well. Its likely it will get involved at some point to decide what to do with the statue.