Celebrate National Day of the Cowboy

Create a Cowboy Pinwheel ‘Spur’!

Spurs were a vital part of the cowboy’s equipment.  Most people notice the spurs, the way they jingle and spin.  In celebration of National Day of the Cowboy, let’s create a pinwheel since the shape and spinning motion mimic the spin of the rowel on the spur.  

Materials Needed

  • Paper or Cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Glue Stick
  • Push Pin
  • Pencil with Eraser
  • Bead or Small Button (Optional) 
  • Crayons or Markers (Optional)

STEP 1: Cut your paper into a square shape.

Start out by cutting your paper into a square. We made ours 8” x 8”.

STEP 2:  Fold your paper tip to tip diagonally.

By folding the paper tip to tip, you create creases that you will then use for cutting guides.

STEP 3:  Draw a dotted line along the creases.

Draw dotted lines half the length from tip to center. Since our square is 8”, draw 4” inch dotted lines from tip to center along the crease. This indicates your cutting lines.

STEP 4:  Decorate the square.

You can leave your square plain or draw patterns and designs on it. It’s your call, cowboy!

STEP 5: Cut four slits.

Cut along the four diagonal dotted lines.

STEP 6: Bring one tip to the center.

After making the four slits, you will have 8 tips on your square—if you want to label each tip, you will only be folding the odd numbers into the center. 

Take tip #1 and bring it to the center of the square without creasing the paper. You can glue the tip in place or just hold it with your hand as you do the next steps.

STEP 7: Bring the next tips to the center.

Then Take Tips #3, #5, and #7 to the center of the square. You can glue each tip in place or just hold them with your hand.

STEP 8: Cut out a circle.

Cut out a small paper circle to then glue atop your tips in the center of your pinwheel.

STEP 9: Insert a push pin into the center of your circle and assemble all parts.

Insert a push pin into the center of your circle through the papers. Then you will attach the pinwheel to your pencil by pushing the pin into the eraser of the pencil. Don’t push your pin in too tightly or your wheel won’t spin freely.

As an option, you can put a bead or small button between the pinwheel and the eraser. This helps the pinwheel rotate better and prevents the pin’s point from going through the other side of the eraser.

STEP 8: Enjoy your Pinwheel ‘Spur’!

Finally, try blowing at the edges of the pinwheel to make it spin or walk with it so the air flow causes it to twirl. Loosen the pin a bit if the blades do not rotate well. Enjoy!

Click here to view a video of this little buckaroo’s pinwheel in action. 

Once you have made the pinwheel and played with it a bit, parents can move into a discussion on San Antonio’s rich cowboy history and how the spur got its start.

The West Starts Here!

Learn about San Antonio’s Rich Cowboy History & How the Spur Got its Start

Ryan Badger

Although San Antonio’s claim to fame is the Battle of the Alamo and the historic site that constitutes the heart of downtown; as well as a community shaped Spanish and Mexican cultures.  It is easy to forget that San Antonio was also one of the cities most vital to the success of the American cattle trade. 

The story of cattle drives in South Texas goes back to the time of Spanish settlement. Native people living in the Franciscan Missions spent part of their days learning how to ride horses and wrangle cattle, which were used for their meat, hides and tallow (fat, which was made into candles, etc.).  In spite of the fact that many Native people had never used or seen horses prior to the arrival of the Spanish, they were quick learners and quickly learned the skills developed by Spanish vaqueros.  Eventually, Franciscan missionaries even commissioned special spurs for Native vaqueros to use, with features that allowed them to be worn with moccasins.  The image featured below depicts a moccasin spur and comes from the Briscoe Western Art Museum Collection.

Spanish vaqueros had mastered horsemanship, roping and animal husbandry in Europe, and found the plains of Northern Mexico and South Texas ideal locations to establish herds of hearty Iberian livestock, that were turned out to graze.  Many of these animals lived feral for months and even years at a time, adapting to the climate and landscape of South Texas until thousands ran wild along the Rio Grande.  These herds would evolve into the Texas longhorn cattle, easily identified by their impressive horns.  While many ran wild, those that remained constituted a major part of Tejano livelihood. In fact, Texas cattle, driven from San Antonio, were also used to feed hungry soldiers during the American Revolution and miners during the California Gold Rush.  One of the museum’s signature pieces along the Riverwalk, “Camino de Galvez” by Texan sculptor T.D. Kelsey, illustrates the first cattle drive from Texas to the American colonies.  

Description: Camino de Gálvez by T.D. Kelsey on Cuseum

T.D. Kelsey, Camino De Galvez, bronze, 126″x155″x84”, Purchased with funds provided by the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation in honor of Lindsay and Jack Guenther, Jr. Family. 

After the close of the Civil War cattle-rich and cash poor Texans looked for ways to recover from the economic devastation of the war.  The solution to their problems came in the form of the hundreds of thousands of wild longhorn cattle roaming across South Texas and Northern Mexico. Their ready availability made the Texas traildriving cattle industry possible, as it had in 1779.  As those herds began their drive northward, they stopped in San Antonio to supply themselves for the months on the trail ahead; often times the outfit’s chuckwagon would park in Alamo Plaza as the necessary supplies were acquired for them toilsome months ahead.  From these months on the trail the Texas cowboy become a Western icon due to their skill on horseback, their wild spirit and their ability to endure hardship.  They were celebrated in Western “Dime Novels” and books on cowboy life were some of the most popular publications of the late 19th and early 20th century.  The cowboys were masters of the open range, until the invention of barbed wire.  

Ragan Gennusa, Out of the Brush, Oil on canvas, 20×40”, Briscoe Western Art Museum, Night of Artists Purchase 2016

Description: Fence svg silhouette, Picture #2652784 fence svg silhouette

The reaction to Joseph Gidden’s invention of light-weight, inexpensive fencing is often credited as the object that ‘tamed the West.’  With the mass-production of this hardware individual ranchers were able to delineate their property lines with relative ease.  People praised the quality of barbed wire as “it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.”  This singular invention, was originally looked upon as being too flimsy to really hold cattle until it was successfully demonstrated by John Warne Gates in downtown San Antonio.   

So remember, as you teach your children about the Spanish Missions, El Camino Real or Davy Crockett at the Alamo, also teach them about the San Antonio’s role as the gateway to the western cattle trails. 

Graphic from Ned and Jody Martin, Bit and Spur Makers in the Vaquero Tradition: A Historical Perspective, Hawk Hill Press, 1997. Pp.46.

Spurs themselves are thousands of years old, have evolved radically over the years and, for the cowboys, you could often tell where a cowboy was from by the style of spurs he wore. The cowboy styles of spurs that we have come to know have largely originated in Mexico and evolved to fit the needs of the regions where the cowboys worked and what they wanted from their spurs. Below you will see three different styles of spurs: Texan, Vaquero (from California), and Buckaroo (from up north around Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada).  

Texan: Texan spurs typically had a short “shank,” small, blunt rowels, and wide heelbands.  They were similar in construction to some Northern Mexican spurs, though they were not as intricate, made of iron instead of Mexican silver and were often designed for utility over show.  Below is a special kind of spur, called the OK Spur.  This was made out of a single piece of iron, making it strong, flexible and was relatively inexpensive; at only .50 cents a pair they were a great buy for a poor cowboy

Description: Texas Cowpuncher's O.K. SPUR - No. 1 | eBay

Vaquero: The vaquero spurs were the most like the beautiful Mexican spurs in their construction, their use of silver inlays and large rowels.  They were useful though especially designed for show and often featured ‘heel chains’ and ‘jingle-bobs’ to add a little sound to when they would walk around or ride by. 

Description: California vaquero Spurs | Cowboy spurs, Western spurs straps ...

Buckaroo: The northern buckaroo spurs were appear to be a mix of the vaquero and Texan styles. They often have smaller rowels, but longer, curved shanks and a chap guards. They also normally had large leather straps to fix the spurs to their boots, with large silver concho-style buttons. 

Description: Kevin Burns Spurs

About the Briscoe Western Art Museum

The Briscoe Western Art Museum’s mission is to preserve the art, culture, and history of the West.  Their collection includes objects and artifacts that tell the story of the North American cattle trade, vaqueros, cowgirls and cowboys.  See their “Beyond the Briscoe”content for more activities.  

About the Author

Ryan Badger is the Curator of Collections with the Briscoe Western Art Museum.  He has worked as a public historian for the past ten years, throughout the Western U.S. and in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. His real passion is bringing Western stories to life for the public and his two children, who are regularly his guinea-pigs whenever he is preparing a new tour or program. In his downtime he enjoys exploring wild places where he can socially distance and admire the beauty of the wilderness; when that is not possible, he also enjoys reading and leatherwork (making wallets for people that do not need any more wallets).