This might come as a surprise to most ropers today, but the tool of their trade, the lariat, or rope, was not a cowboy invention. Back in the days of the Roman Empire, circa 300-400 A.D., the Huns—you remember them—rode short little ponies and could and would stay in the saddle for days, those are the ones.
History describes them as excellent warriors who could accurately shoot an arrow or use their lariat to rope an enemy while their ponies carried them along at a dead run. The Goths lived in dread of these short horsemen who annihilated them in every engagement.
Rope is recorded to be as old as mankind itself. All primitive peoples managed to discover some sort of material out of which they could produce twine and rope. The Chippewa Indians used a method by which they manufactured rope from the inner bark of basswood.
No one seems to be able to answer with any authority just which people in the history of the human race were the first to make a lariat out of a rope, and exactly what materials were used in its construction. The development of the lariat follows closely with the history of the horse. The handling of animals generally necessitated the use of a rope of some type.
With evidence that the horse and the lariat evolved together, it is also a good bet that the materials used were either horsehair or rawhide, both of which are obtainable from the animals themselves. It is thought that the most primitive riata was horsehair.
Ropes made of hair, hemp, rawhide, maguey (agave fiber), cotton and today’s ever-popular nylon are all products of centuries of evolution.
What hasn’t changed is man’s fascination with a catch rope. I can’t speak for those Huns but today’s “twine twirlers” are every bit as dedicated to their craft, some arguing their life depends on it. And, if they have a rope in their hand, they have to rope something.
While there are no longer any Goth roping going on, it’s not uncommon for the rope owner to try to rope just about anything that moves. It doesn’t have to be a cow or horse. I’ve known dedicated ropers (aka fools) to rope mountain lions, coyotes, deer, antelope (now that took a fast horse) and yes, even a bear.
Pretty much across the board, each of those events culminated in the cowboy wondering just what had he been thinking? The catchin’ was good. The “what do I do with it now” that followed was the meat of the story.
Movement is not a requirement for throwing a loop. Buckets, bushes, chairs and the sleeping dog, which quickly becomes part of the moving category, are fair game. In my part of the country, it is the weapon of choice for killing a snake if you aren’t armed with a gun.
The skill involved in the use of what began as a tool became marketable as a competitive “sport.” Like shooting and riding, roping quickly became a contest to prove who was king. Much like an illegal substance, it has become an addiction for many.
Today roping is a multi-million dollar industry that attracts men, women and children from all walks of life. It no longer is just a “cowboy” sport, but calls to those who want a little piece of cowboy living.
By picking up a rope, the journey begins.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.