Tenderfoot seeks rawhide

LOST COWBOYS: From Patagonia to the Alamo by Hank Wangford, Gollancz pounds 16.99
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The Independent Culture
IF there's anyone better to send to the Americas in search of "the roots of the Cowboy" than British media cowboy and day-time doctor Hank Wangford, then God and the Uruguayan Tourist Board have yet to find him.

On stage, Wangford the musician leans on maxims of the "it's better to have bad taste than to taste bad" variety, but with his writing-stetson on, he reveals a more literate, if no less entertaining, side. It may take two pages for the story of the Wankas Indians to reach its conclusion, but when it does, it's not entirely as expected. After soberly chronicling the Wankas' demise at the hands of the Incas in the 1460s, Wangford turns his attention to a musical tribute combo called Duo Los Wankas del Peru, compares them with a North Carolina twosome named the Bolick brothers (Earl and Bill Bolick, actually) and suggests an album called "Never Mind The Bolicks - Here's the Wankas". In Lost Cowboys Wangford successfully mixes travelogue with anecdote and historical reference, and the results are invariably informative, usually funny and only occasionally extraneous.

His avowed mission was to find the true cowboys of the Americas. With a Spanish-speaking friend in tow, he checks out the Gauchos of southern south America, the Llaneros of Venezuela and the Vaqueros and Charros of Mexico. He starts in the deep south, amongst the Welsh settlers of Patagonia - where Jones is pronounced "Jon-ess" and Beatles "Beat-less" - and slowly makes his way by car, plane, mule and bus to the Alamo, in Texas. On the way he unearths revolution (revealing the diplomatic battle- cry of the Venezuelan cowboy cavalry: "Vive Fulano del Ral!" "Long live... whoever!"), beef-rearing, the vast, deserted meat-processing plants of Fray Bentos, Welsh teas and Indian massacres. If you thought the Sioux

and the Apaches of north America had it tough, spare a thought for their southern counterparts. Here, the indigenous populations were either wiped out entirely, like the Tehuelche in Patagonia and the Charrua in Uruguay, or enslaved. Even reservations were never an option.

Picky eaters may find the offal quotient of Lost Cowboys a little heavy. Wangford will - and invariably does - eat anything that's shoved in front of him, be it bull's balls, cow's udder ("heavily spiced and herbed... it was very tasty, but I had a bit of trouble with the milk ducts that early in the day"), and even bull's penis. Not to mention a quantity of heart, intestines, black pudding and brains. He even reaches the stage where he will eat only meat, refusing all offers of vegetables and bread. By the time he reaches Venezuela, Wangford can manage to force down a plate of fried plantains, rice and refried beans, but it's touch and go. There's a relapse in Mexico with a bowl of sopa de medula (spinal-cord soup), but by the time he reaches the Alamo, Wangford has returned to a balanced diet. This from a former macrobiotic vegan.

Along the way, we learn much useful information: piranhas will only attack when cornered, clear plastic water-bags suspended from the ceiling keep the flies away, and a rope lasso opened out into a circle when sleeping in the open-air deters snakes . Although most people know that Butch Cassidy settled for a while in Bolivia, how many know that the Sundance Kid was German, or that a quarter of cowboys were black? Even those trumpets in a "true" Mexican mariachi band are Hollywood invention: the authentic violins couldn't be picked up by the microphone. By the end of his travels, Hank has the constitution of a carrion crow, an addiction to the tea-like mate of the "lost cowboys", and a saddle-bag of answers. Without spoiling the "plot", it would seem that Hollywood is to blame for our distorted view of cowboys. This is a very entertaining and informative account by the President of the Nude Mountaineering Society. But that's another story.