Inez Ashdown and the Paniolo, 1939.

Cowboys of Hawaii Nei

By INEZ ASHDOWN

There are numerous books about cowboys. Some are written by the cowboys themselves, others were compiled by admiring friends. Whatever the manuscripts, all were written by those who wished to keep alive the old traditions and the romance of the western United States.

Yet while some of the finest American cowboys are those born and raised in Hawaii, no one has ever written about the native paniola and little is heard of them except for occasional news items, or, as during the recent Hoolaulea, one or tow are included in the general publicity.

Who were the first cowboys in Hawaii, who are the cowboys of today, where do they live and what do they do other than rope cattle and ride broncos?

To answer these questions research similar to that done by David Malo and the first missionaries when they endeavored to separate legend from actuality, would have to be followed. Yet who, in this modern day, can remember some long-forgotten mele telling of the first cowboys to visit this group of islands?

That they are Mexican or Spanish is known, because the name “paniola” is a derivation of the term “Espanol.” Some of the present day cowboys will tell about a father or grandfather who was of the Latin people.

Jack Aina, one of Maui’s most popular knights of the saddle, will say “Ai. My father Mexican. Those first paniola bring noho (saddles), kaula (rope), kaula waha (bridle), kipa (spurs), and all the things we get today.”

Aina is past 60, but is still the fastest shipping man and one of the best ropers on the island, and younger men will stand watching and shouting “Aina! Hu ka makani!” (Aina, go like the wind!) as he dashes out of a corral on his big shipping horse, a bawling crow-hopping steer at the end of his 20 foot manilla line, and into the sea with a fountain of spray.

The larger his audience the better he works and laughs and indulges in horse-play, particularly if there be present any malihini. Later, after he has washed and oiled his saddle and bridle, and done himself up in fancy shirt, chaps, boots and kipa pele (jingly spurs) and topped all the finery with a ten-gallon hat he enjoys singing and dancing the Hula for his Boss and guests.

He is now horsebreaker and trainer for Angus MacPhee at the Maui Agricultural Company’s Keahua stables where the Kahoolawe and company horses are kept. He is a master at braiding kaula ili (rawhide ropes) and uses most of his spare time for this and for putting fancy work on saddle or bridle, for he takes pride in his “jewelry” and “watches his shadow” as all fancy cowboys do.

He worked at Ulupalakua ranch when Mr. MacPhee was manager there, in company with the famous roping champion, Ikua Purdy, who is foreman of the ranch. Ikua who knows ranch work from A to Z, who jogs quietly along but seems to know by instict where the pipi ahiu (wild cattle) will be hiding. Then as they “scare” he and his horse unwind like clockwork, to rope and tie like lightning.

Aina knew old Hapakuka, now dead, whose sons quietly carry on his famous work and name. And Kinau, who looked like an ancient time warrior, and who brought to mind that first noted horseman, Kamehameha the Great, whose horses and cattle, the first in Hawaii, were brought as gifts by Vancouver and Cleveland in 1793–4.

Those first animals were placed under a ten year tabu by the Hawaiian monarch, and that tabu was probably the beginning of the wild cattle which roamed the mountain slopes of Hawaii and Maui until ranchmen who wished to have pure bred cattle and thoroughbred horsses, killed them off. Today’s roping does not need the wild riding, the pinning of roped animals to pipi kauo (pin oxen), any more than kaa pipi (bullock wagons) are needed for hauling.

George Davis of Hawaii was another of the ranch’s finest, working with Willie Purdy and his brothers, Moku Smythe, George Swift, and many others who have moved away or have died, but who remain unknown although their stories would equal, and, in some instances, surpass, many stories told of heroes of the old West.

There is another paniola man on Maui who is an artist as well as a cowboy. This Hawaiian Charlie Russel is called John Lihau Kaaihue and is foreman of the cattle work at Honolulu ranch. He is 41 years old, was married in Kaupo in 1919 and is proud of his fine wife and nine children. Six husky boys and three pretty girls who help Father with the chores, or Mother with housework or the preparing and weaving of lauhala.

Lihau can make a fine saddle tree and cover it to perfection, can strip and scrape a green hide for braiding a fine kaula ili, makes his own ili kalapu (knee leggings), ordinary leggings, or chaps; repairs the family shoes when they need half-soling, makes most of the household furniture, and can repair anything from a pan to a roof.

He makes canoes and boats, fish nets, lauhala hats or mats, and likes to employ old Hawaiian methods whenever possible. But in those akamai (clever) fingers, according to trained artists who have seen his carvings, is genius.

Charlie Russel, famous cowboy artist, liked to fashion little figures of men, horses or other things from candle wax as he yarned with the cowboys in a Wyoming bunk-house. His picture, The Last Stand, according to an old story, was given by him to a saloon owner in payment of a board-and-keep bill, and the owner later refused an offer of several thousand dollars for the now famous picture. Yet Russel did not, as he joked and worked with the men, believe he would someday be famous.

Nor did Lihau, a few months ago, think that he was doing exceptional carving with his pen-knife. He often does carving for friends just to please them. But some weeks ago he found a friend who was very much disturbed. The vocational school at Kahului had made a fine table of monkey pod wood and the owner desired that the legs of the table be carved as an akua (god or idol).

The only artist available for the carving had asked a prohibitive amount, others had no time or honestly admitted that they did not believe they could do justice to the exceptionally fine piece of wood.

Lihau inspected the table, looked at a drawing made by the owner, studied some old history pictures of ancient idols, and finally said quietly that he could do the work.

At the friend’s glance of incredulity Mrs. Lihau nodded and announced that indeed John could carve anything, when he had spare time.

Two weeks later they brought the table back to town from their ranch home. It was taken by the enthusiastic owner to the vocational school principal, Ernest Hood, whose own beautiful native-wood furniture is famous. At the school the coffee table was polished and completed, and people from all parts of Maui have called at the owner’s home to see that and other carvings done by Lihau, and mats made by his wife.

One and all agree that genius created this masterpiece of art and legend, for with a few deft lines the wraith of an akua rises from the “flames” of the wood-grain.

Lihau listens to their praises, accepts their congratulations, while his wife smiles proudly, and returns home to his family and his work wondering why they all give him so much attention, for he is a quiet unassuming man who does not look for attention but who does things because they are his jobs or because he wants to. And he would not be guilty of turning out poor work of any sort.

Is he a throw-back to those old ancestors who carved idols from forest trees for the ancient temples? Or is it just simply that real cowboys must use their heads and hands to such a degree that they can do anything they wish to do?

Lihau has had very little schoolhouse training, no one has ever taught him of Art and its principles, and he does most of his carving with his knife, although he does have a few tools now which were lent by a friend.

While he works at his hobby he teaches his boys also just as he teaches them to rope and to ride and to save time a trouble by learning to think quickly, such as at the time of the big flood at Punalau.

He was driving a truck-load of laborers home from the pineapple fields but when they came to the gulch the road was impassible. He could take the men back to the main camp where they might be able to stop with friends or get food at the ranch store and sleep in the big garage used for trucks, but that meant a lot of bother for everyone concerned, and the use of a great deal more gasoline.

Why not swim? But eighteen of the men could not swim enough to breast those swirling waters rushing to an angry sea.

Eighteen times Lihau swam back and forth across the flood to take the non-swimmers to a spot from which they could easily reach home, while others stood grouped about watching and wondering just how long the man could stand the strain.

When the last man was across Lihau turned his truck, drove it back to the garage and arrived home a little late for supper. He was bothered a bit by hunger because his habit is to eat breakfast, skip lunch, and eat a hearty meal at evening.

Ranch work and its life are always varied, interesting and romantic. Other walks of life may be as exciting, or so much more dangerous that all the fun is lacking, but for sheer freedom and soaring of the spirit no other work is more satisfying than that done by the cowboy. And of all the cowboys in the world there are none who are more joyously reckless, more dependable in tight spots, more full of song and versatility than the paniola of Hawaii.

Outstanding among them are always Eben Parker Low and Ikua Purdy, whose names and skill are known far and wide even as of their haole friend, Angus MacPhee of Wyoming, whose champion roping record of 1907 still holds first place, and who is a kamaaina here.

These men are known, but there are many fine paniola whose names have never been heard outside their home ranches or islands, and among these is Lihau, the cowboy-artist of Maui.

(Hoku o Hawaii, 4/26/1939, p. 6)

Cowboys Of Hawaii Nei

Ka Hoku o Hawaii, Volume XXXIII, Number 52, Page 6. Aperila 26, 1939.

Inez Ashdown and Queen Liliuokalani, 1939.

Was Friend of Liliuokalani

INEZ ASHDOWN

Ka Hoku’s Maui Corresponent.

This picture was taken at the time Mrs. Ashdown’s father Angus MacPhee was manager of the Ulupalakua ranch for Dr. Raymond. She had just returned from Dana Hall school at Wellesley and, as she says, “‘rarin’ to be a cowboy like him and all his Hawaiian paniola.”

“My people brought me here in 1907 when Dad was champion roper of the world and came to take part in Eben Low’s first wild west show,” writes Mrs. Ashdown. “Ikua went back to Cheyenne, our home town, the following year and took the title for that year, but no one has ever broken Dad’s time for that sort of roping. The first year we were here my parents were guests many times at the home of Queen Liliuokalani and I loved her very much. I was only a kid, but even then it made me boil because the people had taken her crown away.”

Mrs. Ashdown has lived on Maui most of the time since 1907, except for the years she was away at school. Her husband, C. W. Ashdown, is office manager for the Baldwin Packers at Lahaina. They have two sons and writing is Mrs. Ashdown’s hobby. She hopes some day to write some real good novels. She used to rope wild cattle, ride race horses and break colts, but says “that was a long time ago.”

(Hoku o Hawaii, 4/26/1939, p. 6)

Was Friend of Liliuokalani

Ka Hoku o Hawaii, Volume XXXIII, Number 52, Aoao 6. Aperila 26, 1939.

Nice mele for famed cowboy Ikua Purdy by a woman living in the Mormon colony, Iosepa, Utah, 1908.

HE WEHI NO IUKA PURDY [IKUA PURDY].

Kamaaina au no Kohala-loko,
No na pali ku’i o Honokane;
He kupa mai au no Kohala-waho
Aina kaulana he Nailima.
Keiki mai au no Ihuanu,
O ke koa kaulana o Hinakahua.
O ka noe mai au o Puuhue
Na puu kaulana Haelelua,
He boy mai au no Kohala-Hema
Kamakani kaulana he olauniu,
He olali mai au no Kalaieha,
Kuahiwi kaulana o Mauna Kea
Kia pono e ka ihu a i Waikii,
Auwai kaulana a ka Menehune
Hala ae ka Makani o Noha-nohae,
Pili ana maua me Lihue,
O ke kula laula o Waikoloa,
O ka uhi-wai hoi a-o Ma-na,
O ka home kaulana o ke kupuna
Nana nei pua e ola nei,
He aloha e ka ua o ka aina
O ke ki-puupuu o Waimea,
O ka nalu ha’i mai Puakailima
Kai lana malie i Kamakahonu
E ola e ke Kama nona ka lei
Iku-a e ka moho puni e ke ao
E o e Iku-a i ko inua,
Ke koa kaulana kipuka ili
Haina ia mai ana ka puana,
Kaulana Iku-a puni e ke ao.

Hakuia e MRS. K. N.

Iosepa Skull Valley, Utah, U. S. A.

(Kuokoa, 10/23/1908, p. 8)

HE WEHI NO IUKA PURDY.

Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, Buke XLIII, Helu 43, Aoao 8. Okatoba 23, 1908.

 

Utah paper reports on the victorious Hawaiian cowboys at Wyoming, 1908.

HAWAIIANS DEFEAT AMERICAN COWBOYS

For a dozen years back there has been held in Cheyenne, Wyo., what is called Frontier day, which calls together thousands of people from many states, and involves wild west performances of the most interesting and expert character. There is wild horse riding, steer roping, and a cowboy carnival in general. For the first time in the history of these contests the championship for steer roping has been taken away from the United States. Three Hawaiian cowboys were on hand, and one of them carried off the highest honors. He had met the former American champion, Angus McPhee, at Honolulu in July, and there defeated him. Ikua Purdy, the full-blooded Hawaiian cowboy, promised to come to Cheyenne and make good his defeat of McPhee against all comers. He brought only his saddle and heavy rawhide lariat, which equipment provoked smiles among the local cowboys. Purdy was accompanied by a fellow-Hawaiian, Archie Kaaua, and he too, made a record. There may be a few cowboys among our readers, for whose benefit we extract from the Denver Republican the story of the Hawaiian victory as follows:

At first the Americans laughed at the Hawaiians. The laugh was changed to admiration, however, when Archie Kaaua roped in the fast time of 1:09, defeating the best previous performance of 1:11 by Peter Dickerson of Arizona. Then came the champion, Purdy, and when he had tied his steer securely, the judges announced his time as 1:03 2-5. A mighty cheer greeted him. By this time the Americans had not only the greatest respect for the dark-skinned visitors, but they feared them and predicted they would win. The next day Purdy, Kaaua, Hugh Clark of Cheyenne and Peter Dickerson, the only men qualifying for the finals, roped. Kaaua roped in the slow time of 1:48 1-5, and the Americans took hope. Then Dickerson fell down and got no time. Then Hugh Clark roped in 1:20. This left Champion Purdy with the best time of 1:03 2-5, but he had to rope another steer. Excitement was at fever heat, for Clark had attained the best average for the three days up to this time. Finally Purdy’s steer was turned out of the corral, and with a dash Purdy was after him. Purdy made a perfect throw, “busted” his steer, and, slipping from his horse, ran quickly to the fallen animal and in a twinkling had “hog-tied.” A great shout went up when the time was announced at 56 seconds, and Purdy was declared the winner and retainer of the championship title, Clark was second, Kaaua third and Dickerson fourth.

(Salt Lake Tribune, 9/1/1908, p. 10)

HAWAIIANS DEFEAT AMERICAN COWBOYS

The Salt Lake Tribune, Volume LXXVII, Number 140, Page 10. September 1, 1908.

More mele and coverage of the Waimea cowboys, 1908.

ROPING GLORY FOLLOWS THE FLAG

If the wail had come from Boston, or from Bangor, or Podunk,
There’d have been a precious diff’rence in the thoughts we would have thunk,
But for Rochester, in New York State, to go and make a break
About these most important isles—it really takes the cake!

There’s a paper in dear Rochester that tries to stir the nation
With a statement that most clearly shows a lack of observation,
For it says Americans have lost their cowboy reputation
To Purdy from Hawaii (read below for information).

Since Hawaii’s in the U. S. A., I cannot understand
Why she thus should be referred to as a sort of foreign land;
The lariat laurel still adorns a brow American
In fair Hawaii, U. S. A., and Purdy is the man!

Says the Rochester, N. Y., Post Express:

For the first time in the history of the Frontier Day sports at Cheyenne, the championship for steer roping has been taken away from the United States Ikua Purdy, a Hawaiian cowboy, carried off first honors in the steer roping contest, defeating the crack American cowboys. For the benefit of readers who are interested in this strictly American contest, the following description of the winning of the championship is extracted from the Denver “Republican:”

At first the Americans laughed at the Hawaiians. The laugh was changed to admiration, however, when Archie Kaaua roped in the fast time of 1:09, defeating the best previous performance of 1:11 by Peter Dickerson of Arizona. Then came the champion, Purdy, and when he had tied his steer securely, the judges announced his time as 1:03 2-5. A mighty cheer greeted him. By this time the Americans had not only the greates respect for the dark-skinned visitors, but they feared them and predicted they would win. The next day Purdy, Kaaua, Hugh Clark, of Cheyenne, and Peter Dickerson, the only men qualifying for the finals roped. Kaaua roped in the slow time of 1:48 1-5, and the Americans took hope. Then Dickerson fell down and got no time. Then Hugh Clark roped in 1:20. This left Champion Purdy with the best time of 1:03 2-5, but he had to rope another steer. Excitement was at fever heat, for Clark had attained the best average for the three days up to this time. Finally Purdy’s steer was turned out of the corral, and with a dash Purdy was after him. Purdy made a perfect throw, “busted” his steer, and, slipping from his horse, ran quickly to the fallen animal and in a twinkling had “hog-tied.” A great shout went up when the time was announced at 56 seconds, and Purdy declared the winner and holder of the championship title. Clark won second, Kaaua third and Dickerson fourth.

And so the Hawaiians are the best cowboys! This is tremendously important—more so, in fact, than the result of the Marathon race or winning the greater number of points in an Olympic contest. No one country has enjoyed a monopoly of the sport of foot-racing, pole jumping, hurdling, or tug-of-waring, but America did have a monopoly of wild horse riding, steer roping and all the sports and exercises in which the frontiersman and the cowboy took part. It is rather galling, therefore, to have this honor taken from us. But, after all, there is the consoling thought that if the United States is to lose the steer-tying championship, it is won by the natives of an island that is protected by the Stars and Stripes. And what is even of more importance, the Westerners are such good sportsmen that they have not uttered a word of complaint regarding their defeat.

(Hawaiian Star, 9/23/1908, p. 6)

ROPING GLORY FOLLOWS THE FLAG

The Hawaiian Star, Volume XVI, Number 5143, Page 6. September 23, 1908.

President Roosevelt and Ikua Purdy, 1909.

A GIFT TO PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT.

One thing that President Roosevelt [Rusawela] was extremely pleased at from the steer-roping boys of Hawaii nei, was their gift that they sent by way of Representative Kuhio; and within a letter sent was a picture of Ikua Purdy, the champion roper of the world and canoe racer at Waikiki.

According to Representative Kuhio in his letter written to Jack Low, it expressed that the President was filled with joy at hearing that Ikua Purdy was actually the one who came away with the name champion of the world at steer roping.

This was the first he found out about the skill of the Hawaiian boys in roping steer, and it was Representative Kuhio who told him that Hawaiians enjoyed this activity for a long time, way before them hearing about the abilities of the boys of Wyoming.

On this past new year’s day, the paniolo boys of Waimea, Hawaii, held a steer-roping contest, with the idea that the boys who are proficeint at that activity would snatch the fame gained by Ikua Purdy, however, Ikua was the fastest at their contest; his time was like nine minutes [? seconds] less than his time in Wyoming.

There were twenty-five Waimea boys entered in this contest, but most of them fell, and Kamaki Lindsey took second place, with a time of fifty-seven seconds to rope, fell, and tie his steer.

(Kuokoa, 1/15/1909, p. 4)

KA MAKANA IA PERESIDENA RUSAWELA.

Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, Buke XLVI, Helu 3, Aoao 4. Ianuari 15, 1909.

Another English mele for Ikua Purdy folks, 1908.

ALOHA, PURDY.

From the sun-dried plains of Texas
From the rolling Northern lands,
From East and West they sent their best,
With chap and spur and flying vest,
And lariats in their hands.

From o’er the world came champions,
All strange alike to fear,
Each full of hope his whirling rope
Would be the quickest one to cope
With swiftly-running steer.

Alas! for all those champions—
From far across the sea,
With face all tanned and steady hand,
To meet the best in all the land,
Came our Hawaiian Three.

Aloha, then, to Purdy,
To Archie and Jack Low!
Those ropes may fly in skillful try,
But they must come to fair Hawaii
To learn the way to throw.

JACK DENSHAM.

(Hawaiian Gazette, 8/25/1908, p. 3)

ALOHA, PURDY.

Hawaiian Gazette, Volume LI, Number 68, Page 3. August 25, 1908.