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JUAN BELMONTE (1892 – 1962) Spanish Bullfighter

In Biography, Bullfighting, Matadors, Spanish History, Sports, Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 9:55 PM


Juan Belmonte

The legs Juan Belmonte was born with were weak and deformed, not at all appropriate for a sport where you come face to face with an angry beast.  But instead of backing away from his one dream in life, to be a bullfighter, he invented a new technique for a torero* and was considered by many to be the “greatest matador of all time.” 

Belmonte was a rambunctious child who hung out with a gang of mischief makers.  On a dare, he climbed a wall in order to touch the exposed breasts of a statue, and fell off, cracking his head open.  His punishment was to have to go to school, which he did from ages four to eight.  In that short time he became literate, but it was a struggle.  

The young boy’s education continued outside the classroom.  As the oldest of eleven children, Belmonte was expected to help his father in the shop, but his shy, insecure personality was no match for the hagglers who bargained down the prices. His dad berated him for losing money the family desperately needed, but he also took some responsibility for his son’s maturity.  Every day until he was eleven, Belmonte went with his dad to the café and observed the other men, learning from them how a man with self esteem behaves.  From hanging out in the streets with his buddies he learned to smoke, drink, play cards and be with women.  

One group of Belmonte’s friends owned a printing press, and their love of cheap detective novels rubbed off on him.  He could read well enough to keep up with them, and the group would dramatically act out the stories.  This began his life-long passion for reading.  

GETTING AN EARLY START          Belmonte’s fascination with bulls started when he was a toddler.  While his family was dining in a restaurant, he wandered outside to a pen that had several calves.  He tried get a stubborn one to charge and was disappointed when the animal didn’t respond.   As he got a little older, he started playing around with a cape and found that it gave him the confidence that he lacked naturally.    

Bullfighting soon became a way to avoid working. He was easily tempted by his pals to go out to the country and find bulls to practice with.  After a while they had to go out on moonless nights so they wouldn’t be caught by the Guardia Civil patrolling the pastures and corrals.  The first time he found himself at the mercy of a bull, Belmonte was sporting the new suit his family bought him for Holy Week.    There was a lone bull in a ring, and Belmonte jumped in with it, even though he couldn’t see where it was.  He managed to lead the animal through two successful passes, but on the third one the bull hit him and threw him into the air.  The rookie tried to find the fence to escape, but the bull sent him airborne again.  The third time the bull made contact, Belmonte was sent flying, and he hit the fence on the way down, managing to crawl away.  For him, being knocked around by the bull was not nearly as bad as ruining his new suit. 

TURNING PRO                                           Belmonte’s first contract to fight was as a last minute substitute under a different name.  The posters were already printed with the name Montes II.  By the time he rented his costume and paid his banderillero, there was no money left for him.    

The technique Belmonte developed was contrary to every other torero, and to common sense. Because of his weak legs, he planted himself and forced the bull to go around him instead of moving away from the bull as it made its pass.  The bulls would go by so close that there would be hairs  stuck on Belmonte’s jacket.  

HIS FIRST KILL                                       In July 1910, Belmonte made his first kill.  All was going well, and he was ready for the final moment.  With the muleta in his left hand and the sword in his right, the torero cited the bull.  It passed so close that the horn went into the fighter’s forehead and ripped his eyebrow.  With blood blinding his vision, Belmonte reacted with a frenzied anger.  He pulled the dangling flap up skin back up to his forehead, instinctively got into position and thrust the sword into the animal’s neck.  When the bull started sinking to the ground, he knew he had made a perfect hit, and the crowd exploded with their approval.  Since he was the only bullfighter on the program that day, he was taken to the infirmary for some slap-dash surgery.  The doctor sterilized the wound by drinking some mineral water, mixing it with saliva and spitting it onto the fighter’s face.  After a few rough stitches, Belmonte took to the ring for his second bull, with considerably less luck.  

Belmonte could finally call himself a matador, the term for the bullfighter who kills the bull. His star was rising until an affair with a married woman became a total distraction.  He was used to casual relationships with fawning ladies, but now a lack of sleep and improper diet left him emotionally and physically unfit to face a bull. During a corrida before a demanding crowd in his native Seville, he got two warnings for a bad performance with the first bull.  When he tried to kill the second bull he couldn’t make contact, and in a fit of exhaustion screamed at the bull to just kill him.  Belmonte was removed from the ring in humiliation which led to his first retirement.  He worked as a day laborer until he could regain his passion practicing at night in the moonlit pastures, naked. 

By 1917, Belmonte’s reputation was firmly rooted in his success, although his career was not without injuries.  He was gored in the thigh numerous times and wounded in the chest at least once.  He often defied the odds and physical pain, always fighting two or three bulls during every corrida, and sometimes fighting every day, leaving little time to recover. But to Belmonte bullfighting was a spiritual practice, and strength of spirit was more important than physical strength.   He got invitations to fight in Mexico, Cuba and South America, and whenever he traveled he brought a trunk full of books with him. 

In Lima, Peru he met a woman at a party and fell in love.  He brought her back to Spain with him, where they were to get married.  Belmonte never stopped being shy and hated any kind of ceremony.  While he was fighting in Venezuela he arranged to be married by proxy.  

NEVER GONNA GIVE IT UP             In 1919 Belmonte was at his peak.  He was in 109 corridas and killed 234 bulls, a record he held until 1965.  He earned about $9,000 for an afternoon of battling two bulls. The following year he could feel his passion waning, and he took some time off when his professional rival and close friend, Joselito, died in the ring.  After ten years of his career, he could finally buy a ranch he called La Capitana.  He spent some down time there but got bored and started fighting again.  

During the season of 1927 he was forced to seriously consider retirement after spending a month in the hospital.   He lived on the ranch full time, farming, reading and fighting in a few charity events.  He came out of retirement again in 1934 and was gored 14 times.  In 1935, a bull split his collarbone, but he pulled himself together to fulfill his contractual obligations.  

Back at La Capitana, Belmonte enjoyed years of sparing with his own bulls, teaching future bullfighters and hanging out at the local bars.  In 1961 his weak health turned into a severe heart condition.  The following spring, the doctor told him to stop all his activities including riding his beloved horse.  He decided he would rather die.  In April 1962, he took one last ride around the property then locked himself in his study and shot himself in the head. 

 Videos of Juan Belmonte fighting bulls: 

torero – a bullfighter 

    matador – a bullfighter who has killed a bull 

    corrida – a bullfight where one or two matadors each fight two or three bulls in an afternoon 

    muleta – a oval cape on a stick used in the last part of the bullfight leading up to the killing of the bull 

    banderillero – a matador’s assistant who places colorful darts in the bull 

 QUESTION:  What’s something that you have become good at because you didn’t give up? 

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Right Reserved 


Belmonte, Juan and Nogales, Manuel Chaves, Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937.,9171,873563,00.html,16641,19250105,00.html

MANUELA SÁENZ (1797-1856) Simon Bolivar’s Mistress and Political Rebel

In Biography, Dictators, Feminists, History, Simon Bolivar, South American history, Trivia, Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM

Watercolor of Manuel Saenz wearing the Order of the Sun Medal

Manuela Sáenz would learn very early in her life that marriage was not as important as love.  Her mother, Joaquina Aizpuru, was not married when she became pregnant with Sáenz, the result of an affair with a family acquaintance in a higher social class.  To avoid the humiliation of such bad judgment, Aizpuru was sent away to keep her pregnancy secret, and forced to relinquish her daughter to the care of nuns in a convent in Quito.  She died by the time Sáenz was seven.  Simón Sáenz de Vergara was a wealthy businessman and successful politician with a wife and six children.  A scandal could have ruined his life, but to his credit, he acknowledged Sáenz, paid the one thousand-peso dowry for his daughter to be given a proper upbringing in the convent, and introduced her to his legitimate children, giving her life some family context.

Sáenz’s father took responsibility for his daughter’s future by arranging a marriage to a much older, wealthy Englishman, and the newlyweds moved to Lima.  As a young wife, Sáenz socialized with Peru’s social, political and military elite.  She became sympathetic to the rebel cause, and against her husband’s orders, she joined the patriots to liberate Peru from the tyranny of Spain.  For her involvement, Sáenz received the Order of the Sun, an award given to those who made an exceptional contribution to the campaign.

Her appetite for political adventure having been whetted, Sáenz left her husband and moved back to Quito in 1822. She unapologetically abandoned her marriage in a time when women had few options in life.  There Sáenz met Simon Bolivar, “El Libertador” of South America. 

Back in her hometown, Sáenz again immersed herself in the independence movement.   Bolivar was to parade through town to celebrate victory in the battle that gave Quito independence.  On a fateful day, Sáenz’s participation was not militant.  She had the decidedly female job of beautifying the homes along the parade route to make a good impression on the esteemed soldier.  That evening, the two met at a reception and began their legendary love affair.

FOLLOWING HER HEART        At first, Sáenz was assumed to be another notch on the belt of a great womanizer.  As scandalous as their affair was, the couple had an immediate deep, passionate connection.  When Bolivar left Quito, Sáenz did not retreat back to her family, or even her marriage, as a spurned lover.  She followed him and integrated herself into his life.

Sáenz and Bolivar’s romantic partnership could not be distinguished from their political alliance. She became the official keeper of Bolivar’s personal archive, guarding his private papers and personally maintaining the secrecy of the army’s military strategy.  Her commitment to the cause superseded any fear she may have had of battle.  Sáenz organized troops and rescued and nursed those injured on the battlefield.  In one letter to Bolivar, Colombian General Antonio José de Sucre called Sáenz a hero for her contribution in the Battle of Ayacucho, and he recommended that Bolivar make her a Colonel of the Colombian army, which he did.  This appointment was so controversial because Sáenz was a woman that, in an irate letter to Bolivar, Colombian Vice-President Francisco Paula de Santander accused him of nepotism.  But Bolivar defended the bravery that earned Sáenz the recognition.

WHAT SHE DID FOR LOVE       When the wars for independence were over, Sáenz was 29, and she moved into Bolivar’s official residence.  She was well known as his mistress, but her influence extended beyond the personal to the role of gatekeeper for those wanting to meet with Bolivar.  And she didn’t need permission to act on his behalf.  In 1827 in Lima, the conditions for the troops were so bad that the army officers threatened a rebellion that would totally undermine the new constitution that Bolivar had established.  While Bolivar was away, Sáenz visited the soldiers wearing a colonel’s uniform and contributed money for food to dissuade them from being influenced by rebels with an ulterior political agenda.  She was rewarded for her initiative by being arrested and expelled from Peru, but her commitment to Bolivar’s cause never wavered. 

Sáenz not only dedicated herself to Bolivar’s political mission, but she was directly responsible for saving his life on at least two occasions.  In August 1928 Bolivar was to attend a party that Sáenz was not invited to.  She had received word that at midnight he would be assassinated, and she begged him to skip the event.  He ignored her warnings thinking she was just jealous at not being on the guest list.  At about 11:00, Sáenz showed up wearing a military uniform, but she was denied entry by the guard who turned out to be one of the conspirators.  She made another desperate attempt to preempt the assassination attempt by dressing up in dirty rags like an old crazy woman.  She positioned herself outside and yelled, “Que viva el Libertador!” (“Long live the Liberator!”)  Sáenz’s behavior was becoming an embarrassment to Bolivar, so he left the party to reprimand her.  At midnight, when the conspirators came to kill him, Bolivar was gone. 

Six weeks later, the couple was at home when Bolivar’s enemies entered the house with the same goal.  Sáenz ran to the sleeping man, supplied him with a sword and gun and forced him to jump out the window.  Bolivar resisted, instinctively wanting to stay and fight, but finally he trusted her judgment and left.  When the would-be assassins confronted her, she said legitimately that she didn’t know where he was, and he successfully escaped.  For this heroic effort, Bolivar called her “Libertadora del Libertador” (“Liberator of the Liberator”). 

Bolivar was a hero for emancipating South America from Spanish rule, but there was trouble in determining the governments.  Bolivar proclaimed himself as the dictator of the Gran Colombia in August 1828 in an effort to save the unified republic he fought so hard to establish and maintain his leadership. That did not appease the insurgents in Venezuela and Ecuador.  In 1830 he resigned and prepared to flee to Europe in self-imposed exile.  He died of tuberculosis in Columbia before he could leave. 

A REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE   Sáenz’s association with Bolivar did not endear her to the incoming leaders, and she was exiled to Jamaica three years later.  Even from a distance, she attempted to stay involved in the political process of establishing the boundaries between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru through correspondence.  Over time, however, she became increasingly less relevant. 

Her final years were in stark contrast to the heady adventures with Bolivar.  After an attempt to return to Ecuador was refused, Sáenz settled in a port city in northern Peru, selling tobacco and translating letters for North American whalers to send to their lovers in Latin America.  She fell when the termite-eaten stairs of her home collapsed and became permanently disabled.  In 1856, at 59 years old, Sáenz died during a diphtheria epidemic and was buried anonymously in a mass grave.

Sáenz was eventually given proper respect for her role in South America’s liberation from Spain.  On July 5, 2010 symbolic remains of her body along with soil from her original grave were reinterred next to the tomb of her lover and compatriot, Simon Bolivar.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa presided over the ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas, Venezuela.

QUESTION:  What is the craziest or most daring thing you’ve done to show your love for someone?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Murray, Pamela S. For Glory and Bolivar, The Remarkable Life of Manuela Sáenz            

CYNTHIA ANN PARKER (1827–1870) White Girl Raised By Comanche Indians

In American History, Biography, History, Kidnappings, Native Americans, People, People from Texas, Uncategorized, women on July 12, 2010 at 8:50 PM

Cynthia Ann Parker After Being Returned to the Parker Family

In August of 1833, Cynthia Ann Parker’s father, Silas M. Parker, took his family on a road trip.  He loaded his wife, five children and all their belongings into the wagons and headed south from Illinois to central Texas. 

The wagon train consisted of 31 families including Parker’s grandparents, uncles and aunts.  It was a long journey and not without incident.  Parker’s brother James was killed when one wagon lost a wheel, and he was hit in the chest by a piece of wood.    

The purpose of the trip was the great American Dream: to apply for a land grant.  Each head of household was awarded a “headright league” of over 4,000 acres, and the Parkers started calling Anderson County, Texas home.   

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD                      The newly arrived settlers were well aware of the potential threat of the local Indians.  In 1834, Cynthia’s uncle, Daniel Parker, led the effort to build Fort Parker in Mexia, Texas, between Dallas and Houston.  Treaties were signed by the homesteaders and many neighboring chiefs leading to a peaceful coexistence, for a while.   

In 1836, when Parker was nine years old, several hundred members of the Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa tribes attacked the fort.  One Indian approached with a white flag accompanied by enough others to indicate that this was a ruse.  Parker’s uncle, Benjamin, tried to negotiate with the attackers to buy time for the women and children to escape.  Those five minutes of diplomacy allowed most of them to flee into the wilderness.  But Uncle Benjamin, Parker’s father, grandfather and two other men were killed.  Parker, her younger brother, a baby and two women were captured by Comanche.   

Within six years, all the captives had been ransomed and returned to their families except Parker, but that was her choice.  As a new Comanche, Parker’s life was difficult.  She was abused and treated like a slave until she was given to a couple who raised her as their own child. Parker was young, so she adapted quickly to her new environment, perhaps first out of survival and then out of devotion.  She adopted the Comanche name of Naduah (“She carries herself with grace”), and became totally integrated into Comanche society, eschewing her white upbringing.  

HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS                             Peta Nocona, one of the war chiefs who invaded Fort Parker, started his own Comanche branch called Noconi.  Sometime around 1840, when Parker was barely a teenager, Nocona married her.  It was customary for the chief to have multiple wives, but Nocona proved his affection by not doing so.  They had three children: sons Quanah (“Fragrant”), a future chief of the tribe, and Pecos (“Pecan”), and daughter Topsanna (“Prairie Flower”).   

Parker became totally contented with and integrated into the Indian lifestyle and refused more than one offer to return to the Parker family.  One time Colonel Leonard G. Williams saw Parker when he was camped with his trading party along the Canadian River.  He offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders to reclaim her and take her home.  He was refused, and in subsequent sightings, Parker would run away and hide to avoid being traded back.   

On November 27, 1860, Chief Nocona led a raid through Parker County, Texas, named after his wife’s family.  Parker played a supportive role in the attack, and it’s not clear if she knew the land belonged to her relatives.  The bandits attacked three ranches, stole over 300 horses and violated several women.  When they were finished, Nocona and his band hid in a bluff near the Pease River.   

Groups of local citizens tried to hunt down the raiders, but they weren’t successful.  It took three weeks for Captain Lawrence “Sul” Ross of the Texas Rangers to organize a posse of over 140 volunteers seeking revenge.  On December 18, the vigilantes tracked the natives to their hideout, surprised them and dominated them in the ensuing fight.  There were few warriors left in the camp, and Parker’s two sons escaped unharmed.  There is debate over whether Nocona died during the encounter or later.  Even if he didn’t, Parker would never see her husband again.  

Parker was trying to escape on horseback with Topsanna.  Ross chased and finally captured her.  It was a shock to discover that the woman dressed in deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes. Back at camp there was speculation that she looked familiar. Parker tried to communicate with her captors using Comanche and some English, giving credence to theories that she could be the Silas Parker’s daughter who was kidnapped.  Ross sent for Parker’s uncle, Isaac Parker, to see if he could identify her.  When Parker overheard her name being used in the discussion, she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.”   

YOU CAN’T TO HOME AGAIN                                      That admission clinched Parker’s destiny.  She and Topsanna were taken back to live with her white family.  At first Parker and her daughter lived with Uncle Isaac’s family.  Her return was celebrated and she was treated like a hero, but that meant nothing to her.  She had to be locked in her room to prevent her from escaping.  The Texas Legislature tried to help her with a pension of $100 a year for five years and a league (about seven square miles) of land, but that did not compensate for her anguish. Nothing could appease the grief she felt leaving her husband and sons behind.  She had been kidnapped and forced to live among people not of her choosing for the second time in her life.   

Parker’s brother took responsibility for his sister and niece, moving them into his house.  They stayed there until he joined the Confederate Army when they went to live with her sister.  Parker led a productive life.  She learned to weave, spin wool and sew.  Neighbors brought over hides for her to tan, and she created home remedies from the local plants and herbs.  She learned to speak English again and was beginning to become literate.  All of the activity, however, could not erase the 24 years she spent as a Comanche, and she never assimilated emotionally to her new life.  

In 1863, Parker got the news that Pecos had died of small pox.  One year later, Topsanna died of pneumonia, and Parker fell into a deep depression.  Her despondency isolated her and she often refused to eat.  She died in 1870 never knowing that her oldest son, Quanah, had become the last Comanche Chief, and ultimately a bridge between the Comanche nation and white settlers.  

QUESTION: How do you react when you’re in a situation outside your comfort zone?  What do you do to fit in?  

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved