The amount and significance of the material heritage left by Spain in the United States is admirable, ranging from the equestrian and livestock-raising culture of the West to aspects such as food or architecture.

Cattle and Livestock Management

On its plains, the Spanish colonizers reproduced the livestock management model they had brought over from Andalusia - more specifically, from the Guadalquivir Marshes, lands that were equally open – and required the help of horses. These were descended from the Retuerta horses of the Marshes, which were excellent for hard work on the plains, and which gave rise to the mesteño or mustang. The cattle descended from the mostrenca of the Marshes, which, in order to defend themselves from mountain lions and wolves, developed a long horn and thus gave rise to the Texan longhorns. As regards sheep, Spaniards introduced the “churras”, which spread all over New Mexico and California.

Livestock management in the Guadalquivir Marshes, Spain.
Shepherding in the southwest.

The equestrian culture transplanted to the southwest included all the Spanish ingredients: the “rodeo” to lead the livestock to pens and enclosed pastures, branding with irons, the ranch and the pole-and-wire fence; the long day’s drive to the points of livestock shipping and sale, or the transhumance of sheep from the valleys to the mountains.

Along with the livestock came the men who managed it, the Andalusian “vaquero”, the direct ancestor of the cowboy complete with all his baggage: his saddle, comfortable for long days of work; his leather gear; his clothing and chaps, the broad-brimmed hat, the short jacket, the leather boots with large spurs, all came from Andalusia. It was these “vaqueros” who added to the language their rich vocabulary specific to livestock management on horseback.

Texan longhorn cow
"Mostrenca" from the Guadalquivir Marshes.
Handling of cows in Texas
Texan cowboy handling cattle
"Alanceo" of bisons by the Spanish "ciboleros" in New Mexico

The Anglo-Americans who came from the east, primarily farmers, in occupying the Western plains, understood the advantages of the Spanish extensive livestock-raising model and fully adopted it. Thus, the world of cowboys and westerns exported by Hollywood as a hallmark of American identity has its origin in the legacy of a rural Hispanic tradition.

Food and Agriculture

The contact between Spain and America in terms of agricultural products revolutionized the food industry worldwide as it was extraordinarily enriched by the mutual contributions of both.


The landscape of the southwest, arid but endowed with river valleys, made it possible to reproduce the irrigation model of the similarly dry and mountainous Iberian Peninsula. This model has survived to the present day in regions such as New Mexico or Colorado. A main irrigation channel was fed by a river and branched out into a network of secondary canals with floodgates, diversion reservoirs and channels, until the water reached the last plot of the ranches.

Spain introduced European crops such as legumes, citrus fruits, grapes and wheat into America.
The Native American diet was limited in its products, such as pumpkins, peppers and corn
Wooden aqueduct in New Mexico, to conduct water from the river to the fields. This water was used to raise some crops for livestock fodder.

Also inherited from the Spanish system was the legal governance of irrigation, including water management by the irrigators themselves, with institutions such as the “community acequia”, which was similar to Spanish institutions such as the Valencia Water Courts. The main purpose of said community was to reach agreements and resolve water use conflicts between neighbors.

Crops and livestock brought over by Spanish colonists revolutionized the native food supply of North America with produce such as wheat, vines, fruits and vegetables and all of the products deriving from cows, sheep and hogs. Great culinary changes and alterations were introduced with them, just as Spain spread American foodstuffs as notable as potatoes and corn throughout Europe, which played a decisive role in the nutrition of Europeans.


Spanish architecture on the American continent, whether religious or civil, was characterized by unmistakable solidity and personality. In the southwestern United States particularly, it took on a characteristic mestizo style based on the use of materials from the surrounding area and heat insulation. The term “Spanish style” has even been coined to refer to a style of architecture that mixed elements imported from Spain with native elements. The adaptation to the characteristics of the American territory gave birth to a hybrid form of architecture with a striking personality of its own.

Spanish colonists improved adobe, already known to the Native Americans, and introduced other architectural elements: wooden beams; lime whitewashing or staining with earth tones; the abundant use of wood and iron; the roof deck, used for houses in especially warm climates, such as Arizona or New Mexico, and which was also used to dry food; the bread oven, Castilian in origin and called today the “Indian oven” in the southwest.

 The Native Americans were already familiar with adobe, but Spanish adobe improved upon it.
The red ceramic tile is one the most representative ingredients of Spanish architecture

The Spaniards scarcely used red tile in Arizona and New Mexico but employed them profusely in California. The hallway, the patio, the plant-filled patio and backyard with a fountain if possible; the tiling of floors and walls; plus the widespread use of external corridors to keep air  circulating and cooling it... all of these were architectural resources imported from hot Andalusia to combat the heat.

The outcome of this combination of Spanish and Native American architectural elements may be experienced in a stroll along the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the design plan responds to Spanish urban planning: the center of the city is the main plaza, home to the most noble buildings as well as day-to-day edifices such as the City Hall. The plaza was the reference of the social and economic life of the community.


A street in Santa Fe, with porticoed walkway, another architectural element of Spanish origin.
Architecture in the American southwest is generally represented by buildings with a unique style of their own, stemming from the mixture of Spanish and Native American elements.
The village of El Rocio, Andalusia, was an architectural model for many villages of the American West.
There is an obvious similarity between the villages of the West, such as this Indian village, and El Rocío.

The Dollar

The origin of the dollar, the currency of reference in the world, is eminently Spanish, something unknown even to a majority of citizens of the United States.

The American dollar was based on the Spanish peso, which circulated throughout Hispanic America.

After the war, England cancelled its currency in the thirteen colonies, thus forcing them to choose a new one. On the tenth of May 1775, the U.S. Congress opted for the Spanish peso or dollar, the “pieces of eight” or “real de a ocho”, which was equivalent to four shillings and sixpence in pounds sterling. This currency was even legal in Virginia and it circulated in regions adjacent to the colonies: Florida, Louisiana, Mexico, Cuba, and the rest of Hispanic America. The first dollars were called “Spanish dollars”.

The first dollars minted were called “Spanish dollars”.

The dollar sign is $, in reference to the two pillars of Hercules on the Spanish coat of arms, bound by a ribbon that reads “Plus Ultra”, (“Further Beyond”), the motto located on the reverse of the coins minted during the reign of Charles III. This was the motto employed by Charles I to challenge the previous “Non Plus Ultra” (“nothing further beyond”) thus indicating the strength and power of the Spanish Empire after arriving in America.

Hence, the United States not only adopted Spanish currency, but also the decimal monetary system, conclusively abandoning the British system.

Credits: Story

Autor — Borja Cardelús ©. Para el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de España.
Créditos Créditos de las ilustraciones y de las fotografías ©  — Borja Cardelús, Eshter Merchán, Bernardo Lara, Juan Carlos Arbex

Credits: All media
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