Butteri Maremmani

Heirs of wild dynasties, the cowboys of Maremma, the last witnesses of a world of strong flavors and traditions, protagonists of challenges and boldness in the rides of the villages and of hard, continuous, solitary work, alongside the only true companions of life: the horses .

Ibutteri are the shepherds on horseback, the herdsmen, typical of the Tuscan and Lazio Maremma, whose day, especially in the past, was certainly not to be envied from a qualitative point of view. The cowboys didn’t really know what fear was, but they knew the bush very well. They were not afraid to spend their lives in solitude and in the tangles of broomsticks, on the saddle of the inseparable Maremmano breed horse, among the miasmas of the marshes, in the thickets populated by wild boars, exposed to the cold winter winds, or the heat of the torrid summer days, surviving poor peasant soups, of little remuneration, very often exploited, and always being mounted from dawn to dusk, in a land that appeared difficult, hostile, ungrateful, in what the songs of the past defined Maremma Amara. The cowboys, or cattle, as they called each other, worked all day, trampled in the territories of the great Maremma estates, conveyed the herds to the herds, captured the beasts with a snare, took charge of marking the cattle, of scratching the horses, to tame them. In the evening they all gathered around the fire to eat polenta (or other poor Maremma dishes such as acquacotta) and organize themselves for the next day’s work.

The Butteri (Herdsmen) of the Tuscan Maremma with their – Maremmana Horses (Photo by tpzz61)

The buttero is a name that derives from the Latin “boum-ductor”, driver of oxen or from the Greek “bùteros” where “bus” means ox and “toròs” means goad.

The duties of the cowboys were often also other: sometimes it was just a matter of supervising the grazing animals, or directing them to better pastures, but in other cases (especially during the winter) they also had to provide for feeding with a little fodder. the hungry herds. The cowboys did not wear held by horse show: they wore rough pants tucked into boots, pigskin or goatskin leg loops, flannel smocks, hunter-style moleskin jackets with large pockets; they protected their heads, faces and eyes (from the whipping of the brambles, from the pouring rains and from the dust) with large hats fitted with a chin strap. They held the lasso on the saddle, clasped the bridle in a bunch with one hand, and with the other held a hooked stick, when they were not holding the shotgun. Their reputation as excellent and reckless knights, their silent, hard, solitary life, their presence for centuries in a land that in many respects is still wild, make the figure of the buttero the most authentic and irreplaceable symbol of the Tuscan and Lazio Maremma. yesterday and today.

The Butteri in the Maremma Regional Natural Park

Today the life of the cowboys has remained almost unchanged over time, even if a lot has changed in their work. To see them at work, just go to the Alberese Regional Agricultural Company, which includes 40% of the surface of the Maremma Regional Natural Park. Riding the horses of the selected Maremma breed, the herdsmen look after the farms of bulls and long-horned cows, which live in freedom here on a daily basis. In the company, those who know how to ride horses can follow them in carrying out their morning work and observe their skillful gestures. The cowboys use the hook, a dogwood stick ending in a hook with which they push and direct the herds, caress and scave the horses, open and close the cattle fences, pick up the hats from the ground without ever having to dismount ( the traditional scafarda or bardella). Other interesting phases of the work can be observed such as the repair of fences and tools or the training of Maremma horses. The horse racing tradition is very strong in the Tuscan and Lazio Maremma – many agritourisms and equestrian centers organize riding courses for adults and children – and constitutes an indispensable element in the training of the butteri. In spring you can attend the famous merca, the branding of the cattle and on the 15th of August there are shows (Alberese and Tolfa) in which the butteri divided into teams compete with the lasso, proving their skill and equestrian skills.

I Butteri Maremma and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Colonel William Cody’s Wild West Show – Buffalo Bill

There was a historical episode in which the date remains etched in the memory: March 8, 1890. Colonel William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, hero of the West, came on tour to Rome with his equestrian circus “Wild West Show” to amaze the crowds. The colonel’s shows featured Indians, cowboys, infallible rifle and pistol shooters, couriers of the Pony Express and other characters from the epic of the West. The Duke Onorato Caetani of Sermoneta, great owner of herds and half of the Maremma, saw the exhibition and launched a challenge to the Americans. William Cody and his cowboys agreed to confront the Maremma cowboys in taming foals and buffaloes. The established prize was initially 1000 lire and was subsequently reduced by Colonel Cody to 500. The race was won by measure by the Maremma cowboys and the protagonist of the challenge was the Cisternese Augusto Imperiali, who managed to ride an indomitable American horse, receiving thunderous applause from the large audience present. Buffalo Bill, infuriated by the success of the Maremma cowboys, refused to accept the defeat by contesting the performance and, raising the tents of his circus the following day, I left the Roman stage without paying anyone. Since then the skill of the Maremma cowboys has been famous all over the world and the humble buttero Augusto Imperiali from Agro Pontino (called Augustarello) has become a legend, the hero of all cowboys. The event is reported in the news pages of “Il Messaggero” at the time.

Resources on the Butteri della Maremma

  • Butteri d’Alta Maremma Toscana – The association organizes equestrian shows with the butteri of Maremma, and other national and international events. It keeps alive the traditions of the Maremma, the cowboys and the Maremma horse.