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John Kobler
April 23, 1956
They are the Miuras, finest of all, stars of a new season at the great Seville Fair
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April 23, 1956

The Bulls Of Death

They are the Miuras, finest of all, stars of a new season at the great Seville Fair

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To that most passionate of sportsmen, the Spanish bullfight fan, the gaiety and color of Seville's annual great fair is but a prelude to an act of dedication. In the bull ring at the height of the festival will appear the matadors for the climactic sport of death between man and animal—the finest of bullfighters in a dramatic and major act of the new bullfighting season. It is toward this moment that Spain, a nation of aficionados, looks; it is toward this moment, in a very real sense, that a breed of fighting bulls has been reared, the finest in Spain: the bulls of Miura, "The Bulls of Death."

The nickname of these great dark beasts is aptly chosen. Over the generations, the Miuras have claimed many victims, the most famous of them Manuel Rodr�guez, the immortal Manolete, who was fatally gored nine years ago by a bull already dying. Their intelligence, their speed, precision and their calculated malevolence place the Miura bulls in a class apart. "No bull," says Juan Belmonte, one of the most brilliant performers in the history of the art, "ever showed greater offensive and defensive capacity in the face of the bullfighter. All the other bulls I have ever fought could eventually be brought to a point of absolute submission; the Miuras never." Of the seven mounted heads and 17 paintings of celebrated bulls hanging in Madrid's Museo Taurino, 14 are Miuras. Of the 1,427 bulls whose feats the bullfight historian, Jos� Mar�a de Coss�o, lists in his monumental work, Los Toros, 66 are Miuras. "Jaqueta," reads a typical entry, "Miura, was run in C�rdoba June 31 [sic], 1866. Endured 36 pic-ings, left eight horses in the ring and two more who died in the corrals from [his] 'caresses.' "

The dynasty of the Miuras was founded more than a century ago, in 1848, by a wealthy hat manufacturer and passionate aficionado, Juan Miura of Seville, and his son Antonio. From Andalusia, the province which traditionally has bred some of the finest fighting strains, they got their original stock. Prom the hands of the eminent matador Rafael Molina (the Lizard), they received an outstanding brave bull; one which, fought to a standstill but still unbroken, was spared by popular demand from the death thrust of the sword. This animal sired some of the most redoubtable of all the Miura bulls, and since his time no other strain has been crossed with the Miuras, the desired characteristics being perpetuated by selective breeding only.

With the years, the Miuras' reputation for fierceness and unconquerable spirit grew to legendary proportions. What has always distinguished them is superior intelligence—they learn faster from experience than other bulls, remember longer, and hence are more prone to discern quickly their real enemy: not the cape, but the man. Such is their menace that some 45 years ago the Bulls of Death caused the only serious matadors' boycott in Madrid on record.

Two topflight matadors, Ricardo Torres, called Bombita (the Little Bomb) and Rafael Gonzales, called Machaquito (the Little Pounder), drew up a petition addressed to the bull-ring owners of Spain, protesting that since the Miuras were twice as dangerous as any other bulls, matadors who fought them should be paid twice as much. They obtained the signatures of a number of their colleagues to a petition, but it was rejected. The bull-ring owners then refused to employ the matadors. Instead, they signed some up-and-coming young matadors, including Rafael G�mez, who became famous as El Gallo (the Rooster), and Vincente Pastor, who were only too happy to fight Miuras or any other kind of bull. In the end, the petitioners had no choice but to submit. Two of them were eventually killed by Miuras and nearly all were injured.

The present master of the Miura ganader�a is Eduardo Miura III, who assumed command in 1942 upon the retirement of his father, Eduardo II, and his uncle, Antonio. It is not the same estate old Don Juan founded. Like many another, the original and more fertile ganader�a has been converted to farm land by order of the Ministry of Agriculture. Don Eduardo acquired the new property, which lies approximately 30 miles north of Seville and embraces some 1,500 acres, only 15 years ago, retaining its Moorish name of Zahariche.

One day not long ago, while in Seville, I telephoned Don Eduardo for permission to visit Zahariche. He said he would be glad to show me around personally, and he suggested I drive there next morning early to escape the midday heat.

Zahariche was not hard to find. Its one-story, E-shaped ranch house, gleaming whitely through a stand of acacia trees, was the only structure in sight. Barbed wire ringed the entire domain, which, though as flat and unaccented as the surrounding countryside, looked richer in grasses and broom and scrub. As I reached the house, Don Eduardo stepped forward flanked by a little retinue of nodding, smiling house servants and ranch hands, who clearly had not seen many Americans pass that way before. I shook hands with a taut, lean, sharp-featured man close to 40, with a pencil line of a mustache, high-styled as a flamenco dancer in a flat-crowned Cordovan hat, rib-length jacket and glistening black boots. "They are bringing some of the bulls for you to see now," he said, pointing to a distant line of hillocks. On their crest I could make out the silhouettes of moving cattle, accompanied by mayorales on horseback, carrying long poles. "But we have time before they get here," he added.

He led me across a patio, sweet-smelling with honeysuckle and acacia, toward the rear of the house. We passed a miniature bull ring, wherein—so Don Eduardo informed me—young Eduardo IV practiced passes on a goat. Tiled floors and lowered blinds made the house cool inside. On a heavy refectory table had been laid out almonds, squares of goat cheese and a sherry dry as gunpowder. As we sipped and munched, Don Eduardo expatiated on the mementoes of past taurine glory that crowded the walls. The prize exhibit was the head of the Miura bull, Coralito, who was posthumously awarded a silver ear in 1940 by the officials of the Valencia bull ring for "bravery and nobility."

Don Eduarodo told me that the Miura herd numbers only 500 head at present, half its former strength. The decline began during the Spanish Civil War, when no corridas were fought and fighting bulls were slaughtered for meat. Nor did Don Eduardo think the herd could be increased much because of the reduction of pasturage.

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