For six years Fox has been out in his corral at least three hours a day roping and riding. Although his specialty is the manganas a pie, that is, lassoing a running animal's forefeet, he also takes part in all the events in a charreada.
On almost any Sunday, Fox rides to the charro ring on the outskirts of town to join the other members of the San Miguel association. Among them are old friends like Don Felipe Villegas, president of the club, Don Javier Origel, the captain and best rider, and Pancho Olvera. Some of the men have already herded a string of wild mustangs and a dozen steers into the corrals behind the ring. The ring looks like hundreds of others throughout Mexico. It resembles a frying pan with a long handle or walled-in alleyway. This latter, the lienzo, about 13 yards wide and 80 yards long, is the setting for a spectacular event known as the colas or tails.
For the colas a bull is let loose in the alleyway, and a horseman races beside it. "You've got just a few split seconds to do a lot of things," says the general with animation. "First, as you start the run you have to remember to salute the judges' stand. Now while you're racing beside the bull you lean forward and over, placing your palm on the animal's back. You let the bull slip ahead slightly until you can reach down and grab its tail. You raise your right leg in the stirrup and hook the bull's tail around your leg. You guide your horse a fraction to the right, pull, and the bull flips over on its back, with four legs straight up. But it has got to be done with flair and precision! Every wrong move means a loss of points. If you lose your sombrero you're disqualified."
Throughout Sunday morning the events go on: riding wild steers, the pass of death and fancy roping. To add to the exuberance and color there are pauses for mariachi music and the traditional charro dances. For special charreadas there is often a spectacular exhibition of riding called La Escaramuza (scrimmage) performed by groups of handsomely costumed teen-age girls who execute daring maneuvers on horseback. "Their performance is patterned after the Musical Ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," according to Fox. "They ride sidesaddle, and to say they are daring is to put it on the mild side. There are sometimes nasty spills."
The roping events are Bill Fox's specialty. He is fascinated by rope work because there is more to it than twirling a reata and snagging an animal. Working from horseback or on foot, there are a dozen different type throws, each with its required flourish. In the manganas the lasso catches the forefeet of a wild horse running by at full speed. In the piales the hind feet are caught. In each case the running animal is stopped or thrown without injuring it. Recently the former roping champion of Mexico, Se�or Hector Gomez, spotted Bill Fox at a charreada and offered to help him in rope training. "For me, learning Don Hector's skills and tricks is a rough go," says the general. "Years of amateur boxing put strength in my arms, but it also stiffened my wrists. To handle a reata properly your wrist has to be as flexible as a violinist's."
A half a dozen times each year the team with which Fox works out gets calls from ranchers to come out and help at a roundup and branding. Most ranches are undermanned, and the charro tradition requires that the charros lend a hand. These several-day sessions entail hard work, but there are also rich rewards: the lively companionship of Mexican ranchers, the smell of dust, of seared hide and the ranch fiesta that usually climaxes a roundup. After such a fiesta Fox rides home, his body bruised from falls, his hands seared and scarred by the stiff maguey-fiber lasso.
In the spring of 1964 word went out from the headquarters of the National Federation of Charros in Mexico City that the regional associations should select two or more riders from each sector—Guadalajara, Mexico City, Le�n and other areas—to form a national group that would be sent to Spain and, later, to the Argentine on a goodwill tour. Bill Fox took part in the San Miguel eliminations. He had no expectations of being selected. After all, there were a dozen of his teammates more qualified than himself. And, after all, he had just celebrated a 65th birthday.
When his turn came up in the manganas he did his best. He made a wonderful floreo or twirl with the rope, threw it and hooked the flashing feet of the wild horse racing by him. Suddenly he was in trouble. The stiff rope had tangled about his wrist and hand. He was jerked head over heels by the running horse and was dragged through the dust. When he freed himself he found that his hand had been badly lacerated and one finger almost severed. His companions provided charro-style first aid, a liberal dousing of the hand with fiery tequila that left him gasping with pain. The team's captain, Javier Origel, offered to borrow someone's car and drive him to the town hospital.
"I should have let them drive me in," says Fox, "but for some reason I felt I ought to take my horse." In a semidaze he made the two-mile ride to the hospital where his mangled hand was stitched up and the finger saved. Then instead of going home, he rode back to the ring. "It wasn't very sensible, but I thought I ought to be there." He arrived just as the judges and his teammates had finished a conference. When he entered the ring he was told that he and Origel had been selected as the two regional representatives to go to Spain and Argentina. He would be riding in the plazas of Madrid, Seville and Buenos Aires with some of Mexico's greatest charros: Mariano Pedrero of Le�n, Carlos Sanchez of Guadalajara and Mexico City's Dr. Jos� Islas Salazar. It hardly seemed like retirement at all.