Culture: Castration

Jim Tent reports: I, too, had some cowboy days while working as a young school teacher, fresh out of college in 1966-67. The setting was Buffalo, Wyoming, and the ranchers in the surrounding area were grateful to have the pupils and teachers in our private school help out with roundups, cattle drives, and brandings. If memory serves, it was in the spring that I worked with cattlemen out on the Powder River Basin. The herd was driven into large holding pens, and the male calves were cut out, roped, and wrestled to the ground next to the fire where the branding irons were waiting. While one man was branding, another was using a sharp knife to castrate the calf. Then he was released and would hobble off back to the herd. The testicles were deposited in a large bucket. I confess it looked rather ghastly when it was full or nearly so. The men did indeed refer to them as Rocky Mountain oysters. I confess I never tried one.

RH: Buffalo? hat brings up the history of castration, a subject worthy of historian Jim.  When did the castration of animals begin? The castration of humans began early, with the eunuchs (castrated men in charge of the harem).  They  must  have been generally despised, since (Isaiah 56:5) the Lord vindicates them provided they observe the law: "Unto them will I give in mine house a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters" (who, one would think would hate being thus downgraded).  We always associate harems with the Arab world.  Did they exist in ancient Egypt? Ancient China?.  Back to our buffalo. Presumably the Indians did not castrate them, but now buffalo raised for meat are castrated.  What about elephants, to make them more docile? Camels? Somebody should write an encyclopedia of castration.

Randy Black writes: Several have written books on the history of castration, including Gary Taylor, Professor of English and Director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. His books include Cultural Selection: Why Some Achievements Stand the Test of Time and Others Don't and Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present. He is also the general editor of the Oxford Shakespeare.
And: Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood by Gary Taylor
On the matter of buffalo, here is an interesting post. I have no clue as to what it means, as it’s in medical terms. Perhaps another WAISer can clue me in. I note the mention of the Burdizzo tool that others spoke of :
Cytologic changes in the pars distalis of male buffalo following emasculation.

Saxena OP, Rao GS.

The effects of emasculation in the pars distalis of the pituitary gland were studied in male buffalo. Following castration, no size or percentage value changes could be noted in the acidophila and thyrotrophs of the pars distalis. The acidophils were found in greater numbers in the peripheral area of the pars distalis as compared to the central area. However, the frequency of thyrotroph distribution was observed to be more so in the central zone. As for the gonadotrophs, a significant increase in the cell size (P less than 0.05) and percentage value (P less than 0.01) was observed in animals castrated by the Burdizzo method. This points to a state of hyperplasia and hypertrophy of the gonadotrophs as a result of this method of emasculation.

RH: Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood.  Is the title meant to be a joke?

From Texas, land of the longhorns, Randy Black writes: The Burdizzo is a farm castration tool that quickly crushes and destroys the vessels supplying the testicles. After it is used the testicles shrink in size and are eventually absorbed by the body. If the Burdizzo is not closed quickly enough, the vessels will swell and problems will arise. Those that have successfully used the Burdizzo have generally had a friend close it for them. Because of the intense degree of pain, few people successfully use a Burdizzo on themselves.

It should be noted that while the Burdizzo was not designed for human use that articles have recently been published in urology journals noting that on humans the Burdizzo appears to be both safer and simpler than surgical methods of castration!
For a photo of the dastardly looking Burdizzo, go to:

RH:I entered "Burdizzo" in Google, and up came an amazing number of entries. However, I was unable to find confirmation for my belief that it was named after its inventor.
Carlos Lopez, president of Menlo College, was born in Chile.. He recalls his youth there among the huasos (cowboys): When I was a child in Villa Rosa, my grandfather's ranch, a great spring feast was held at  La Capa. A capador came with sharp knives and proceeded to cut off the testicles of all the one year steers. The workers, mostly Chilean huasos, roasted the mountain oysters and  ate them, while the poor castrated steers, stood by bleeding. It was a savage operation. No anesthetic, no sanitary precautions, just sharp knives. BUT, one day  somebody brought to the ranch a pair of Burdizzo pliers. The were large pincers with double hinges.  It was easy to use, little pain, no bleeding but it was the end of the party, the unemployment of the capador. There were two types of Burdizzos, one for steers, other for rams. Horses could not be be castrated this way because the sack was to close to the body. 

RH: I wondered about the plight of the animals when I read Miles Seeley's account. "Capar" and "castrar" both mean to castrate. La capa is the place or time when it is done, the capador the one who does it. The history of the castrati Vatican choir comes to mind.  No one has said if the pitch of the steer's voice is higher after castration. A bovine choir is a possibility.

Miles Seeley writes: The treatment of calves was indeed fearsome. They were castrated, branded, and if necessary dehorned, all in one operation. Yes, they bled for a while, but I never saw any complications later.
What I meant by "purebred cattlemen" (ungrammatically) was that ranchers who raised purebred cattle usually had much smaller ranches and more advanced equipment. The main income was derived from the sale of purebred bulls and from the calves of the "in house" bulls and purebred cows. Where I cowboyed, the ranches were big and we worked out of line camps where everything was pretty primitive. It was a great life for a young man, but the most money I ever made as a so-called top hand was $200.00 a month and room and board. When the CIA called, I accepted. 

RH:  When Miles graduated from Stanford, he must have felt the call of the wild.


Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 13, 2005