LA GLORIA, Texas – When it comes to seeing bulls in the arena here in the Lone Star State, chances are you’re heading to a rodeo. But down in south Texas, they’ve got something that’s a bit different.
Just a few miles from Mexico down a very desolate road in Starr County, the tradition of bullfighting is alive and well in the small town of La Gloria. There’s no stop sign, no stores, and not too much traffic. But if you happen to hit this town on the right weekend, you’re in for Texas sized treat.
“Build it and they will come. I mean, it’s just always happened,” said Fred Renk, owner of the Santa Maria Bullring.
Renk has lived in this part of the state for 55 years, but the man who spent time in the priesthood and the Marines doesn’t forgive or fight anymore. Now he shares his passion for one of the most powerful animals on the planet with a more spiritual struggle between man and nature.
“Well, it goes back 2300 years, you know the first bulls that ever came into a ring, they were all in Crete and they were in Rome area, France. The bulls of the Moors, I mean, they were all there. They were wild, and there’s cave writings about it,” Renk said.
Down here near the border, you won’t find a gory battle between the bull and the matador. This is a bloodless bullfight that brings in curious visitors from all over the country.
“We’re the only bullring, actually a bullring, that’s dedicated to nothing but bullfighting in 49 of these states,” Renk said.
Only held a few times a year, a lot of work goes into preparing the arena for the fight, but the first step is one Renk never misses. Just about every corner of the arena is blessed, even the bulls.
The matadors take every open opportunity to pray, because even though the bullfight is bloodless, sometimes they aren’t as lucky.
“Fred McCaleb, in memoriam, Joe Palmas my compadre, in memoriam, Charlie Ward, 2011. And my son, my other son, 2006. It’s just part of it. You know, you get wounded, you go back. Brave blood flows first, we say as bullfighters,” said Renk.
In spite of the danger, the fights have all the flair you’d expect. The town of 17 residents grows by a few thousand to see the event and with the entrance of the bull, it begins.
What you’ll see is much different from what you’d find in other parts of the world. “In Mexico and Spain and the 13 countries that fight bulls it is, it is. You can’t defend it. It is bloody, but that’s life, and it’s not a sport – it’s an art form to those people,” Renk said.
Here in La Gloria, a bull enters the ring with flower on its back, and the matador has one goal. “Go in and grab that flower off the bull’s hump, and that’s a symbol they’d kill,” Renk said.
Being spared gives the bull a fighting chance while the world renowned keepers of the cape must stay on their heels. “These bulls fight one time. They learn as much in 20 minutes as a matador’s learned in 20 years. That’s how quick they learn,” said Renk.
Isaac Leal Montalvo has made matador status at the age of 20. Being able to showcase his sport in the states is about as thrilling as the match.
“Here, you don’t have these traditions, and I feel very good to be one of the first ones, matadors, to come to bring the bullfight here in America. The people who call me to come to bullfight here, I have a lot of respect of them, and a lot of the audience to come here, and I train so hard, to this day,” said Montalvo.
It’s hard to put into words the beauty and marvel of seeing a bullfight in this part of the Lone Star State. It could be the remote location, the artistry of the bout, or simply the atmosphere.
Tommy Diaz Deleon, a spectator from Corpus Christi on his first visit, had much of the same opinion. “There’s nothing around here. There’s nothing around here for 60 miles, so it’s so desolate and it brings you back to the basics, and that’s what’s beautiful about it,” Deleon said.