The word buttero derives from the Greek “botèr” which means herdsman.
The butteri are Italys last working cowboys. Descendents of the toughest men and women who moved to what were considered the badlands of Italy for over a thousand years.
The Maremma was a fertile grassland during the Etruscan and Ancient Roman period. Unfortunately, when it was abandoned, the Ombrone river flooded the plains and turned it into a stinking marsh.
Mosquitos arrived – and they brought with them malaria. If the malaria didn’t kill you, then the feudal lords which were constantly at war with each other, or the Ottoman pirates attacking from the sea, probably would instead.
The area became popular with brigands. Criminal highwaymen that were escaping punishment for their crimes elsewhere in Italy. Nobody would go searching for them in the Maremma…
Ex-mercenaries drifted to the area between wars. These hardened soldiers were not afraid of what lurked around the murky swamps of Southern Tuscany and Lazio. They took jobs as herdsmen, leading solitary lives out on the marshes tending cattle on dark Maremmano horses. Like many working horsemen around Europe, they have their own unique tack adjusted for working the bleak marshes of the Maremma.
The swamps were drained in the 40s and the area is finally free of the deadly malaria that held the citizens hostage for centuries.
Butteri are few and far between today, but those that still tend cattle in the scrublands of the Maremma coastline still cut an impressive figure. Part legend, part history. These are the famous horsemen that notoriously won in a competition against Buffalo Bill. They are valued horse trainers, and revered as the defenders of century-old working ethics and skills that are no longer common knowledge.