Being an Arizonian, I find that intriguing and somewhat amazing.
Here in the Camargue, they are called 'gardiens'. Still, herding cattle and horses is as "cowboy" as the name.
They live in a flat area of salt marshes and water where two branches of the Rhone River form a delta as they empty into the Mediterranean Sea.
If you know where Arles is located, you can visualize a triangle with Arles at the apex, and the area of the Camargue forming the rest of the triangle between the arms of the two branches of the Rhone River as it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
It is full of steamy lakes
and a humidity of up to 100%
and inhabited by marsh birds
including huge flocks of flamingos!
Nothing could be more different from our Arizona desert of rugged mountains and cactus and cresote covered desert, and here it is dry..REALLY DRY.
The Camargue area was unfit for farming with all of the salt water, but it was found suitable for grazing the black bulls and handsome white horses for which the area is famous. These are both old breeds, and smaller than usual. Both bulls and horses live semi wild lives, and are strong breeds which survive well in the intense heat and chlling cold.
The Camargue horses are believed to be descended from the prehistoric horses of the Paleolithic period, 17,000 years ago, which are seen in the paintings on the walls of Lascaux and other caves. They seem to have been crossbred with the later Arabian horses left by the Moorish Invaders.
They are born black or dark brown, and by the age of four they have changed into a slightly mottled whitish gray, and are usually just called white.
The bulls are all black and used for their distinctively flavored meat, perhaps as a result of their diet of salt grass, and are also used in a form of bull running where the object is to pick a cockade from between the horns of the running bull...not such a clever thing to do, but a tradition.
The gardiens herd the cattle and horses with the aid of a trident, and are very much a part of the region's mystique and folklore.
The American cowboy, too, is certainly a character of mystique and folklore in the USA, and their romanticized lives live on in the popular culture, and still in actuality in some areas.
Like so many areas of France, there is a whole culture in the area which is different and specialized., partly due to the specialized way of life which evolved due to local conditions.
The heritage of these French gardiens has been commemorated in the faïence of Etienne Laget and the fabrication of Quimper. Laget created many designs to show the culture of the area of Arles, and there are some very handsome pieces featuring the gardien and also the ladies of the region, the Arlesienne.
You can find faïence pieces by Laget featuring other regions as well. I have seen plates featuring the costumes of the Basque region,Provence, and other areas from time to time.
This tureen is especially charming with the encircling band of dancing Arlésiennes.
This santon, which I consider quite special, is the only one which I have seen which features not only the gardien in his traditional black hat, but the Arlésienne along with him on the Camargue horse. You will note that the lady will always have a parasol with her to protect her from the blazing sun. The cypress tree and well is another ceramic piece done by Laget.
The Arlésienne is quite a subject in her own right, and the story by Alphonse Daudet which Bizet set to haunting music in L'Arléienne is likely familiar to many people. It is a joy to see her in a festival wearing her traditional costume with her ribbon coif upon the upswept hair style, and parasol against the sun.
It makes it easy to understand her allure.
The easiest place to see this culture is in Arles, or in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which is 19 km east of Aigues-Mortes.
Finding the pieces of faïence is a quest which may take more searching, but are always rewarding when one is located.