The tragic story of Tragabuches

– The year is 1790. In Arcos de la Frontera lives a young gypsy. He is ten years old, his name is José Ulloa Navarro but he is better known as Tragabuches. The boy wants to be a bullfighter and leaves his hometown to travel to Ronda where he joins the famous bullfighting school of Pedro Romero. Romero recognizes his great talent but hates gypsies and therefore recommends him to his brother José.

– The first story tells us of a contract that Gaspár Romero, a banderillero in the cuadrilla of his brother Pedro, has signed with the plaza de toros of Salamanca. Gaspár asks Tragabuches to accompany him with the prospect that, in the arena of the ancient university town, he will promote him to matador de toros.

– After a long journey the Romero brothers, their father Juan and their entourage finally arrive at the arena. The people are in an uproar. The famous Romeros are in town! Imagine: the best matadors of the country have come to Salamanca!

For the occasion twelve specially picked bulls await them in the stables at the back of the arena. It promises to be an exciting evening!
– A trumpet announces the start of the procesion and the group solemnly moves across the sand. When the first bull is in the ring Gaspár hands José the ceremonial symbols of his new position, José Ulloa Tragabuches’ greatest wish has been fulfilled at last.

– His performance goes well and he kills the bull with a magnificent estocada…

– It is now Gaspár Romero’s turn who, under the watchful eyes of his brothers steps on the sand to receive his bull. But after barely two passes, the beast plunges his horn deep into the body of the unfortunate torero who dies on the spot.

– Back in Ronda, Tragabuches learns to his disapointment that the promotion he received in Salamanca is not valid. Gaspár Romero was not entitled to promote aspirants as he himself had not yet been a sworn matador. Ulloa can do nothing more than to continue in the lower grade of banderilleros and hope for a second opportunity.

– The next chapter in the life of Tragabuches tells of the beautiful Maria La Nena a dancer performing at the local tavern. José Ulloa, the proud gypsy, the valiant bullfighter, enters the bar, sees her, falls hopelessly in love and after a stormy courtship, marries her.

– The year is 1814 and after six years of French rule, Ferdinand VII ascends the Spanish throne which is celebrated all over the country. Malaga honors the historic occasion with three corridas. An old friend from his Romero-days invites Tragabuches to come to Malaga to take part in the bullfights. (The story does not reveal if by this time he has been promoted to a higher rank.) Ulloa, by now a happily married man, finds it difficult to leave the arms of his beloved Nena but after a moving farewell, he goes on his way.

– Then disaster strikes again. Halfway through the trip from Ronda to Malaga he is caught in a heavy thunderstorm and the torero gets soaked. To make matters worse his horse stumbles on a tree trunk. Tragabuches is thrown to the ground and sprains his left shoulder. He realises he is now unable to take part in the bullfight and is left no other option but to return home though the thought of his reunion with La Nena sweetens the decision.

– Upon his arrival, he finds the house in darkness. It seems empty and abandoned, its doors locked and its shutters drawn. José searches for traces confirming his wife’s presence, he rattles the doors and even throws pebbles at her bedroom window, but nothing stirs.

– At last he manages to enter the house and to his surprise finds La Nena upstairs in the bedroom. Her hair is all tangled and she is half naked.

– “I had already gone to bed, I was asleep!” she screams, but soon confesses to having an affair with her neighbor, the local church warden Pepe El Listillo (Clever Pepe). Using the absence of the master, Pepe had come to see her that night. Tragabuches is outraged, pushes his wife aside and challenges the man to show himself, but no-one answers. Livid with rage, he searches the house and finds his rival, naked, hiding in the dark under the kitchen table. Without hesitation the cuckolded torero draws his knife and kills the unfortunate Listillo. He then turns on his sobbing, unfaithful Nena. Grabbing her by the hair, he throws her out the window where she cracks her head on the pavement below and dies. In a panic, the murderer runs out of the house, jumps on his horse and disappears into the darkness.


– From that moment José Ulloa Tragabuches vanishes. It is said he never recovered from his wife’s deception and out of desperation threw himself into the gorge at Ronda. Others insist on having seen him in Algeciras where they say he became a successful smuggler. Another story tells of his flight from town and joining up with the much feared Seven Lads From Ecija, a gang of robbers and ruthless highwaymen who roamed the area around Ronda. It takes years before six members of the gang are captured. They are tried and all die on the gallows. All except one, who remains untraceable, the seventh member: José Ulloa Navarro Tragabuches…

– The unfortunate matador/smuggler/murderer has faded away for ever. But has he? In Ronda today you can reserve a table at the popular Tragabuches restaurant and who knows, they might even sing a song that has been popular for over two hundred years:


‘A woman was the cause of my downfall.

            There is no worse fate for a man

            than a downfall caused by a woman.’

Cronica de Pieter Hildering