Cattle drives in the United States


Cattle drives in the United States

A cattle drive is the process of moving a herd of cattle from one place to another, usually moved and herded by cowboys on horses.

Prior to the mid-19th century, most ranches primarily raised cattle for their own needs and to sell surplus meat and hides locally. There was also a limited market for hides, horns, hooves, and tallow in assorted manufacturing processses. Nationally, prior to 1865, there was little demand for beef. [Malone, p. 5] At the end of the American Civil War, however, Philip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago, which became known as Armour and Company, and with the expansion of the meat packing industry, the demand for beef increased significantly. By 1866, cattle could be sold to northern markets for as much as $40 per head, making it potentially profitable for cattle, particularly from Texas, to be herded long distances to market. [Malone, p. 6]

The cattle drive era

The first large-scale effort to drive cattle from Texas to the nearest railhead for shipment to Chicago occurred in 1866, when many Texas ranchers banded together to drive their cattle to the closest point that railroad tracks reached, which at that time was in Sedalia, Missouri. However, farmers in eastern Kansas, afraid that Longhorns would transmit cattle fever to local animals as well as trample crops, formed groups that threatened to beat or shoot cattlemen found on their lands, and therefore the 1866 drive failed to reach the railroad, and the cattle herds were sold for low prices. [Malone, p. 38-39] However, as soon as 1867, a cattle shipping facility was built west of farm country around the railhead at Abilene, Kansas, and became a center of cattle shipping, loading over 36,000 head of cattle that year. [Malone, p 40] The route from Texas to Abilene became known as the Chisholm Trail, after Jesse Chisholm, who marked out the route. It ran through present-day Oklahoma, which then was Indian Territory, but there were relatively few conflicts with Native Americans, who usually allowed cattle herds to pass through for a toll of ten cents a head. Later, other trails forked off to different railheads, including those at Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas. [Malone, p. 42] By 1877, the largest of the cattle-shipping boom towns, Dodge City, Kansas, shipped out 500,000 head of cattle. [Malone, p. 70]

Movement of cattle

Cattle drives had to strike a balance between speed and the weight of the cattle. While cattle could be driven as far as convert|25|mi|km in a single day, they would lose so much weight that they would be hard to sell when they reached the end of the trail. Usually they were taken shorter distances each day, allowed periods to rest and graze both at midday and at night. [Malone, pp. 46-47] On average, a herd could maintain a healthy weight moving about 15 miles per day. Such a pace meant that it would take as long as two months to travel from a home ranch to a railhead. The Chisholm trail, for example, was convert|1000|mi|km long. [Malone, p. 52]

On average, a single herd of cattle on a drive numbered about 3,000 head. To herd the cattle, a crew of at least 10 cowboys was needed, with three horses per cowboy. Cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft. The crew also included a cook, who drove a chuck wagon, usually pulled by oxen, and a horse wrangler to take charge of the "remuda," or spare horses. The wrangler on a cattle drive was often a very young cowboy or one of lower social status, but the cook was a particularly well-respected member of the crew, as not only was he in charge of the food, he also was in charge of medical supplies and had a working knowledge of practical medicine. [Malone, pp. 48-50]

End of the era

By the 1880s, the expansion of the cattle industry resulted in the need for additional open range. Thus many ranchers expanded into the northwest, where there were still large tracts of unsettled grassland. Texas cattle were herded north, into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas. [Malone, p. 76] However, by the 1890s, railroads had expanded to cover most of the nation, and meat packing plants were built closer to major ranching areas, making long cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas unnecessary. Hence, the age of the open range was gone and the era of large cattle drives were over. [Malone, p. 79]

Modern cattle drives

Smaller cattle drives continued at least into the 1940s, as ranchers, prior to the development of the modern cattle truck, still needed to herd cattle to local railheads for transport to stockyards and packing plants. Today, cattle drives are primarily used to round up cattle within the boundaries of a ranch and to move them from one pasture to another, a process that generally lasts at most a few days. While horses are still used in many places, particularly where there is rough or mountainous terrain, the all-terrain vehicle is also used. When cattle are required to move longer distances, they are shipped via truck.

ee also

*Cowboy
*Drover (Australian)
*Ranch
*Station (Australian agriculture)

Notes

References

*Draper, Robert. "21st -Century Cowboys: Why the Spirit Endures." "National Geographic," December 2007, pp. 114-135
*Malone, John William. "An Album of the American Cowboy." New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1971. SBN: 531-01512-2
*Malone, Michael P., and Richard B. Roeder. "Montana: A History of Two Centuries". University of Washington Press; Revised edition, 1991. ISBN-10: 0295971290, ISBN-13: 978-0295971292
*Vernam, Glenn R. "Man on Horseback" New York: Harper & Row 1964


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