Cattle Drives

Cattle Drives

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After the American Civil War there was a great demand for meat in the northern and eastern parts of the United States. It is estimated that at this time there were over 5 million Longhorns in Texas. The task of the cowboy was to take part in cattle drives where cattle were driven from Texas to the railroad cowtowns of Ellsworth, Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita and Newton. The cattle business eventually spread to Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

Between 1866 to 1895 some 10 million cattle were taken to the railroad cowtowns. The main route from Texas to Kansas was the Chisum Trial and the Goodnight Trail. These trials were over 1,000 miles long and would take between 12 and 16 weeks to complete.

A herd would contain several thousand head of cattle. The trial boss would ride ahead of the column to scout for water, grass and a place to camp during the night. The animals would move along two or three abreast. Two cowboys rode on either side of the head of the column. Flank riders kept the cattle in line and the drag riders were at the rear.

About the last of February we got all our cattle branded and started for Abilene, Kansas, about the 1st of March. Jim Clements and I were to take these 1,200 head of cattle up to Abilene and Manning; Gip and Joe Clements were to follow with a herd belonging to Doc Bumett. Jim and I were getting $150 per month.

Nothing of importance happened until we got to Williamson County, where all the hands caught the measles except Jim and myself. We camped about two miles south of Corn Hill and there we rested up and recruited. I spent the time doctoring my sick companions, cooking, and branding cattle.

After several weeks of travel we crossed Red River at a point called Red River Station, or Bluff, north of Montague County. We were now in the Indian country and two white men had been killed by Indians about two weeks before we arrived at the town. Of course, all the talk was Indians and everybody dreaded them. We were now on what is called the Chisum Trail and game of all kinds abounded: buffalo, antelope, and other wild animals too numerous to mention. There were a great many cattle driven that year from Texas. The day we crossed Red River about fifteen herds had crossed, and of course we intended to keep close together going through the Nation for our mutual protection. The trail was thus one line of cattle and you were never out of sight of a herd. I was just about as much afraid of an Indian as I was of a coon. In fact, I was anxious to meet some on the warpath.

That night we came in contact with a company of men and had a little fight. We killed one white man and captured fifteen horses. I think this must have been near Ballinger. We came down to Pack Saddle in Llano County and there had a terrible fight with four white men. We were in the roughs and so were the whites, so neither had the advantage, but we routed them in about a half hour. I think I wounded one of the white men severely. I had a good shot at him, but they all got away.

We wended our way from there to House mountains, and there we captured a nice herd of horses, and this increased our drove to fifty. We went our same old route up the Llano river, but the rangers got on our trail and followed us up through Mason county, but we made for Kickapoo Springs, but the rangers had changed horses and were giving us close chase. We changed horses often and rode cautiously and made our escape, but we were followed to the edge of the plains. We reached home safely and with all our horses, but the Mexicans had again joined our squaws, and this time they had plenty of mescal and corn whiskey, and tobacco in abundance. We all got drunk and one hundred and forty Indian warriors and sixty Mexicans went on a cattle raid. West of Fort Griffin, on the old trail, we ran into a big herd being driven to Kansas. There were about twenty hands with the cattle. We rushed up and opened fire. The cattle stampeded and the cowboys rode in an opposite direction. There were enough of us to surround the cattle and chase the boys. We soon gave the boys up and started for Mexico with the herd, but the second day we were overtaken by about forty white men, who tried to retake the cattle, and in the attempt two Mexicans and one Indian were killed - the Indian was shot through the neck - and we had four horses killed. We repulsed them and got possession of two of their dead, who were promptly scalped. I don't know what other losses they sustained. We went on southwest with the herd, and had about three thousand head when we reached the village. These we traded to Mexicans and immediately stampeded them.

We put the scalps of those boys on high poles and had a big feast and war dance. We slew forty beeves and roasted them all at once. We kept up a chant and dance around those scalps day and night. More Mexicans had come and replenished our stock of whiskey. We had a little disagreement - a debate - and in order to settle the rucus satisfactorily to all concerned, we killed two Mexicans and raised their scalps on poles. We drank all the whiskey, sobered up, ran off the Mexicans and kept all their trinkets, guns, ammunition, etc., but they got the most of the cattle, which was more than pay.

In medieval central Europe, annual cattle drives brought Hungarian Grey cattle across the Danube River to the beef markets of Western Europe. [1] In the 16th century the Swiss operated cattle drives over the St. Gotthard Pass to the markets in Bellinzona and Lugano and into Lombardy in northern Italy. The drives had ended by 1700 when sedentary dairy farming proved more profitable. [ citation needed ]

Australia is noted for long drives. Patsy Durack, for instance, left Queensland for the Kimberley in Western Australia in 1885 with 8,000 cattle, arriving with only half that number some two years and two months later, completing a drive of some 3,000 miles. Indeed, long cattle drives continued well into the latter half of the twentieth century. [2]

On March 26, 1883 two Scottish/Australian families, the MacDonalds and the McKenzies, began a huge cattle drive from Clifford's Creek near Goulburn, New South Wales to the Kimberley, where they established "Fossil Downs" station. The journey of over 6,000 km lasted more than three years and involved Charles ('Charlie') MacDonald (1851–1903) and William Neil ('Willie') MacDonald (1860–1910), sons of Donald MacDonald from Broadford on the Isle of Skye (who had sailed from Scotland in the 1830s). The family moved to Clifford's Creek, Laggan, and the brothers had become expert bushmen. The cattle drive was undertaken after Donald MacDonald heard glowing reports of the Kimberley from Scots/Australian explorer Alexander Forrest in 1879. The MacDonalds and the McKenzies formed a joint venture to obtain leases in the Kimberley and to stock them by overlanding the cattle. The brothers were joined by their cousins Alexander and Donald MacKenzie, Peter Thomson, James McGeorge and Jasper Pickles. They set out with 670 cattle, 32 bullocks yoked to two wagons and 86 horses. All foodstuffs and equipment for the long journey were carried in the wagons. Drought conditions delayed progress and most of the original party, apart from Charlie and Willie MacDonald, withdrew long before Cooper's Creek was reached. Stock losses were replaced, only to be reduced again by the continued drought. Despite a grueling journey through crocodile- and mosquito-infested territory in the top end with frequent Aboriginal attacks, the cattle eventually arrived at the junction of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in July 1886 and "Fossil Downs" station was established. It is the longest cattle drive in history. [3] [4]

Cattle drives involved cowboys on horseback moving herds of cattle long distances to market. Cattle drives were at one time a major economic activity in the American West, particularly between the years 1866-1895, when 10 million cattle were herded from Texas to railheads in Kansas for shipments to stockyards in Chicago and points east. Drives usually took place in Texas on the Goodnight-Loving Trail (1866), Potter-Bacon trail (1883), Western trail (1874), Chisholm Trail (1867) and Shawnee Trail (1840s).

Due to the extensive treatment of cattle drives in fiction and film, the cowboy tending to a herd of cattle has become the worldwide iconic image of the American West.

Cattle Drives - History

Texas cattle were first driven north across eastern Indian Territory to Missouri during the 1840s and 1850s after Texans found better markets for their cattle in St. Louis. They followed the Shawnee Trail from the Red River near Preston, Texas, into the Choctaw Nation and northeast to Boggy Depot. They pushed the herds past Fort Gibson to the Grand River and north into present Kansas and then turned them east into Missouri. Another branch of the Shawnee Trail went from Boggy Depot into Arkansas and north to Missouri. Several thousand Texas cattle were driven over this trail until the Civil War began. By then, smaller herds of cattle were driven along military roads by the U.S. Army to supply posts in Indian Territory.

When the Civil War ended, the only good cattle markets were in the East. Texans again began driving their herds over the Shawnee Trail. However, Missourians frequently stopped the drovers because their longhorns carried Texas fever, which killed domestic cattle. Texas cattle drives across Indian Territory slowed until the Union Pacific Railway began to build west of Kansas City, Missouri. When Texans learned cattle buyers were waiting to purchase their cattle for good prices in Abilene, Kansas, they drove their longhorns north through central Indian Territory. Crossing the Red River north of present Gainesville, Texas, the Texans pushed their herds north past the future sites of Sulphur, Pauls Valley, and Ponca City, Oklahoma, before striking the Arkansas River near present Arkansas City, Kansas, and then moving north to Abilene.

When the Kansas legislature ruled that Texas cattle could only be driven through unsettled portions of the state, Abilene died as a cattle market, and new cattle towns were established farther west in Kansas. The path across central Indian Territory shifted westward and followed a trail laid out a few years earlier by Indian trader Jesse Chisholm from the site of Wichita, Kansas, south to the Red River near present Ryan, Oklahoma. This pathway became known as the Chisholm Trail and follows present U.S. Highway 81. Between 1870 and 1876 thousands of Texas longhorns were herded north by this route to Wichita, Newton, and other Kansas towns. But then the Kansas legislature again moved the barrier line farther west, and Dodge City, in the southwestern part of the state, became the major Kansas cattle town.

To reach Dodge City a new trail was laid out from Doan's Crossing on the Red River near Vernon, Texas, north past the sites of present Clinton and Woodward, Oklahoma, and northwest to Dodge City. This was called the Great Western Trail, or simply the Western Trail. By that time cattle raisers in Indian Territory were also using this route to drive their animals to market. The trail remained open until in 1886 the Kansas legislature barred all Texas cattle drives from Kansas.


David Dary, Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981).

Wayne Gard, The Chisholm Trail (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954).

Jimmy M. Skaggs, "Cattle Trails in Oklahoma," in Ranch and Range in Oklahoma, ed. Jimmy M. Skaggs (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1978).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
David Dary, &ldquoCattle Drives,&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

Cattle Drives: Then and Now

Cattle drives are simply that: you are moving cattle from one area to another. In the olden times this was done because there was no other way to move the cattle. This was a huge economic activity in the American West, especially in the late 1800’s.

One of the things that was difficult back then was striking a balance between moving them along quickly, and making sure the cattle didn’t lose too much weight. If the cattle walked too far in a day, then they could easily lose weight and become much harder to sell once they got to the market.

Generally a crew of 10 cowboys was needed, and 3 horses per cowboy. That’s a large group to travel with! During the Civil War, Texans drove their cattle into the Confederate states for the Confederate Army to use.

Up into the 1940’s there were still cattle drives on a smaller scale. This was all prior to the invention of the cattle truck. Now, however, cattle drives are done to round up cattle that are within the boundaries of a ranch and move them from one pasture to another.

Now, cattle drives are something that everyone can experience for themselves. You can move them from one feeding ground to the next, and get a small taste for what it was like back when cowboys used to do it for a much farther distance.

Now you can often see cattle drives as a celebration and a memorial of those times and a celebration of rich culture.

The Wyoming Cattle Boom, 1868-1886

It’s been often said that Wyoming’s cattle industry started by accident. That’s a bit of stretch, actually.

As the tale goes, Seth Ward, a sutler to Fort Laramie, left cattle out to graze the open range in the winter of 1852-53 along Chugwater Creek north of what is now Cheyenne. He expected to find carcasses in the spring. Yet when he returned he found “the oxen,” as he called them, thriving.

Popular history provides a series of similar stories: In 1854, Alex Majors, a freighter and provisioner, tried the same experiment in the same vicinity with considerable success Mormons outside Fort Bridger also began leaving cattle out all winter.

These stories may be true, but they resist documentation. Alex Majors’ Seventy Years on the Frontier, for example, mentions nothing about wintering cattle in Wyoming. But historical veracity matters little in this case. Wyoming would have had a bovine boom even without the discovery that cattle could survive winters without supplemental feed. Between 1840 and 1870 a series of events combined to bring an inevitable surge of livestock to the northern plains.

As is so often the case in major economic shifts, a war—in this case, the Civil War—combining with changes in demographics and technology, laid down the foundation for a cattle boom.

It began with changing demographics. People were moving west. University of Wyoming historian Phil Roberts estimates that between 1841 and 1860, roughly 350,000 people “crossed what is now Wyoming.” As early as 1836, pioneers and freighters drove wagons over the Oregon Trail to Idaho. Mormons began passing through Wyoming on their way to Utah. A gold discovery outside Sutter’s Mill in California in 1848 vastly increased the traffic.

These new arrivals brought clashes with the Plains Indian tribes, primarily the Lakota Sioux, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne. In 1849, to protect these emigrants, the U.S. government bought Fort Laramie, located near the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers, from the American Fur Company for $4,000.

Fort Laramie housed up to 350 soldiers, and they needed to eat. Provisioners like Ward and Majors obliged them by supplying beef to the quartermaster, thus establishing local demand.

At the same time, railroads began to revolutionize beef transport—both for live cattle and chilled, butchered beef. In 1851, the Missouri Pacific Railroad laid down the first tracks west of the Mississippi. Simultaneously, the New York-based Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad began shipping butter in refrigerated cars to Boston. In 1857, the first car of chilled beef left Chicago for eastern cities. It was a flawed system and failed. But the tinkering and improvements began.

Then there was the Civil War. This epic conflict left two enduring changes in the American cattle business: centralization of the beef-packing industry and a huge surplus (around five million) of Longhorn cattle in Texas.

Packing plants had been known in America since the late 1680’s when William Pynchon of Springfield, Mass., began packing cuts of pork and beef into barrels with brine. Still, the local butcher reigned supreme.

The Civil War brought on an unprecedented demand for first barreled and then tinned beef. Packers, now mostly in Cincinnati and Chicago, set up what they called disassembly plants, says Nebraska State Historical Society senior researcher, John Carter.

In a Nebraska Educational Television documentary, The Beef State, Carter explains, “You walked the animal in one end where it was greeted by an army of butchers who would slaughter the animal, cut it up, and actually developed a finished product – canned meat – which it would then sell to the government for the Union army. Now you had an industry that was producing food on a scale that could feed a nation.”

Paradoxically, while demand for beef in the East and the upper Midwest climbed during the war, it dwindled in Texas. By 1863, the Union Army controlled the Mississippi River, preventing the Confederacy from accessing Texas beef. Furthermore, young cowboys from the Lone Star State left ranches to fight for the Southern cause.

Untended, the herds grew. Supply soon outstripped demand. At the end of the war, a 3-year-old steer in Massachusetts sold for $86.00, according to an 1867 Department of Agriculture report. The same critter in Texas, probably a little leaner, went for only $9.46. Cattle buyer Joseph McCoy said of this era: "Then dawned a time in Texas that a man's poverty was estimated by the number of cattle he possessed."

New railroads, improved refrigerated cars and pent-up postwar demand for beef put an end to this dynamic. Among other things, the Civil War helped turn around a decades-old pattern of declining beef consumption. In a controversial thesis called The Antebellum Puzzle, University of Munich economic historian John Kolmos showed that American consumption of beef per capita declined steadily from the mid-1830s to around 1870.

If there was an accidental angle to Wyoming’s beef boom, it was geography. For example, the fact that railroad surveyors decided to route the Union Pacific through Cheyenne, not Denver, was much more influential in establishing a Wyoming cattle industry than a series of mild winters.

Wyoming Territory was also handily located between Texas and Montana—the latter a site of various gold strikes. In 1866, Ohio-born gold miner and storekeeper Nelson Story, having made a bundle on a claim in the Alder Gulch strike outside Virginia City, Montana Territory, sewed $10,000 in greenbacks in his coat and headed for Fort Worth, Texas. He returned to Montana’s Gallatin Valley with 600 head of cattle.

That’s a journey of 1,500 miles, 450 of which were in what soon became Wyoming Territory. Even though Story and his men were attacked by Indians and harassed by the U.S. troops who forbade them to go farther on the grounds of safety, they made it to Montana. In the process, they got a good look at what’s now Wyoming—most of it open range with free grass--and the potential it held for future cattle production.

So, by the time John Wesley Iliff started a cow camp five miles south of Cheyenne in 1867 to supply Union Pacific railroad crews and the local Sioux tribe, Wyoming’s beef industry already had a foundation.

Then the boom really began.

Among the most optimistic words ever to flow from a speculator’s pen came from Baron Walter von Richthofen, in his Cattle-Raising on the Plains of North America, published in 1885. “There is not the slightest amount of uncertainty in cattle raising.”

In this book, von Richthofen, who moved from the German province of Silesia to Denver in 1877, predicted cattlemen could count on profits of 156 percent over a five-year period.

The irony was that by 1885 the “beef bubble,” as historian and writer Helena Huntington Smith called it, had popped. People just didn’t know it yet. But in the early days such astounding profits were possible, especially in Wyoming Territory.

On May 1, 1867, Cheyenne Leader editor Nathan Baker spelled out the reasons for expected prosperity. Grass in Wyoming was abundant and “exceedingly nutritious.” Good water was “everywhere.”

Mild winters necessitated no feeding, declared Baker, and while an operator might expect winter losses to his herd of two to three percent, this was still more economical than buying hay for feed. And then there was the railroad, which provided “cheap” transportation to markets. (Historian Gene Gressley pointed out more recently, however, that for decades many a cattleman dissented from this opinion on Union Pacific freight rates.)

Cheyenne, after recovering from the economic shock of the departure of U.P. tracklaying crews, prospered. In 1871, an estimated 60,000 cattle grazed the prairie within 100 miles of town. Representatives from Chicago packing houses crowded the bar at the young city’s InterOcean Hotel.

Noted names in Wyoming stock raising—F.E. Warren, Joseph Carey, Charley Hutton and the four Swan brothers—arrived. Territorial governors invested in livestock. Cattlemen founded one of the most powerful political organizations in the West, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, in 1872. The opulent Cheyenne Club, built by cattle money, opened in 1880. Under its mansard roof, oysters were shucked, wine flowed and, as club member and Anglo-Irish cattle owner Horace Plunkett wrote, “cordial drunks” abounded.

Demand for beef grew on both sides of the Atlantic. Technology in the form of efficient refrigerated rail cars and ships helped. In 1876, England imported only 1,732 tons of fresh beef. Two years later, the amount exceeded 30,000 tons, with roughly 80 percent coming from the United States.

Further increasing demand, the U.S. government continued to feed displaced Indian tribes. An 1879 Report of the Commissioner of Indian affairs reported that the federal government bought 11,311 head of cattle from ranchers in 1878 alone to distribute to various western tribes.

Stockmen fanned out across Wyoming Territory, staking out ranches in the Bighorn Basin, the Powder River Basin and the upper Green River Valley. Cattle kept pouring in from Texas and Oregon.

Outside capital flooded in as well. Wholesale prices for cattle reached a heart-stopping $6.47 per hundredweight in May 1870— meaning an 850-pound steer went for $55. Those already in the cattle business around Cheyenne and Laramie—the Lathrams, the Iliffs and the Dole brothers— made a killing. Investors were convinced that they, too, could repeat such profits.

The math was pretty compelling. According to Scottish-born writer, cattleman and Wyoming ranch manager John Clay, it cost about $1.50 to raise a range steer. There were marketing and shipping charges, certainly, but during an unheated market, you sold that same steer for $23.00 at the peak it sold for over $60.00 per head. A stockman could enjoy a net profit of $40.00 per head during good times.

Harper’s Magazine in November 1879 published a scintillating article detailing a theoretical three-year profit schedule for a southern Colorado cattle ranch that began with its herd numbering 4,000. By the third year, the owner was clearing $114,615 or about $2.5 million in today’s money.

Prices slipped a little but for most of the 1870s hovered between $4.00 and $5.00 per hundredweight. This was high enough to keep enticing investors. Prices dropped below $4.00 per hundredweight in 1880, but capitalists remain undeterred, and the boom mentality of “We’re going to have another rally very soon,” took over.

The markets obliged. In March 1881, wholesale prices per hundredweight passed the $5.00 mark and kept climbing. In June 1882, packing houses were shelling out over $7.00 per hundredweight, or more than $60.00 per cow. This, in turn, attracted more investors. Prominent historian of the American West W. Turrentine Jackson estimates that British interests invested more than $45 million in American cattle in the 1880s. Between 1880 and 1900, 181 livestock companies incorporated in Wyoming with an aggregate capitalization of $94,095,800.

In 1882, the six counties of Wyoming reported 476,274 cattle, worth nearly $7 million, on their tax rolls. Since, for tax reasons, many cattlemen were known for underestimating their herds, there may have been twice that number on the range.

Cheyenne reportedly had eight millionaires among its 3,000 residents in 1880 –1 out of every 375. The prosperous town built itself an opera house in 1882 and was one of the first cities in the U.S. to have electric streetlights.

Then the same magic concoction that brewed up the boom began to sour.

Demographics, again, showed muscle. People were no longer just passing through Wyoming to someplace else, they were staying. In 1870, Wyoming had a mere 9,118 people. By 1890, that number reached 62,555.

The Homestead Act of 1862, the Timber Culture Act of 1872 and the Desert Land Act of 1877, all of which offered government land for free or at very low cost, began to garner serious attention. Under all these laws, people filed claims and could qualify for title to the land—patents—after three to five years, provided they made certain improvements such as building a house, planting trees or bringing water to the land. In 1884, more people filed for land claims than in the previous 14 years combined. The free-range era for cattlemen, already dimming, was coming to an end.

There were too many cows. Wyoming historian T.A. Larson estimated that by 1886 there were 1.5 million cattle (about the same number Wyoming has now) on the range.

The weather turned crispy dry in the summer and iron cold in the winter. A drought that began in Texas in the summer of 1884 crept north. By 1886, eastern Wyoming and Montana were the driest in memory. By September of that year, some parts of Montana had received just two inches of rain.

In his annual report of 1886, the commander of Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Wyoming Territory, wrote, “The country is full of Texas cattle and there is not a blade of grass within 15 miles of the Post.”

The beef bubble popped. By November 1886, wholesale cattle prices in Chicago fell to $3.16 per hundredweight, half of what they had been in 1884.

The winter of 1886-87 was known as the “death knell on the range.” Snow came early and stayed.

On Jan. 14, 1887, temperatures in Miles City, Mont., bottomed out at 60 below zero. The Laramie Daily Boomerang of Feb. 10, 1887, reported, "The snow on the Lost Soldier division of the Lander and Rawlins stage route is four feet deep, and frozen so hard that the stages drive over it like a turnpike."

Historians generally agree that Wyoming cattle losses during that winter tend to be exaggerated. Larson thought overall the state lost about 15 percent of its herd, although operators in Crook and Carbon counties lost roughly 25 percent of their stock.

John Clay wrote in My Life on the Range, “As the South Sea bubble burst, as the Dutch tulip craze dissolved, this cattle gold brick withstood not the snow of winter. It wasted away under the fierce attacks of a subarctic season aided by summer drought. For years, you could wander amid the dead brushwood that borders our streams. In the struggle for existence the cattle had peeled off the bark as if legions of beavers had been at work.”

The Wyoming cattle business never again achieved the stature it had from 1868 to 1886. Not until 1910 did cattle prices again reach $7.00 per hundredweight. By then, cattlemen faced serious competition from the sheep industry. The value of Wyoming sheep in 1909, $32.1 million, exceeded cattle’s $26.2 million. Wyoming had 7.3 million sheep but only 960,000 head of cattle. The state was ranked number one in the nation in both wool and sheep production.

The Great Depression, which lasted from 1920 through 1940 in Wyoming agriculture—twice as long as in the rest of the nation—put profound hardship on cattlemen. After World War II, the cattle business regained strength, but by then the growing mineral industry encroached on Wyoming’s image as a cattle state.

The memory of that cattle boom era remains remarkably resilient, however. Despite getting the vast majority of its revenue from minerals, Wyoming is still known as the Cowboy State. In the minds of the public – and some cattlemen – the era has never really gone away, but is merely hibernating, waiting for the right time to make a triumphant return.

Cowtowns and Cattle Drives How many cowboys descended on Dodge City in a season?

One reads about the great numbers of cows that went north on the Long Trail but how many cowboys descended on Dodge City in a season. That’s a tough one to pin down. Numbers can be deceiving. For example the number of cowhands might vary from outfit to outfit. In 1867, the first year of the Long Drive only about 35,000 head went up the trail to Kansas. Abilene was the end of trail for the first few years then in 1876 Dodge City became the “Queen of the Cow Towns” and remained for the next several years.

The number of cows grew considerably from 1867 until the peak year in 1871 when 600,000 cows went up the trail. Nearly three million cows were shipped out of Abilene before quarantines pushed the trail west to Dodge City in 1876, creating what became known as the Great Western Trail.

On the drive it took approximately one cowhand for every 250 cows. So if you take 600,000 cows and divide 250 into that you could estimate that about 2,400 drovers came to Dodge City. In 1875 there was a depression and a market glut as only 151,618 cows came up from Texas but the next year it more than doubled to 321,998. In 1880 there were 394,784 Texas cows going up the trail and a year later it was only 250,000.

Take it a step further, a herd might number 2,250 head so divide that into the total number of cows, say the peak year and you get more than 250 different herds going up the trail in 1871.

All those herds hit the railhead at about the same time. You started a herd when the grass started greening and you followed the greening of the grass. Down in the brasada country, down around that could be as early as mid-March. Further north it would be late March before the grass got green and the Hill Country herds hit the trail. It might be mid-April before north Texas and Panhandle grass greened up and those cattle started north.

They would all hit the railheads in mid to late May into possibly the 1st week or so in June You might have fifty herds hitting the railheads in the same week and each one has a crew of fifteen to twenty counting the trailboss, the ramrod, the drovers, and the cook, you’ve got around 1,000 dry-throated, woman-starved cowboys hitting town with a pocket full of money at the same time. Each group will be in town for a week to ten days, This will continue every week for about a month to six weeks, until all the herds have come in and been sold.

You mix alcohol, loaded firearms and not enough women to go around and you’ve got a recipe for disaster!

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to [email protected] or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.

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I have driven cattle in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and even in Uruguay and beyond,&hellip

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In case you’ve ever wondered about the average size of those Long Trail cattle drives&hellip

Scientists disagree about a third cattle lineage originating in Africa. The evidence for a third domestication event comes from cattle remains found in Egypt and Algeria. These remains appear to be just about as old as remains found in the Taurus Mountain region of Turkey. Some biologists take this as evidence that cows were domesticated in North Africa at the same time as they were domesticated in Turkey. Other scientists believe, based on genetic studies, that cows remains found in North Africa are the result of taurine cattle interbreeding with native aurochs.

From their humble origins on the Asian steppe, cattle have emerged as one of humanity’s greatest assets. The versatile nature of cows means they can survive and thrive in a wide variety of conditions, just like human beings. Cows are raised on every continent except Antarctica, and only continue to grow more popular as a food source with the rise of global wealth.

Thousands of years ago, peoples in different places around the world discovered the utility of cows. It says something about the relationship between the two species that the relationship has lasted this long. Cows rely on humans for food and protection. Humans rely on cows for all the wonderful products cows provide. It all comes together in the cattle drive experience. If you have always wondered what it was like to live in a traditional lifestyle which has endured the ages, call Dryhead Ranch and schedule your cattle drive vacation today. Be a part of cattle drive history!

For many of us, cattle drive vacations and cows seem like a timeless part of the American landscape. But did you know cows are not native to North America? Though bison have traversed the Midwest for thousands of years, cattle are a relatively recent introduction.


All of the information was collected through in-person visits while on assignment for Oklahoma Traveler and verified from the following sources:

Oklahoma Historical Society archives

Cowboys, Ranchers and the Cattle Business: Cross-Border Perspectives on Ranching History, Edited by Simon M. Evans, Sarah Carter, and Bill Yeo

Storm and Stampede on the Chisholm, Hubert Edwin Collins, U of Nebraska Press, 1998 (First published 1928 - very fascinating book!)

“Breaking” The Cowboy Myth- Cattle Drive History

Cattle driving was the cowboy&rsquos calling. These legnthy cattle drives north began in the state known, even today, as a wild frontier: Texas.

The heyday of American cattle drives lasted from 1866 to 1890, though the first recorded large cattle drive is thought to have occurred in 1846, when Edward Piper drove 1,000 cattle from Texas to Ohio.

Cowboys and cattle would usually begin their journey in the spring months, bypassing the treacherous wintertime conditions and ensuring enough grass for the cows to make the trip. With a herd of 3000 cows, there were might be ten cowboys. A single drive could take two months or more depending on how much terrain was crossed, which made for lots of meals for the cook.

The wranglers were responsible for keeping track of the crew&rsquos horses. The process of cattle driving was rugged, but not a spontaneous mission. There was a system of organization to ensure the safe passage of cattle on drives of as many as 2,000 miles. The migrating cowboys worked often in pairs, tag-teaming either side of the herd. Pointers were the front men the flank and swing men positioned themselves alongside the body of the herd while the drag men kept any straggler cows from breaking away from the line. These men spread themselves out over the one or two mile expanse and communicated with one another through hand signals and waves of their wide-brimmed hats.

From the Texas plains to Canadian mountains to California shores and Virginia pines&mdashwhy did the vagabond cowboy go?

Popular opinion regards the cowboy as a symbol of the explorative, adventuresome, and amblin&rsquo American spirit. However, the cattle drive was more in chase of a profit.

Cattle were introduced to the Texas frontier in the mid-1700s by Spanish conquistadors&mdashexplorers eager to settle the wild terrain. Cattle drives to California began intermittently in the 1850s because cowhide and beef were in high demand at a pretty price in West Coast mining camps.

Major trails branching out from Texas

During the Civil War years, from 1961-1965, many cattle drives halted. However, business picked back up again with a vengeance after the war. This period is reflected upon now as the golden age of the cowboy&rsquos cattle drives.

&ldquoWhere have all the cowboys gone&hellip?&rdquo

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act authorizing the construction of a railroad running from Missouri to California. By the 1880s, the railroad boom, precipitating massive economic and territorial expansions, was well under way. That, coupled with the loss of the vast open ranges, because of overgrazing and drought, caused a sharp decline in the need for long cattle drives.

The cowboy was in less and less demand. Up into the 1940's, he was still charged with herding cattle north to various rail lines on smaller cattle drives, where the cows could then be lugged onto freight cars and shipped to stockyards and packing plants. With the expansion of steel tracks, barbed wire fences and finally the modern cattle truck, those legnthy cattle drives all but disappeared into the sunset.

The trains, signaling economic upturn and the cowboy's downfall.

I once heard a saying &ldquosometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.&rdquo The cattle drive has been glorified in myth and culture as an eternal symbol of the American spirit. In reality, it stoked the flame of American industry but when the fire morphed and expanded, it ate the cattle drive alive. Nonetheless, those cattle drives have been enshrined in the collective American consciousness for almost two centuries now.

It is difficult to tell, in an age of vegetarian fads and obsessive dieting, what the future of cattle in this country will be. However, with or without beef, the cowboy and his adventuresome cattle drives will be forever preserved.

Author Bio: Claire Caldwell is a freelance journalist, pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and French language at American University in Washington, DC. She is an avid world traveler, having lived in the United States as well as Europe she has also spent time in the Caribbean and Northern Africa. While living in Paris, France, Claire blogged about the differences between linguistic and cultural traditions between America and France as well as about hot-spots and tips for traveling to the City of Lights. She has also worked for the women's travel site, Pink Pangea, blogging about safe ways for women to travel the world independently. She is currently pursuing creative ventures while finishing her degrees.

Why was Joseph McCoy important for the cattle industry?

Joseph McCoy was a livestock trader in Chicago. He wanted to bring the longhorn cattle from Texas to Chicago and from there distribute them to the East. Making himself a lot of money in the process.

Homesteaders who had established themselves in Kansas objected to the cattle crossing their land because they carried a tick that killed other animals. Cattlemen driving cattle through Kansas met fierce opposition and were reluctant to make the journey.

McCoy knew that the railroad companies were keen to carry more freight. The Kansas/Pacific railway ran past a frontier village. McCoy built a hotel, stockyard, office and bank in the village which became known as Abilene – one of the first cow towns. Cattle were to be driven from Texas to Abilene and were then taken East by train.

Abilene was near the end of a trail that had been established during the Civil War by Jesse Chisholm to take supplies to the Confederate army. The trail lay to the west of the Kansas farms which meant the cattlemen could use it without hostility from the Kansas homesteaders.

In 1867, McCoy spent $5,000 on advertising and riders. He promised a good price for cattle sold in Abilene and was a man of his word. One cattleman bought 600 cows for $5,400 and sold them in Abilene for $16,800. It was the beginning of the ‘beef bonanza’. Between 1867 and 1881 McCoy sent more than 2 million cattle from Abilene to Chicago. His reputation for reliability gave rise to the expression ‘the real McCoy’.

This 20th Century drawing shows cattle being driven into Abilene

The Story of a Cattle Drive Nelson Story led the first drive from Texas to Montana.

Nelson Story

Nelson Story was already a wealthy man in 1866. He’d moved to Montana a few years earlier and found gold. He used some of the riches to start successful businesses. But the 1866 venture was a gamble—drive 1000 head of cattle more than 1500 miles, from Texas to Montana.

He and 25 drovers successfully finished the trip in December of that year. He sold some of the beef to miners (at a huge profit), then used the rest as the foundation for his own herd. It made him another fortune.

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Born a slave near Inez, Texas, on September 15, 1860, the year before the war&hellip

Mark Boardman is the features editor for True West Magazine as well as the editor of The Tombstone Epitaph. He also serves as pastor for Poplar Grove United Methodist Church in Indiana.

Watch the video: Part I - Cattle drive in Montana


  1. Banan

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  2. Symeon

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  4. Rider

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  5. Dorien

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