Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cattle Drives

The American Cowboy came about after the Civil War, when the shortage of beef in the northern states gave some enterprising southerners, mainly Texans, the idea of driving their cattle north. Their goal was to drive their cattle to the closest railroads—Kansas—and then ship the beef to markets across the nation. (Texas cattle drives had started before the war, but on a smaller scale and stopped completely during the war since there was no profit to be made.)

The cattle drives flourished for about twenty years, 1866-1885, and a cowboy was considered to be anyone with ‘guts and a gun’. Most of the men on the cattle drives were young, late teens or early twenties, and for driving 1,000-5,000 cows over 250-400 miles of rough, untamed territory for 3-6 months, the cowboy was paid about $25 plus food, per month for their labor. Once the cows were delivered the ‘boys’ were allowed a few days to wind down, before the shipping started, and the town folks were happy to relieve the cowboys of their hard earned money.

On the trail, each cowboy had 5-10 horses to ride on a rotating basis, sometimes they were the cowboys, but most often they belonged to the ‘outfit’. The second highest paid man on the trial was the cook. It was well known that a good cook would attract the best cowboys. The cook was also the doctor, and carried all the bed rolls in the chuck wagon. (Cowboys didn’t carry them on their saddles while on the drive.) Bed rolls consisted of a canvas tarp and a blanket or quilt. The boys kept all their valuables in their rolls, i.e. money, extra clothes, personal possessions, and they put a lot of faith in the cook to guard their treasures. The standard fare for all meals was beans, rice, and coffee. Canned goods were added in the later years.

In the 1880’s the cowboys started to show off their daily skills at informal fairs and celebrations at the end of the drives, often demonstrating calf roping, steer wrestling, and bronc riding, thus the sport of rodeo developed.

Texas cattle often carried ticks that spread Texas fever to other cattle, and in 1885 an epidemic of splenic fever in longhorns forced many a drive to turn around at the Kansas border and head back south. The stricter quarantine laws along with the low beef prices and the lack of available rangeland to drive through (barbed wire had been invented), as well as the fact rail lines had finally reached Texas, all played a role in bringing the cattle drives to a halt.
Kansas is dotted with 'cow towns'-- those cities that for a length of time had been the end of the line for the cattle drives-- Abeliene, Wichita, and of course the most famous, Dodge City.
When the drives first started to arrive in Dodge, the city didn't have a jail, and used an old dried up well to hold the wrong-doers captive. Usually it was for disorderly conduct, and once the men sobered up, they could climb out of the well on be on there way. I use this piece of history in Shotgun Bride-The Quinter Brides book 1 (which is now available in print) when Kid Quinter is arrested for murdering the man stalking Jessie, the young gal he was forced to marry. The book spent several weeks on the best selling list at Fictionwise, and reviews for Shotgun Bride can be found on my blog.


Tanya Hanson said...

Lauri, what a great post. Since most of my heroes seem to be point riders LOL, I know I will be back checking out this information often!

Congrats on your success as a best-seller!


Linda LaRoque said...

Loved your post, Lauri. I'm particularly interested in the chuckwagon and cook. Their ability to provide decent food is fascinating. I've done a little outdoor cooking using dutch ovens and it's fun.

Happy sales!


Paty Jager said...

Great information, Lauri! Congrats on the success of Shotgun Bride.

Celia Yeary said...

Lauri--I love trail drive stories. One old movie in particular is a favortie of mine--Red River--John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. It was one of the few John Wayne movies I liked. I'd forgotten that the cook was also the doctor--I'll have to remember that. And congratulations on being on the best seller list on Fictionwise. I need to check that out anyway, so I'll look for your Quinter Brothers book. Nice post, I enjoyed it. Celia

Lauri said...

Thanks for stopping by ladies.

Several years ago there was an old fashioned 'cattle drive' that went from Texas to Wyoming, complete with chuck wagon and all. It went right past my brother's house in Kansas, and watching it you would have believed you'd stepped back in time.

Linda LaRoque said...

They have an old fashioned wagon train in the Fort Davis, Marfa, Presidio area every year. I always wanted to join it but wasn't sure I could handle sitting on one of those wooden bench seats over rough terrain all day. While in Durago, my husband and I took a stagecoach ride and it was awful. I ended up on the top riding shotgun. It was much more comfortable up there.

Loretta said...

This is why I enjoy the Cactus Rose blog. Not only is it a great site for research information, it's just plain fun to read. Great information, Lauri. My WIP is takes place on a cattle drive. I'll certainly be rereading your article. Congrats on success as a best-seller! WooHoo!