Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Cattle Drive


The Cattle Drive


A Tough Life on the Trail

It took men with stamina and cool nerves to drive 1,500 head of restless cattle over four major trails from Texas to such railhead towns as Cheyenne, Wyoming, Abilene, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. In 1871 alone, 300,000 longhorns moved over the Chisholm Trail to Abilene's hectic stockyards. The trail took them across sun­ scorched plains, through violent storms, and over swirling rivers. The man who guided the whole affair was the trail boss. He had to be a superb horseman, wise to the hazards of the trail, and in total command of the dozen or so cowboys (trail drivers) under his charge. Ranking close in importance to the trail boss was the most important animal of the heard, the lead steer, who ran in front of the herd as it strung out for miles across the plains. The most celebrated steer was cattle baron Charles Goodnight's longhorn, "Old Blue." For years he led herds north, always picking the best spot for the cattle to bed down at night, comforting them during thunder storms, even preventing stampedes. On either side of the lead steer rode the point men, who kept watch for lurking rustlers or Indians. Behind them rode the swing riders and flank riders, who kept the cattle from wandering away and drove them back to the herd if they did. Perhaps the most uncomfortable job of all was that of the drag riders, who ate the dust of the herd as they used their whips and ropes to keep the lazy or weak animals from lagging too far behind. Way back in the rear came the bed wagon, carrying the bedrolls and extra supplies, and a group of 100 or more saddle horses, which were herded on the trail and corralled at night by the wrangler. Finally came the all­-important chuckwagon with the food and bedrolls. By late afternoon, the cook would drive up ahead of the herd and start supper at the next stopover. Once the herd was bedded down, night herders circled it slowly and sang lullabies to help calm the animals. A night stampede, caused by a thunder storm or by raiding rustlers or Indians, tested the skill and nerves of these cowboys as they raced ahead of the terrified cattle to turn them in, forcing them to run in a circle until they were under control. The best trail boss was the man whose herd reached its destination within three months without pushing the animals so hard that they lost weight. Cattle that were moved slowly, so they could rest near water holes and graze a little, sometimes actually gained weight on the drive.

Illustration: Cowboy pursuing his callie herd being stampeded by lightning
© 1979. Panarizon Publishing Corp.
USA Illust: Detail, F. Remington; Gilcrease Insc, Tulsa. Okla.
Printed in Italy  03.012 01 18

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