The Full Wiki

More info on Cattle drives in the United States

Cattle drives in the United States: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Cattle drives involve the movement of cattle from one place to another, traditionally by cowboys on horseback. Cattle drives were a major economic activity in the American west, particularly between the years 1866-1886, when 20 million cattle were herded from Texas to railheads in Kansas for shipments to stockyards in Chicago and points east. The long distances covered, the need for periodic rests by riders and animals, and the establishment of railheads led to the development of "cow towns" across the American West. Because of extensive treatment of cattle drives in fiction and film, the cowboy became the worldwide iconic image of the American. Cattle drives still occur in the American west and in Australia.


Cattle herd and cowboy, circa 1902
had few cattle drives but in the 16th century the Swiss operated one over the St. Gotthard Passmarker to the markets in Bellinzonamarker and ]]Lugano]] and into Lombardy in northern Italy. The drives had ended by 1700 when sedentary dairy farming proved more profitable.

Long-distance cattle driving was traditional in Mexico, California and Texas, and horse herds were sometimes similarly driven. The Spaniards had established the ranching industry in the New World, and begun driving herds northward from Mexico beginning in the 1540s. Throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries, small Spanish settlements in Texas derived much of their revenue from horses and cattle driven into Louisiana, though such trade was usually illegal. Cattle driving over long distances also took place in the United States, although infrequently. In 1790 the boy Davy Crockett helped drive "a large stock of cattle" 400 miles from Tennessee into Virginia; twenty years later he took a drove of horses from the Tennessee River into southern North Carolina. Relatively long-distance herding of hogs was also common. In 1815 Timothy Flint "encountered a drove of more than 1,000 cattle and swine" being driven from the interior of Ohio to Philadelphia. The stock in settled areas was gentle, often managed on foot.

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 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. 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 long.

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.

Texas roots

The Texas longhorn was originally driven overland to the railheads in Kansas; they were replaced with shorter-horned breeds after 1900.
Texans established trail driving as a regular occupation. Before Texas broke away from Mexico in 1836, there was a "Beef Trail" to New Orleans. In the 1840s the Texans extended their markets northward into Missouri. The towns of Sedalia, Baxter Springsmarker, Springfieldmarker, and St. Louismarker became principal markets. During the 1850s, emigration and freighting from the Missouri Rivermarker westward caused a rise in demand for oxen. In 1858, the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell utilized about 40,000 oxen. Longhorns were trained by the thousands for work oxen. Herds of longhorns were driven to Chicago, and at least one herd was driven all the way to New York.

The gold boom in California in the 1850s created a demand for beef and provided people with the cash to pay for it. Thus, though most cattle were obtained locally or from Mexico, very long drives were attempted. Australians began cattle drives to ports for shipment of beef to San Francisco and, after freezing methods were developed, all the way to Britain. In 1853 the Italian aristocrat Leonetto Cipriani undertook a drive from St. Louis to San Francisco along the California Trail; he returned to Europe in 1855 with large profits.

During the American Civil War before the Union seized the Mississippi River in 1863, Texans drove cattle into the Confederacy for the use of the Confederate Army. In October, 1862 a Union naval patrol on the southern Mississippi River captured 1,500 head of Longhorns which had been destined for Confederate military posts in Louisiana. The permanent loss of the main cattle supply after 1863 was a serious blow to the Confederate Army.

However, in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, Philip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicagomarker 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 Texasmarker, to be herded long distances to market.

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 Sedalia, Missourimarker. However, farmers in eastern Kansasmarker, afraid that transient animals would trample crops and transmit cattle fever to local cattle, formed groups that threatened to beat or shoot cattlemen found on their lands. Therefore, the 1866 drive failed to reach the railroad and the cattle herds were sold for low prices. By the next year, a cattle shipping facility was built west of farm country around the railhead at Abilene, Kansasmarker, and became a center of cattle shipping, loading over 36,000 head of cattle in its first year. The route from Texas to Abilene became known as the Chisholm Trail, named for Jesse Chisholm who marked out the route. It ran through present-day Oklahomamarker, 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 Citymarker and Wichita, Kansasmarker. By 1877, the largest of the cattle-shipping boom towns, Dodge City, Kansas, shipped out 500,000 head of cattle.

At the close of the war Texas had probably five million cattle--but no market. Late in 1865 a few cowmen tried to find a market,, and in 1866 there were many drives northward without a definite destination and without much financial success. Cattle were also driven to the old but limited New Orleansmarker market, following mostly well-established trails to the wharves of Shreveportmarker and Jefferson, Texasmarker. In 1868, David Morrill Poor, a former Confederate officer from San Antonio, drove 1,100 cattle from east of San Angelo into Mexico over the Chihuahua Trail. This event, the "Great Chihuahua Cattle Drive," was the largest cattle drive attempted over that trail up to that time, but the market was much better in Kansas than in Mexico, so most drives headed north.

In 1867 Joseph G. McCoy opened a regular market at Abilene, Kansasmarker. The great cattle trails, moving successively westward, were established and trail driving boomed. In 1867 the Goodnight-Loving Trail opened up New Mexico and Colorado to Texas cattle. By the tens of thousands cattle were soon driven into Arizona. In Texas itself cattle raising expanded rapidly as American tastes shifted from pork to beef. Caldwell, Dodge City, Ogallala, Cheyenne, and other towns became famous because of trail-driver patronage.

Chisholm Trail

The railhead of Abilene, Kansas (1883).
Chisholm Trail was the most important route for cattle drives leading north from the vicinity of Ft. Worth, Texas, across Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to the railhead at Abilene. It was about 220 miles long and generally followed the line of the ninety-eighth meridian, but never had an exact location, as different drives took somewhat different paths.

The typical drive comprised 1,500-2,500 head of cattle. The typical outfit consisted of a boss, (perhaps the owner), from ten to fifteen hands, each of whom had a string of from five to ten horses; a horse wrangler who handled the horses; and a cook, who drove the chuck wagon. The wagon carried the bedrolls; tents were considered excess luxury. The men drove and grazed the cattle most of the day, herding them by relays at night. Ten or twelve miles was considered a good day's drive, as the cattle had to thrive on the route. They ate grass; the men had bread, meat, beans with bacon, and coffee. Wages were about $40 a month, paid when the herd were sold.

The Chisholm Trail decreased in importance after 1871 when, as a result of the westward advance of settlement, Abilene lost its preeminence as a shipping point for Texas cattle. Dodge City, Kansasmarker became the chief shipping point for another trail farther west, crossing the Red Rivermarker near Doan's Store, Texas. The extension of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to Caldwell, Kansasmarker, in 1880, however, again made the Chisholm Trail a most important route for driving Texas cattle to the North, and it retained this position until the building of additional trunk lines of railway south into Texas caused rail shipments to take the place of the former trail driving of Texas cattle north to market.

Cow towns

Cow towns flourished between 1866 and 1890 as railroads reached towns suitable for gathering and shipping cattle. The first was Abilene, Kansasmarker. Other towns in Kansasmarker, including Wichita and Dodge Citymarker--succeeded Abilene or shared its patronage by riders fresh off the long trail. In the 1880s Dodge City boasted of being the "cowboy capital of the world." Communities in other states, including Ogallala, Nebraskamarker; Cheyenne, Wyomingmarker; Miles City, Montanamarker; and Medora, North Dakotamarker, served the trade as well. Amarillomarker, Fort Worthmarker, and Wichita Fallsmarker, all in Texasmarker; Prescott, Arizonamarker, Greeley, Coloradomarker, and Las Vegas, New Mexicomarker were regionally important.

The most famous cow towns like Abilene were railheads, where the herds were shipped to the Chicago stockyards. Many smaller towns along the way supported range lands. Many of the cow towns were enlivened by buffalo hunters, railroad construction gangs, and freighting outfits during their heyday. Cattle owners made these towns headquarters for buying and selling.

Cowboys, after months of monotonous work, dull food, and abstinence of all kinds, were paid off and turned loose. They howled, got shaved and shorn, bought new clothes and gear. They drank "white mule" straight. Madames and gambling-hall operators flourished in towns that were wide open twenty-four hours a day. Violence and ebullient spirits called forth a kind of "peace officer" that cow towns made famous--the town marshal. Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp were perhaps the two best-known cow-town marshals. The number of killings was, however, small by the standards of eastern cities.

End of the line

Introduction of barbed wire fences began closure of the open range.
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. However, continued overgrazing, combined with drought and the exceptionally severe winter of 1886-87 wiped out much of the open-range cattle business in Montana and the upper Great Plains. Following these events, ranchers began to use barbed wire to enclose their ranches and protect their own grazing lands from intrusions by others' animals.

In the 1890s herds were still occasionally driven from the Panhandle of Texas to Montana. However, railroads had expanded to cover most of the nation, and meat packing plants were built closer to major ranching areas, making long cattle drives to the railheads unnecessary. Hence, the age of the open range was gone and the era of large cattle drives were over.

Modern cattle drives

Modern day cattle drive, 1987

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. Because of the significance of the cattle drive in American history, some working ranches have turned their seasonal drives into tourist events, inviting guests in a manner akin to a guest ranch to participate in moving the cattle from one feeding ground to the next. 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.

Events intended to promote the western lifestyle may incorporate cattle drives. For example the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive of 1989 celebrated the state of Montana's centennial and raised money for a college scholarship fund as 2,400 people (including some working cowboys), 200 wagons and 2,800 cattle traveled 50 miles in six days from Roundup to Billings along a major highway. Similar drives have been sponsored since that time.

Cowboy culture

Theodore Roosevelt (shown on horseback,1898) helped popularize the image of the American cowboy through his writings.

The cowboy's distinctive working gear, most of it derived from the Mexican vaquero, captured the public image. High-crownedcowboy hat, high-heeled boots, leather chaps, pistol, lariat, and spurs were functional and necessary in the field, and fascinating on the movie screen. Increasingly the public identified the cowboy with courage and devotion to duty, for he tended cattle wherever he had to go, whether in bogs of quicksand; swift, flooding rivers; or seemingly inaccessible brush. He rode with lightning and blizzard, ate hot summer sand, and was burned by the sun. Theodore Roosevelt conceptualized the herder as a stage of civilization distinct from the sedentary farmer--a classic theme well expressed in the 1944 film "Oklahoma!" Roosevelt argued that the manhood typified by the cowboy--and outdoor activity and sports generally--was essential if American men were to avoid the softness and rot produced by an easy lifer in the city. The cow towns along the trail were notorious for providing liquor to the cowboys; they usually were not allowed to drink on the trail itself.

Image and memory

A monument to the cattle drive era in Dodge City, Kansas

During three decades it had moved over ten million cattle and one million range horses, stamped the entire West with its character, given economic and personality prestige to Texas, made the longhorn historic, glorified the cowboy over the globe, and endowed America with its most romantic tradition relating to any occupation.

The best known writers of the era include Theodore Roosevelt, who spent much of his inheritance ranching in the Dakotas in the 1880s, Will Rogers, the leading humorist of the 1920s, and Indiana-born Andy Adams (1859-1935), who spent the 1880s and 1890s in the cattle industry and mining in the Great Plains and Southwest. When an 1898 play's portrayal of Texans outraged Adams, he started writing plays, short stories, and novels drawn from his own experiences. His The Log of a Cowboy (1903) became a classic novel about the cattle business, especially the cattle drive. It described a fictional drive of the Circle Dot herd from Texas to Montana in 1882, and became a leading source on cowboy life; historians retraced his path in the 1960s, confirming his basic accuracy. His writing is acclaimed and criticized for both its fidelity to truth and lack of literary qualities.

Cattle drives on television and film

Cattle drives were a major plot element of many Hollywood films, particularly during the era when westerns were popular. One of the most famous movies is Red River (1948) directed by Howard Hawks, and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Like many such films, Red River tended to exaggerate the dangers and disasters of cattle driving. The 1980s miniseries Lonesome Dove centers on an extraordinarily long cattle drive from South Texas to Montana that suffers many casualties and deaths.

See also


  1. Malone, pp. 46-47
  2. Malone, p. 52
  3. Malone, pp. 48-50
  4. Donald E. Worcester, "Longhorn cattle," Handbook of Texas Online (2008)
  5. Chuck Veit, "The Great Navy Cattle Drive of '62." Naval History 2006 20(3): 24-31. ISSN: 1042-1920 Fulltext: Ebsco
  6. Malone, p. 6
  7. Malone, p. 38-39
  8. Malone, p 40
  9. Malone, p. 42
  10. Malone, p. 70
  11. Douglas N. Travers, "The Great Chihuahua Cattle Drive of 1868." Journal of Big Bend Studies 2001 13: 85-105. ISSN: 1058-4617
  12. Robert R. Dykstra, The Cattle Towns (1968)
  13. Malone, p. 76
  14. Malone, p. 79
  15. See "A historic load of bull," TimeSept. 18, 1989 online
  16. Raymond B. Wrabley, Jr., "Drunk Driving or Dry Run? Cowboys and Alcohol on the Cattle Trail." Kansas History 2007 30(1): 36-51. ISSN: 0149-9114 in Ebsco
  17. See The Log of a Cowboy (1903) full text


  • Allmendinger, Blake. The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture. (1992). 213 pp.
  • Alonzo, Armando C. Tejano Legacy: Rancheros and Settlers in South Texas, 1734-1900 (1998) online edition
  • Atherton, Lewis E. The Cattle Kings (1961), influential interpretive study
  • Carlson, Paul H., ed. The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture. (2000). 236 pp. online edition
  • Clayton, Lawrence; Hoy, Jim; and Underwood, Jerald. Vaqueros, Cowboys, and Buckaroos. (2001) 274 pp.
  • Dale E. E. The Range Cattle Industry (1930)
  • Dary, David. Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries. (1981). 336 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Denton, Ivan. Old Brands and Lost Trails: Arkansas and the Great Cattle Drives. (1992). 261 pp.
  • Dobie, J. Frank Cow People (1964) excerpt and text search
  • Draper, Robert. "21st -Century Cowboys: Why the Spirit Endures." National Geographic, December 2007, pp. 114-135
  • Dykstra Robert R. Cattle Towns: A Social History of the Kansas Cattle Trading Centers (1968), classic new social history
  • Evans, Simon; Carter, Sarah; and Yeo, Bill, eds. Cowboys, Ranchers, and the Cattle Business: Cross-Border Perspectives on Ranching History. (2000). 232 pp.
  • Gard, Wayne. The Chisholm Trail (1969), the standard scholarly history
  • Iverson, Peter. When Indians Became Cowboys: Native Peoples and Cattle Ranching in the American West (1997) excerpt and text search
  • Jordan, Terry. Trails to Texas: Southern Roots of Western Cattle Ranching (1981)
  • Jordan, Terry. North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers: Origins, Diffusion, and Differentiation (1993) online edition
  • 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 0295971290, ISBN 978-0295971292
  • Massey, Sara R. Texas Women on the Cattle Trails (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Massey, Sara R., ed. Black Cowboys of Texas. (2000). 361 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Osgood, E. S. The Day of the Cattleman. (1929) excerpt and text search
  • Ridings, S.P. Chisholm Trail (1936)
  • Rollins, Philip Ashton. The Cowboy: An Unconventional History of Civilization on the Old-Time Cattle Range. (1922, reprint 1997). 402 pp.
  • Rossel, John. "The Chisholm Trail," Kansas Historical Quarterly (1936) Vol. 5, No. 1 pp 3-14 online edition
  • Skaggs, Jimmy. The Cattle Trailing Industry: Between Supply and Demand, 1866-1890 (1973), pathbreaking economic study
  • Slatta, Richard W. Comparing Cowboys and Frontiers. (1997). 320 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Slatta, Richard W. Cowboys of the Americas. (1990). 306 pp.
  • Vernam, Glenn R. Man on Horseback New York: Harper & Row 1964
  • Webb, Walter P. The Great Plains (1931)

  • Carlson, Paul Howard, ed. The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Corkin, Stanley. Cowboys as Cold Warriors: The Western and U.S. History. (2004). 273 pp.
    • * Corkin, Stanley. "Cowboys and Free Markets: Post-World War II Westerns and U.S. Hegemony," Cinema Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Spring, 2000), pp. 66-91, focus on Howard Hawks's "Red River" (a cattle drive) and John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" (on Tombstone); in JSTOR
  • Dippie, Brian W., ed. Charlie Russell Roundup: Essays on America's Favorite Cowboy Artist. (1999). 328 pp.
  • Dykstra, Robert R., and Jo Ann Manfra. "The Circle Dot Cowboys at Dodge City: History and Imagination in Andy Adams's The Log of a Cowboy," Western Historical Quarterly 33 (2002): 19-40,
  • Frantz, Joe B., and Julian E. Choate. The American Cowboy, The Myth and the Reality ( 1955)
  • Savage, William W., Jr. The Cowboy Hero: His Image in American History and Culture. (1979). 179 pp.
  • Smith, Andrew Brodie. Shooting Cowboys and Indians: Silent Western Films, American Culture, and the Birth of Hollywood. (2003). 230 pp.
  • Tompkins, Jane. West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns. (1992). 245 pp.
  • Walker, Don D. Clio's Cowboys: Studies in the Historiography of the Cattle Trade. (1981). 210 pp.

  • Adams, Andy. The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days (1903) full text online
  • Cattle Raisers Association of Texas. History of the Cattlemen of Texas. (1914, reprint 1991). 350 pp.
  • Collins, Hubert E. Storm and Stampede on the Chisholm (1928, reprint 1998) online edition
  • Hawks, Howard, director. Red River (1948), influential Hollywood film starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift
  • Keese, G. Pomeroy. "Beef," Harper's new monthly magazine. July 1884 vol. 69, Issue 410 pp. 292-302 online, strong on economic themes
  • Lanning, Jim and Lanning, Judy, eds. Texas Cowboys: Memories of the Early Days. (1984). 233 pp.
  • Logsdon, Guy, ed. "The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing" and Other Songs Cowboys Sing. (1989). 388 pp.
  • McCoy, Joseph G. Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest (1874, reprint 1940). McCoy opened the first railhead to large shipments of Texas cattle in 1867.
  • Saunders, George W. et al. The Trail Drivers of Texas, ed. by J. Marvin Hunter (1925, reprint 1985), by far the most valuable source for individual experiences on the long drives. excerpts and text search
  • Stanley, David and Thatcher, Elaine, eds. Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry. (2000) 392 pp.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address