It was in Florida that much of the protocol involving branding evolved. Yet the cattle industry of the Southeast never attracted national attention. The herders never became heroes.
The cowboy of myth and reality had his beginnings in Texas. There cattle grew wild with few natural enemies; by the end of the Civil War there were an estimated 5 million of them. It was then that the cowboy entered his twenty-year golden age, 1866-1886, the era of the open range and the great cattle drives.
Though there were cowboys both before and after, the golden age of the American cowboy, really started in 1866. The Civil War had just ended, the Union Army had exhausted the supply of beef in the North, and a steer that was worth $4 a head in Texas—where millions ran wild—could bring $40 in the North.
Cowboys played an important role in the settling of the west. Ranching was a big industry and cowboys helped to run the ranches. They herded cattle, repaired fences and buildings, and took care of the horses.