Cattle Drives

What is a Cattle Drive?

A cattle drive is an event that takes place over the course of a few months (usually starting in the spring, so there was fresh grass for the cattle to eat) in which cowboys (sometimes called Vaqueros in Spanish-Speaking areas) moved herds of cattle on the open range long distances to make money off of selling them for much more in states like Kansas.

What is open range?

Open range is unfenced land on which cattle could roam freely. It still exists today in some states.

Why did cowboys want to take cattle to other places?

A cow driven all the way to Kansas could be worth three or four times more than in Texas. Cowboys sold cattle in cow towns, or small towns by railroad terminals. The cows could be shipped by train, which is why they usually built near the terminals. Cowboys usually made 25 to 30 dollars a month, plus food for their efforts, although the more famous ones might earn 50 dollars. Beef was in very high demand, and cow hides could fetch a fair amount, too, so it was a very profitable business. In fact, some people in other countries invested in the cattle market from overseas. However, not many cowboys made Cattle Drives their life work, as the job was very dangerous and physically demanding as well. Most cowboys were young, in their mid to early twenties, and in their physical prime

What made Cattle Drives so difficult?

Although rewarding, Cattle Drives could be hard. Rustlers with fast horses could steal as many as two hundred cows at once. Native Americans occasionally would attack, but mostly to defend. Storms were another huge issue, because they could cause the cattle to stampede. At night or when the clouds were very dark, a storm could be incredibly dangerous, because cowboys couldn't see to direct the cattle. Anyone who was trampled in a stampede had a very low chance of survival. When riding at night, horses could get their hooves stuck in prairie dog holes and fall. They could also fall off a sharp drop. Rivers were sometimes a struggle, because all the cows had to be moved across very carefully. Sometimes, the cows got diseases from ticks, like Texas Fever.

What trails did they use?

The Goodnight-Loving Trail and the Chisholm Trail were the most famous and most widely used trails. The Chisholm trail, created by Jesse Chisholm, went from the Rio Grande (the river that marked the Mexican-American border) to Abilene, Kansas. It stopped being used as often when railroads were built closer to the border. The Goodnight-Loving trail was created by Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. It went the long way from Denver to Texas, but avoided the Native Americans that frequently caused issues for travelers in that area.

How serious were people about the cattle business?

Extremely serious. The Wyoming Stock Growers, during an event called the Johnson County war, hired gunmen that would shoot anyone supposedly "stealing" their cattle. One of the largest problems for those who owned lots of cattle were sheep. Sheep eat grass down to the stubs, and cows cannot graze on stubs. This caused fighting to break out over grazing areas. Open range made the issues even more difficult to resolve.


Created with images by edbo23 - "cow pretty farm" • Julie-Kolibrie - "cow tyrol alm" • Alois_Wonaschuetz - "clouds summer storm" • mrbill78636 - "CONSTABLE POGUE IN HOT PURSUIT ..."

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