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Cowboys, Cattle Drives, and Chuck Wagons

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Exploring the old west is so fascinating and filled with history. From ghost towns, cowboys, Indians, wagon trains, and settlers.

Cattle Drive

Cattle Drive

Cattle Trails

Cattle Trails

The Major Cattle Trails

Although there were many trails, four of the major ones were the most used.

Western Cattle Trail. First used by Captain John T. Lyle in 1874, herding 3500 longhorns to Nebraska.

Chisholm Cattle Trail. An 800-mile trail created in 1865 by Jessie Chisholm. It began in San Antonio, ending in Abilene, Kansas. This trail was one of the most used, especially in 1871.

Goodnight-Loving Trail. Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving teamed up for their cattle drives. They came up with a path a bit longer but considered safer. In June 1866, they set off for Denver from North Texas, with 2000 cattle following the Pecos River north to Colorado. Unfortunately, they were attacked by Indians in New Mexico, and Loving was mortally wounded. Goodnight made the promise to return his body to his beloved Weatherford, Texas. But first, Goodnight had to finish delivering the cattle. He temporarily buried his friend, and on his return, he had his crew gather all the oil cans they could and solder them together. After making a tin casket and covering it with charcoal, sealing the lid, they delivered it to his grave in Weatherford Greenwood Cemetery. A Texas State Historical Marker is placed alongside his tomb.


Cowboys, Cattle Drives, and Chuck Wagons

After the Civil War, the west was opening up to settlers, and beef was needed to feed the growing population and the Indians on the government reservations. The government was, by treaty, to furnish food, clothing, and lodging for the displaced Indians. Texas had thousands of cattle and worth only about $5-10 in Texas but could command five to twenty times that in San Francisco alone. Some of the ranchers in Texas had contracts to provide cattle to the frontier posts and reservations.

But the ranchers had to herd them north, sometimes thousands of miles, taking months, risking the dangers of the long trip. At times, Indians could be a problem, but even more significant was the river crossing and stampedes. Usually, a trail boss could appease the Indians by offering several cattle for food.

A cattle drive would start in the spring so that grass would be available for the herd traveling and delivered before the cold winters. The most severe hazards along the trails were the river crossings, weather, and especially lightening. Noises could stampede the herd, and often the night, the riders on duty would sing to soothe the herd.

The cook also acted as a doctor along the trip, using such remedies as coal oil for lice, prickly pear police for wounds, and Bachelor's Button for diarrhea.

At the end of the trail, the crew was paid in cash, and after months of riding in a saddle, they spent their money on gambling, women, booze, and new clothing. Of course, sometimes fights broke out, and guns would be drawn, and Dodge City is full of the graves of the men killed in bar fights.


End of The Trail After Getting Paid

End of The Trail After Getting Paid

Trail Chuck Wagon

Trail Chuck Wagon

Dinner Around the Wagon

Dinner Around the Wagon

Set-up of a Chuck wagon

Set-up of a Chuck wagon

The Most Important Part of a Cattle Drive

Ranchers had to figure a way to feed the crew on the long rides north and realized food and coffee were critical for them to have some comforts of home. For a herd of 3000 cattle, a crew of 8-12 men would be required. This included the trail boss, the cook, two lead riders, two flankers, and two rear riders. The trail boss was paid $125. month, the cook, $60. month, the riders $25-40 depending on experience. The riders were usually young men, about 24 years old, and single. And, the worse place was the riders at the back of the herd. Continual dust blowing in their faces making it hard to breathe and see.

Holding a special place was the cook. Also known as "cookie," biscuit shooter, belly cheater, and bean master. But no one ever called him to his face any name buy "cookie." He alone was responsible for all meals and spotting the place to set up his cook wagon. Here is a list of food required for a 1000 mile cattle drive:

  • 300 pounds of salt pork
  • 500 pounds of flour
  • 50 pounds of salt
  • 100 pounds of coffee
  • 50 pounds of baking powder
  • 200 pounds of onions
  • 500 pounds of beans
  • 50 pounds of sourdough starter
  • 500 pounds of potatoes
  • 200 pounds of dried fruit

Occasionally, if passing a farm, the cook would trade a steer for fresh eggs or vegetables.

One of the ranchers, Charles Goodnight, sometimes known as the "Father of the Texas Pandle." He saw the need to simplify the storage to hold the supplies, so he purchased a Studebaker wagon, which was 10 feet long and 40 inches wide. He then fitted the wagon with cabinets, shelves, drawers, and a rain barrel for water fastened on the side. After his wagon was used, Studebaker built and sold similar wagons for $100. Goodnight's wagon can be seen in the Museum of Western Art, 1550 Bandera Hwy., Kerrville, Tx.

Some Facts of Cattle Drives

Today, the largest cattle ranch in Texas is the King Ranch, with 825,000 acres worth about 1.1 billion dollars.

Between 1865 and the mid-1890s, millions of cattle were herded north for-profit and food. Then in 1867, barbed wire was starting to be used to fence the farmer's land. No longer would there be free range to herd the cattle north. The panic of 1873 forced many ranchers into bankruptcy, and railroads were coming closer to the towns and ranchers, and slowly, cattle drives were becoming obsolete.

But what a romantic time the old west was, good and bad.

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on August 19, 2020:

This takes me back to watching westerns in my youth. At one time there was a fascination with the lifestyle and films of the westerns in the UK.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 19, 2020:

MG, thanks for reading. I too loved the Zane Grey series. Appreciate your reading.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 19, 2020:

Thank you so much for reading. Your comments are true to my heart as I love the old west. Thanks again.

Readmikenow on August 19, 2020:

I really enjoyed reading your article. I was remembering the John Wayne move "Cowboys" about the young kids driving the cattle. There is also the movie "City Slickers." I imagine it was a real challenge to complete those cattle drives. It was well-written.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 19, 2020:

I loved your article because I love the period of the wild west. Cant forget the great Zane Grey and his books of gunfighters et all. Thank you for bringing that period alive in your article

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 18, 2020:

Thanks for the visit and I appreciate your comments.

Rosina S Khan on August 17, 2020:

Well-written good article, Fran. I liked reading about Cowboys, Cattle Drives, and Chuck Wagons. But I felt sad knowing many men got killed in bar fights and were laid down in their graves in Dodge City. Thanks for sharing.