Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trail Drives of the 1800's- Cowboys, Horses, Longhorns, hardships, and stories

Trail Drives of the 1800's-
Cowboys, Horses, Longhorns, hardships, and stories

The trail drives of the 1800s were necessary to move the longhorn cattle from Texas to the north. In Texas a 4 year old longhorn was worth about $3 or $4. Up north, though, the same animal was worth $40. There were no railroads leading to Texas so the cattle had to be driven up on the trail.

The drive took 2 or 3 months from Texas to railroad shipping
points in Kansas. It also took 6 months to drive the cattle to ranches in Wyoming, Montana, or the Dakotas where the cattle would fatten on the rich grasses of the northern plains before being sent to the slaughterhouse.

The Texas longhorns required more men than some of the other tamer breeds. There were 8-20 cowboys to trail a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 cattle. All trail drives included a cook, the trail boss, some even added an assistant called the foreman, and a horse wrangler (generally a young boy).

The trail boss is the man in charge of the outfit and was hired by the owner of the cattle to drive the herd to market. The trail boss had to make sure the longhorns got enough grass and water and did not lose weight during the drive. He decided how far the outfit would travel each day and where it would stop to bed down for the night. He also negotiated with the Indians
and with the white settlers who objected to the herds crossing their land. A trail boss earned about $100 a month.

The horse wrangler was in charge
of the remuda ( from the Spanish word "remudar" meaning to exchange or change). The remuda was a band of saddle ponies. As mentioned above, the horse wrangler usually was the youngest member of the outfit. He was a boy who was old enough to do a man's work. The wrangler handled the 6-8 mounts needed for each cowboy, between 60-70 horses. He drove the horses by day, found a pasture for them at night and rounded them up several times a day so the cowboys could change mounts. The wrangler also worked as the cook's helper and clean up boy. The wrangler earned $25 a month.

The cowboys on the trail drive
s had very specific jobs. The 2 men or "pointers" at the
head of the herd pointed the st
eers in the right direction and set the pace of the drive.

In the middle of the herd were the "swing" and "flank" riders. These cowboys watched the middle of the herd.

The swing and flank
riders rode on either side of the herd and patrolled the line to keep the cattle from wandering too far out from the herd. At the back of the herd was the hardest position- the "drag" riders. These cowboys rode at the end of the line and they caught all the dust from the whole herd. They also kept the slowest of the cattle from straggling to far behind. The trail boss would rotate this position because of all the dust-

" I have seen drag riders come off herd with the dust half an inch deep on their hats and thick as fur
in their eyebrows" said Teddy Blue Abbott

The trail boss would move a herd 12 to 16 miles a day. If the animals were permitted to graze and gain some weight en-route, the pace would be 10 to 12 miles per day. The drive would cost the owner of the herd about $500 per month, so there was no dawdling.

The cowboys would supply their own gear and earned $25 to $40 dollars per month.

There were many dangers on the trail, stampedes, rivers, bad weather, and Indians.

The cowboys feared river crossings because they generally could not swim. Swollen rivers would also delay a herd
for days and result in injured and lost animals.

Stampedes were dangerous to both the cattle, horses and the cowboy. A witness to an Idaho stampede in 1889 reported the grisly details.

"The stampede killed 341-cattle, 2
horses, and 1 cowboy. Several men suffered broken legs. The dead cowboy was literally mangled to sausage meat. His horse was little better."

Another danger was gopher holes. Horses could step into the holes and throw their riders. A foot tangled in a stirrup meant death or injury as the cowboy was dragged across the ground.

Information for this blog cam from the book "Cowboy's of the America's by Richard Slatta and from the book "Cowboys of the Wild West" by Russell Freedman

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