Hazards of Ranching on the South Plains
HAZARDS OF RANCHING ON THE SOUTH PLAINS1
J. A. RICKARD
More than one student of frontier life has told how the cattleman
suffered from the depredations of human enemies in the form of
Indians and cattle thieves. But not many ranches were estab-
lished on the South Plains until after the Civil War, and by that
time the Government had the Indians on reservations, where they
could do little damage. Moreover, Congress strictly enjoined the
officials of the Indian Bureau to keep them there.2 It is true that
cattle "rustlers" operated on the Plains, but the ranchmen organ-
ized the Texas Cattle Raisers Association and waged a vigorous
and successful war on them.8 But there were other enemies; less
spectacular, perhaps, than the human ones, but harder to control
and, in the end, more destructive. These hazards are to be con-
sidered in this paper.
One of the most dreaded of all was the prairie fire, so often the
theme of song and story that its evils doubtless have been exag-
gerated. Nevertheless, prairie fires occurred with astonishing fre-
quency and caused much destruction and loss. Aided by the dry
climate and the high winds that blow on the Plains at almost all
times of the year, these fires came to be one of the ranchman's
worst enemies. They occurred in almost every season of the year,4
and always left a story of suffering. One fire in West Texas and
1The term "South Plains" roughly includes that portion of Texas and
New Mexico which lies above the Cap Rock and south of the 34th parallel.
The material for this paper was taken from a thesis entitled The Cattle
Ranch Industry of the Texas South Plains, written under the supervision
of Prof. Charles W. Ramsdell, of the University of Texas.
2"An Act Making Appropriations for Current and Contingent Expenses of
the Indian Department," United States Statutes at Large, 2 Session, XXI,
Chapters 85, 133. The act forbade the Indians to leave reservations and
provided for dismissal from the service of any official who allowed them
8Hill, J. L., The End of the Cattle Trail, 43, 46-47. Cox, Jas., The Cattle
Industry of Texas and Adjacent Territory, 226-27, 231-32. The Associa-
tion was formed in 1877. C. C. Slaughter, a leading South Plains ranch-
man, was one of the charter members and was second or third president.
'The author examined the files of the Lynn County News and the Borden
Citizen over the periods 1905-08, and learned that the earliest fire reported
after the summer season was September 8, and the latest one in the spring
was March 9. This search included about fifty accounts of fires.
Texas State Historical Association & Barker, Eugene C. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 37, July 1933 - April, 1934. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101094/. Accessed May 6, 2016.