THE SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
VOL. LI JULY, 1947 No. 1
Zhe tufcc- 6tters
They say that heaven is a free range land-
Good-bye, good-bye, O fare you well-
But it's barbed wire for the devil's hat band
And barbed-wire blankets down in hell.
-Edwin Ford Piper'
DROUTH hit the Texas cow country a staggering blow in the
summer of 1883. Skies were empty except for the blazing
sun that parched and cracked the earth. Dust hovered
over the plains and settled on what was left of the brown, shrunk-
en grass. From the coals of careless campers or the sparks of loco-
motives, fires raced over many of the pastures, leaving only
charred, blackened turf. When even the stubble was gone, the
cattle browsed on chaparral, munched prickly pear, and chewed
the charred blooms of Spanish dagger.
Still worse than the lack of enough grass was the scarcity of
water. Creeks that had served vast herds were so dry that a
crawfish could not wet his whiskers. Settlers on the upper
reaches of the Brazos and the Colorado said they never had seen
those rivers so low.2 In some streams the trickle that still flowed
was so salty that cattle refused to drink it. Water holes that had
lasted through other hot summers dried up. Some cattle that
waded into the mud to suck up the ooze and green scum sank
into the mire and suffocated.
Leathery longhorns, toughened to hardship and scant fare,
were crazed by thirst. They rolled their tongues in agony and
bawled for water. Day by day their moaning became weaker.
Their bodies thinned, and their eyes became more sunken. From
'Edwin Ford Piper, Barbed Wire and Wayfarers (New York, 19gs4), 2.
2Albany Echo, September 1, 1888.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 51, July 1947 - April, 1948. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101119/. Accessed January 30, 2015.