Southwestern Historical Quarterly
to be hoped that future studies on this topic may be undertaken from a more in-
tellectually impartial vantage point than is represented by Indian Population De-
Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture PATRICK FOLEY
When Indians Became Cowboys: Native Peoples and Cattle Ranching in the American
West. By Peter Iverson. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Pp.
xxi+266. Preface, acknowledgments, notes, index. ISBN o-8o611-867-9.
Here is a scholarly, thoroughly researched book on American Indian cattle
ranching on the Great Plains and in the Southwest. A valuable study, it carries
the history of Indian ranching from the time when cattle first entered the Ameri-
cas to the present, but as it should be the bulk of the work focuses on the period
after the Civil War. Not surprisingly, Iverson pays more attention to Indian cat-
tlemen (the employers) than to Indian cowboys (the employees).
American Indians were raising cattle on the Great Plains and in the Southwest
as early as their white counterparts. Some Indian cowboys went on trail drives, a
few herded cattle on horseback on white-owned ranches, and others adopted
livestock on their own reservation ranges where many of them became cattle-
After the 1887 Dawes Act provided for white occupation of reservation lands,
a larger number of American Indians took jobs as cowboys on white ranches.
Others continued to raise livestock on their own spreads and hired Indian
neighbors to tend cattle and to help during busy seasons.
In most respects, Indian cattle ranching mirrored white cattle ranching, in-
cluding roundup, branding, and castrating activities. Iverson argues that Indian
and white ranchers have far more similarities than differences. They dress alike,
often talk alike, and endure the same criticisms of an urban society that thinks
there are too many cattle in the West. They both tend to overgraze the land they
lease while protecting their own pastures from such environmental ills. Indian
people held (and continue to hold) rodeos and other contests associated with
cattle raising and cowboying, with some American Indians becoming highly
skilled performers. The events are popular and attract large, enthusiastic crowds.
Unfortunately, Indian cattlemen, at least in the early periods, did not receive the
same price for their cattle as did their white neighbors.
Iverson, a careful student of Native American history, has produced a clearly
written, if occasiaonally cutesy, study that emphasizes federal, reservation, and
Bureau of Indian Affairs policies as they relate to livestock raising among Ameri-
can Indians in the West. Although government policy often discouraged Indian
cattle raising in favor of farming, Indian cattlemen persevered, and today their
ranches produce some of the finest beef cattle and best cowboys in America.
Texas Tech University
PAUL H. CARLSON
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed February 27, 2015.