Southwestern Historical Quarterly
North American Cattle Ranching Frontiers. By Terry G. Jordan. (Albuquerque: Uni-
versity of New Mexico Press, 1993. Pp. xi+439. Foreword, preface, bibliogra-
phy, index. ISBN o-82631-422-8. $17.95.)
This is a complex book. Armed with the specialized skills of a cultural geogra-
pher, Terry Jordan has revisited one of the most romanticized topics in the
American West and produced an enlightening reinterpretation of cattle ranch-
ing in North America. He presents a compelling narrative to show that today's
ranching industry evolved from at least three cultural sources, rather than one
dominant one, and replicated itself in three distinct regions in what is now the
Jordan readily admits the influence that Iberian cattle had on the new world.
However, he rebuts arguments that this was the only source and writes instead
that "This traditional view is oversimplified and disregards important regional
contrasts in ... ecosystems and related herding practices" (p. 19). Diversity exist-
ed even within Spain, where two major cattle herding practices (the upland
Meseta and the Andalusian coastal plain) existed simultaneously. Beyond that
peninsula, he identifies additional practices, originated by nomadic drovers fol-
lowing their herds out of Asia, in the Scottish highlands on the British Isles and
in the tropical grasslands of West Africa. Each of these regions developed these
practices over the centuries.
The "New World" represented an extension of the Asian migration, although
in this instance cattle were brought to the Americas through a distinct national
policy, not simply through a chance encounter. From the West Indies, where
some modifications of herding practices were made, cattle moved to the main-
land. In North America, British practices dominated the Atlantic seaboard north
of the Carolinas and eventually spread into the Ohio Valley and the Midwest.
Spanish herders dominated Texas and California, with the latter having the
greatest Hispanic influence. West Africa's contribution, according to Jordan, "re-
mains unclear and enigmatic" (p. 311), but on the basis of his research, there
was no "meaningful African influence in the cultures and adaptive systems of the
various American cattle frontiers" (p. 312). Moreover, he writes that "claims that
Africans shaped ... [the] American cattle industry and that the Texas cowboy is
indebted to the Negro for his culture are exaggerated" (p. 55).
While North America is included in the title, most attention is focused on the
continental United States and more specifically on three regions: Texas, Califor-
nia, and the "Mid-West." The latter, reflecting British rather than Spanish prac-
tices, was more a cultural than geographical region. It "triumphed" over the
others by offering "a different technique for cattle raising [and] spread . ..
across the continent" (p. 267). This "technique" was primarily greater attention
to the welfare and quality of the livestock.
This is a superb study of an important resource in Western history. But its val-
ue is greatly enhanced by the interdisciplinary methodology Jordan uses in inter-
grating the social sciences and humanities. He utilizes geography's "Five
Themes" as a model to show not only place and location, but also describes the
migration of people and animals from the old world to the new and the hu-
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 April 18, 2015.