The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 67, July 1963 - April, 1964 Page: 398
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398 Southwestern Historical Quarterly
One of these was Michael H. Erskine, who fortunately left a
detailed and faithfully kept journal of his trip in 1854.3 Unlike
other accounts, and distinctly contrary to the widely held ideas
of cattle drives, Erskine made the trip with surprisingly little
difficulty. Most conspicuous by their absence are hair-raising tales
of Indian raids and pathetic accounts of the devastating conse-
quences of the lack of water. As the diary notes, other herds trav-
eling west at about the same time had disastrous experiences of
one or the other kind. But not these drovers, who repeatedly
found puddles of standing water from recent rains and often
complained of storms, drizzles, and rainfall hindering their
progress. They were also fortunate in escaping large losses result-
ing from the eating of poisonous plants by the cattle.
The journal is more consistent with the popular image of trail
experiences in many other details of the trip. The cattle were far
more prone to stampede early in the drive than after they had
become trail-broken. The familiar accounts of sleepy guards allow-
ing cattle and horses to stray, thunderstorms wreaking havoc in
the camp, Indian signs and false alarms, night drives to avoid
desert heat, doubling up teams while crossing mountains, and
similar episodes, are to be found in the pages of this trail record.
night, they would seek their pallets of blankets and quilts, and gaze into the star-
spangled heavens until sleep claimed their weary bodies." Southern Plainsmen
(Norman, 1938), 42-43. Mari Sandoz concurs in this view and embellishes it
somewhat. "It was not an easy prospect to face, and the trail hands slung rifle
scabbards to their saddles and prepared to fight their way through the Comanche
and Apache country and any trouble beyond. There were, of course, the trails of
the military, the stagecoaches, and emigrants, but all these moved faster than
a trail herd and required much less grass and water. At the best it was a long,
long whooping way to California, with vast stretches fit only for desert camels.
Even the iron-hard hoofs of the Longhorns were worn sore on the stony reaches,
their horns banging in the wild, tangled charges upon shrinking water holes,
perhaps to find only alkali-crusted mud, cracked and stinking. Farther west they
struck the routes of earlier herds from New Mexico and Arizona to the coast and
the Texans made it through, past some flats that were snow-white with the
bleached bones of the mission slaughter, and past the newer bones of meat gone
to feed the hungry gold seekers, the stink of carrion and death still about them.
Now and then a critter or two left the herd to bellow in anger and terror over
the bones, eyes bulging, tongue out, others drawn to join in." The Cattlemen, 44.
3M. H. Erskine, Journals and Other Memda: California-1854, typescript of a
manuscript last reported in the possession of B. H. Erskine, Crystal City, Texas.
The copy from which these excerpts were made is in the possession of the James C.
Erskine family, Claysville, Pennsylvania. Another typescript copy is in the Archives,
University of Texas Library. There are entries for virtually every day in the original.
The following entries are selected but are not altered in spelling, punctuation, or
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 67, July 1963 - April, 1964, periodical, 1964; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101197/m1/460/: accessed November 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.