The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993 Page: 458
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
other went on horseback; one carried his law in books, the other carried
it strapped round his waist."' Webb was wrong, however. With few excep-
tions, the laws in the West were, and are, the same as those in 'the East,
and the nineteenth-century cowboy was no more lawful or unlawful than
his Eastern counterpart; nor, for that matter, was the Eastern stock
farmer totally unfamiliar with the use of horses to herd cattle, as Webb
would have us believe.
Another prominent historian to look in passing at cattle ranching in
the American West was Frederick Jackson Turner, progenitor of the
"frontier thesis." For Turner, cattle ranching was one of a series of activi-
ties that appeared on each American frontier, and then disappeared
when the frontier moved on. Turner, especially in his study of the "Old
West" at the end of the seventeenth century, implies that cattle ranch-
ing, with all its attendant characteristics, including cattle law, is a prod-
uct created and shaped by the American frontier.3 But this is clearly not
the case. American fencing and estray laws of the seventeenth, eigh-
teenth, and nineteenth centuries, for example, were no more a product
of the Western frontier than they were of the colonial frontier. They
were copies or modifications of the then contemporaneous English laws,
which had themselves evolved from laws brought to England by German-
Before going on, I must mention my own views when I began this
study. I assumed, from reading Myres, Webb, Turner, and others, that
Western cattle law was greatly influenced by the legal traditions of Spain
and Mexico. Indeed, this was why I chose to examine this topic. In my
Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1931), 2o6 (2nd quotation),
20o6-207 (1st quotation).
s Frederick Jackson Turner, 'The Old West," Proceedings of the State Hstorical Society of Wisconsin
Turner's thesis was greatly popularized in recent years by the late Ray Allen Billington. In the
latest edition of his popular textbook, Westward Expansion, Billington and co-author Martin Ridge
As ever-present on successive frontiers as the fur trappers were the cattlemen. Early Boston had its cattle fron-
tier in the Charles River Valley; early Virginia boasted cowpens among the canebrakes and peavine marshes that
fringed the farming regions a few miles from the coast. As farms advanced westward the cattle frontier steadily
retreated, into the Piedmont and Great Valley of the Appalachians, across the mountains to the rich valleys of
Ohio or the grassblanketed prairies of Illinois, southward to the piney woods of Mississippi where, mounted on
"low built, shaggy, but muscular and hardy horses of that region, and armed with rawhide whips and some-
times with a catching rope or lasso ... they scour the woods ... sometimes driving a herd of a thousand heads
to the pen " Ranchers led farmers into the trans-Mississippi West, there to build their cattle kingdom on the
gargantuan grassland of the Great Plains before succumbing once more to pressure from farmers and retiring
to the fenced pastures of today.
Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier (5th
ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1982), 4.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993, periodical, 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/m1/528/: accessed November 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.