Cattle Ranges of the Southwest Page: 7 of 32
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back, not only on the bottom lands, but also in places on the drier
uplalds. At that time there is little doubt that the ranges would lave
supported 300 liead of cattle to the square mile. It was an ideal stock
country. There was plenty of water, and the " nester," the man with
the hoe, had not yet put in his appearance to dispute with the cattlemen
the right and title to these boundless meadows. There were a Iew
sheepmen scattered here and there along the drier uplands, wlhere
there was a shorter and richer growth of herbage. They were so few
that they were tolerated by the cattlemen just because there was such
a plethoric abulidance of grass and water. True, the sheepmnan and
the nester had just as good a legal right to the land, but then in Texas,
as in other lan1ds and other times, might was right, and the cattlemen
ruled until organized law came in and took possession. So there was
much talk of ownership of grass and water, or " range rights," although
in point of fact there was probably not a single ranchman in the whole
region who had legal title to an acre of the property so claimed.
Now, at the end of thirty years, almost every condition has changed.
The carrying capacity of the range has steadily decreased until it is an
exceptional property that can carry 1 head of stock to 5 acres. It is
claimed that that was the common average rate ten years ago. To-day
it requires at least 10 acres per head, and it is often considered not the
best policy to put on mnre than 50 cows to the section of 640 acres.
In the early days there was such an abundance of grasses of so great
variety that no one took time to note how many there were or which
were the most valuable. There was more than enougli to support
every head of stock that could be crowded on the range. They were
strictly first-class; stock fattened and kept fat on them, so what was
the use of figuring on the varieties.
The idea that any of these grasses would ever become extinct, or
that this golden period of fatness and plenty would come to an end,
never entered the min(s of those who were reaping the harvest. The
experience of most of the stockmen of the Southwest has been alike.
They have seen the range that originally might possibly have supported
500 cows to every 640 acres decrease in capacity to maintain stock
until 10 to 12 acres to the cow is not an exceptional case, but the general
rule. The reasons for these changes are not difficult to discover.
WHY THE CAPACITY OF THE RANGES HAS DECREASED.
Free grass.-The pioneer stockmian in the section thought he had
"struck it rich," as he had, and that there was not a sufficient number
of cows in Texas to eat all the grass he saw growing in what is now
called the Abilene country. There was no one in the country asserting
any special claims to any particular lands. True, all or nearly all
of the land had been located and surveyed, and belonged either to
railroad companies, private individuals, counties, or to some of the
State trust funds. But none of the legal owners were on the ground
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