Heritage, Spring 2003 Page: 11
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By 1866, there were an estimated six
million head of unbranded wild cattle
on the open ranges of Texas. There,
among such a multitude, these beasts
were worth just $2 a head. In the north,
where wartime needs had depleted the
livestock herds, hungry buyers offered
up to $40 a head.
these beasts were worth just $2 a head. In the north,
where wartime needs had depleted the livestock herds,
hungry buyers offered up to $40 a head. That year,
eager Texans, back from their battles and in need of
ready cash, drove more than 260,000 head up the
Shawnee Trail to railheads in Missouri or across
Louisiana to river landings. The danger from angry
farmers remained, however, and few believed that
trailing cattle to these elusive northern markets would
ever prove practical.
Two cattle driving pioneers, Oliver Loving and
Charles Goodnight, smelled a profit out west, and
drove their herds from near Fort Belknap, along the
old Butterfield Overland Mail Route toward the Pecos
River, then north to U.S. forts in New Mexico and the
gold camps of Colorado. Thus, another new cattle trail
had been opened in Texas, but the route was rugged
and dangerous. On one trip along that trail,
Comanches wounded Loving, who later died of blood
poisoning. Only the boldest stockmen would dare it.
The following year, the age of cattle drives exploded
onto the American scene and created the enduring
image of the dashing young cowboy driving cattle on
the open range. A Midwestern entrepreneur, Joseph
G. McCoy, set up stock pens in a tiny community in Kansas
known as Abilene, surrounded by a sea of grass and alongside
a railroad that led back east. He was here to stake his fortune
by luring Texas cattle up the virtually uninhabited southern
Great Plains to his pens where the beeves could be shipped
to slaughterhouses in Chicago. His subsequent promotion
efforts and publications created a frenzy of interest in Texas.
At the end of 1867, 35,000 Texas longhorns had arrived at
Abilene. By 1873, 1.5 million had made the trip there or to
the rival stock pens at Wichita and Ellsworth. The path they
followed, known as the Chisholm Trail, would become
another important beef road out of Texas.
Hired drovers, not the herd owners, were usually the hands
that drove one out of ten of the Texas herds up the trail. The
cattle raisers usually remained home tending their breeding
stock while trailing outfits, charged $1 to $1.50 a head to get
Barbed wire helped protect stock, but effectively ended the
days of the cattle trails. Photo by TxDOT.
the animals safely to the pens, and return to the sponsoring
ranch with the profits. Composed mostly of young men,
many of whom had been hardened to outdoor living by service
in the Confederate army, these drovers often acquired
cattle of their own and started such operations as the Cross
Ell Ranch. The most famous of these contract cow handlers
included John T. Lytle, John and William Blocker, George
Littlefield, Ike Pryor, Moses Coggin, Eugene Millett, William
Jennings, as well as Charles Goodnight and his AfricanAmerican
top hand, Bose Ikard. Their success in business
relied upon their ability to handle a sizable herd over long
distances, sell for a good price, and do it all with the least
amount of hands.
A typical outfit would be composed of up to a dozen
HERITA GE SPRING 2003
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Spring 2003, periodical, Spring 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45378/m1/11/?q=contract%20drovers%20cattle&rotate=90: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.