Heritage, Spring 2003 Page: 13
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[ " Trail Bo!
Graphic by the Texas Historical Commission
Herds of cattle were driven in formations like the one above. Cowhands rotated
positions, while the trail boss scouted for water and pasture ahead of the herd.
their "hot sacks" or blankets and loaded them into the supply
wagons to be transported to the next campsite, some ten
or 15 miles away. As the cowboys saddled their horses and
prepared for another day's work, the cook would lead the
wagons north, searching for the next spot of ground to call
home. Behind him, a mile or so off, the wranglers would urge
the remuda along. Once the cattle were roused and milling,
the waddies would string the herd out into several bunches
until they became a slow moving column of animals. To
guide them, two or more hands would ride ahead of the herd
on "point," along either side on "flank," or behind on "drag,"
the least desired position due to the dust and smell churned
up by several thousand cattle. The "swing" rider would ride
alongside a herd to turn it in the right direction.
Despite the image that surrounds the cowboy, little of this
work was glamorous. Most days were boring, with hours on
end being spent on horses under a bright, hot sky while the
herd plodded along at a snail's pace, chewing up the prairie
grass as they grazed their way to market, six to 12 weeks away.
Night guard was a necessity, and the hands took turns staying
mounted out among the sleeping cattle as the clear prairie
nights drifted by. Even the longhorns were rather coarse.
Unlike the sleek, fat animals of eastern farms, these Texas
range cattle were bony, gangly, and seemed out of proportion.
Their hides were scarred and mottled. Even so, they were a
hardy if unlovely breed that not only stood the rigors of the
trail, but actually thrived and gained weight as they walked
their way to the railheads.
Occasionally, extreme terror punctuated this boredom.
Thunderstorms would stampede the cattle, or lightening
might kill man and beast. Rivers could be swollen from rains
or dry from drought. Hooves and horns were always potential
killers, and the half-wild longhorns could be unpredictable.
Even a simple fall from a horse could prove fatal. There were
also dangers from men. Indians, in their waning days as lords
of the South Plains, might make forays against horse and cattle
herds. At the occasional "cow towns" like Fort Worth or
"hell towns" such as Fort Griffin, that lined the route, gamblers,
working women, and common bandits were ever eager
to separate a cowboy from his money, his equipment, or even
his life. Pistols, useful tools in directing and protecting herds,
might become instruments of death in the hands of careless
As the era of the cattle drive advanced, more and more settlements
in Kansas enticed Texas herds to their pens. As railroads
pushed further onto the prairies, these villages
leapfrogged west, each hoping to be the next boomtown.
This, coupled with the advance of farmers along the old traditional
routes, caused the cattle trails from South Texas to
gradually drift west as well. In 1874, John Lytle gathered
together several smaller herds from ranches near Kerrville
and headed them north to Dodge City. The threat of Indians
and the presence of large, disruptive buffalo herds along the
way caused few to follow his example. By 1876, the Kiowa
and Comanches had surrendered after the Red River War,
and hunters rapidly annihilated the buffalo, leading the bulk
of cattle traffic to move over to Lytle's Western, or Dodge
City, trail. By 1885, nearly 6 million beeves had headed for
America's heartland by following this trail. Those not destined
for the dinner table were pushed on beyond Kansas to
start new stock herds in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Colorado,
Wyoming, and Montana.
Even so, the end was near. Texas fever scares reemerged,
and a blizzard of quarantines and regulations followed.
HERITAGE SPRING 2003
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Spring 2003, periodical, Spring 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45378/m1/13/?q=contract%20drovers%20cattle: accessed November 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.