Cattle have been raised in Texas from the mid-18th century. During the Republic and early statehood, livestock was mainly a small-scale industry.
Early Cattle Drives
Early cattle drives went to California after 1850, because cattle worth $5-10 each in Texas were worth anywhere up to 20 times more in San Francisco. Most drives to California took five or six months.
The Peak Period for Cattle Drives
Cattle drives to northern and western markets, and later to railroad-loading facilities, grew in 1866. The drives only lasted for about 20 years, until railroads and refrigeration became common in the 1880s.
Cattle drives usually began in the spring, when plenty of grass was available. A 12-man crew could drive a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 head.
The cattle walked in a long line that might stretch two miles on the trail. The drive would progress 10 to 15 miles a day, and a drive to western Kansas would take between 25 and 100 days.
Comanches and Kiowas were threats along the trail. Other challenges included delays caused by flood-swollen rivers. During droughts, thirsty cattle might become crazed at the smell of water.
Lightening or any number of sights, smells and noises caused stampedes. To stop a stampede, the cowboys drove the herd into tight circles.
When calves were born on the trail, they were put on a wagon made that held 30 to 40 calves.
Cowboys that got needed medical attention on the trail used home remedies. For example, prickly-pear paste was used to help wounds heal.
Texas Fever Quarantines Cause Problems
“Texas fever” was a tick-borne fever. Texas cattle remained healthy, but cattle in other states were getting sick. When the South Texas longhorns were trailed through, the ticks dropped off and bit the local cattle, transmitting the deadly disease. Sometimes armed mobs in southeast Kansas, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas attacked the cattle drives to keep out the Texas cattle because of the disease.
Demise of the Cattle Drives
Cattle prices increased fairly steadily from 1866 through 1870. But in 1871, the national economy was slow, and half the cattle remained unsold. The herds had to be wintered on Kansas ranges, which was expensive. The financial Panic of 1873 forced some cattlemen into bankruptcy. In some cases, cattle shipped to market that year did not sell for enough money to pay the shipping expenses.
Source: Cattle Drives Started in Earnest After the Civil War
COPYRIGHT 2018 TEXAS STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION