This week we talked about the history of the cattle drive. Cattle drives were common in the late 1800s, when cowboys would herd their cattle west, to places like Abilene, Kansas (a major hub), Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, or even Montana. From these Midwestern cities, the cattle would be shipped off to the Northeast and West Coast, where ranchers could get high profits for their cattle.
But even before cattle driving picked up, livestock ranching was a longstanding tradition in the West, especially in Texas. Conquistadors brought cattle when exploring the region beginning in the 1690, and by the mid-18th century, missionaries and settlers were raising stock for local consumption. Demand only grew from here.
After the Civil War, the demand for beef, both across the country and in Europe, led ranchers throughout the Southwestern United States to drive hundreds of thousands of animals for thousands of miles to railheads (a point on a railroad from which roads and other transportation routes begin) to areas I mentioned before (Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico).
Legendary pioneers and cattlemen like Jesse Chisholm, Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, and John T. Lytle cut the trails the herds followed. One of the most well-known trails is the Chisholm Trail, used in the post-Civil War Era to drive cattle from Texas to Kansas; established by merchant Jesse Chisholm and his guide Black Beaver, the southern terminus of the trail was Red River Station, along the northern border of Texas, and the northern terminus was a trading post near Kansas City, Kansas. Charles Goodnight, also known as the “father of the Texas Panhandle,” invented the chuckwagon, a type of covered wagon used to transport food and cooking equipment on some of the first cattle drives. Oliver Loving and he founded the Goodnight-Loving Trail from Fort Belknap, TX, to Fort Sumner, to Denver, and extending into Wyoming. The trail was used for the large-scale movement of Longhorns.
Thanks to the work of pioneers and the magic of cinema and literature, romanticized, idyllic images of life on “the open range” were publicized, giving a further boost to the ranching and cattle drive industry. Life was tough for ranchers, though, and theirs was a lifestyle to be respected.
There were many cowboys back in the day, and they were not all Anglos; a cowboy was equally likely to be of Hispanic or Native American heritage. Though the 19th century cowboy didn’t necessarily have a perfect female counterpart, by the 20th century, women took to ranching. The cattle drive industry ceased to exist by this time, as expansion of railroads and the spread of barbed wire made exporting easier.
The cattle industry survived on smaller ranches and rodeos grew to become a favorite pastime. Cowgirls were true outdoorswomen whose lives were all about working cattle, horses, and other livestock; they defied convention, but were not Calamity Jane-esque outlaws. Cowgirls worked alongside men and became experts at their craft, making their mark on the profession. Below is a photo of Vivian White and her contestant armband; a champion cowgirl, White won American hearts. This green felt patch would accompany a jacket much like the one she is wearing in this photo.