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Three major centers of cattle herding contributed to American ranching: the southwestern

Iberian Peninsula, the British highlands, and West Africa. Spaniards and Portuguese from Ibe-

rian ranches were the earliest to graze cattle in the New World. The Portuguese had a unique

colonizing system: they shipped cattle to areas they planned to settle later. The stock increased

naturally by the time colonists arrived. In the sixteenth century they used the technique in the

Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, and Madeira. When the Spanish tried it later on the European

mainland, it was not as successful. Iberian cattle raisers had no interest in a dairy industry; they

sought wide-open grazing lands and quickly adapted to Latin American grasslands. The British

highlands cattle culture, in Scotland,Wales, and Ireland, was the foundation for many ranching

practices—open range, overland drives, pasture burning, and Western livestock law. The term


was used in the British Isles long before colonists embarked for the New World. Cow-

boys or herders were low-status, often indentured servants who worked for a wealthier chief-

tain or lord. Cattle tenders were male or female, young or elderly, and they herded cattle on foot,

using rocks, whips, and trained dogs to push the cattle along.

The theory that Western cattle ranching was of Hispanic origin has been popular, and Jordan

notes that the idea of ranching moving into the arid West because of the environment, com-

bined with Hispanic origins, is “almost irresistible.”While Texas was a pivotal region inWestern

ranching, though, not all ranching in the AmericanWest derived from the Texas model.“In eth-

nic terms, Western ranching reflects a unique mixture of groups, a blending of British, Ameri-

can, Hispanic, and probably also French, German, and Amerindian influences,” Jordan writes.

“The crucial early mixing occurred in one confined locality, lowland South Carolina, the South-

ern fringe of the English colonial empire in North America, where a favorable juxtaposition of

Britons andWest Africans occurred.”


The influence from West Africa came with slaves who were brought to the Carolinas and

other Southern colonies, which became the early center of the open-range cattle industry. After

1670, slaves from Gambia arrived with previous cattle experience. Occasionally traders brought

both slaves and cattle from Africa to the colonies. While the cattle cultures of Africa were dif-

ferent from those of the British Isles in that they were more like pastoral nomads than ranchers,

they brought cattle handling skills that spread into American ranching practice.


The AmericanWestern ranching culture that emerged from these three influences—Hispanic,

British, and African—was a bit of each but largely a Celtic, or British, highland system.The cattle

culture of the Celts emerged as the practice best suited for the West, and though it was shaped

by ideas from Texans and Californians, too, the Celtic system is the one that survived. Still, it

would be wrong to describe the North American cattle ranching system as one particular prac-

tice; it was an amalgam of practices and ideas, suited to specific environmental conditions and

shaped by politics. As lands shifted to Spanish, French, British, or American rule, the cattle in-

dustry changed to suit the times.

South Carolina was the “hearth area” or source for large-scale, Anglo-American cattle herd-

ing in the colonial era. By the mid-1700s the colony had almost 100,000 cattle, and annual

slaughter was around 12,000. Beef was the major export, barreled and shipped to theWest Indies

slave plantations.


No other colonies had the combination of climate, grass, link to the West In-

dies market, British-African cultural heritage of cattle-raising, and Gambian slaves with cattle-

tending skills. By the time of the American Revolution, Carolina’s dominance had faded due to

overgrazing, cattle disease, and cotton planting as well as greater numbers of settlers who dimin-

ished the open-range pasture. As the cattle culture spread west it picked up French and Spanish

techniques, but early on the Carolina cattle culture was the industry’s foundation.

Carolina ranchers each held seven hundred to a thousand head, running the animals on

the open range, branding, and using roundups. Animals were allowed to range freely and were

rounded up from time to time to send to market. People and dogs pushed the herd together

and drove them into a rail-fence cowpen. Lacking horseback roping techniques and saddles

with horns and double cinches (which would come later from Spanish-American influences in

Texas), Carolina herders used salt, whips, and trained dogs to control the herds. Salt was effec-