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Sloan Rare Books

well as Northern California, washing away land titles and


and the very ranchos and ran-

cheros themselves. But for a good decade after James Marshall discovered color in the millrace

at Coloma, Southern California continued to be the “beef basket” for the mines and the metrop-

oli of Sacramento and San Francisco. Dr. William M’Collum, for example, encountered a small

herd of forty or fifty cattle on the Stanislaus River as early as 1849 being driven by a Kentuckian

and a Spanish-California


to the mines.

Hugo Reid suggested to Abel Steams that he could net $20,000 on a thousand head of steers

worth, perhaps, $4,000 before the Gold Rush. Reid thought in terms of chartering coastal

schooners to carry

carne seca

(jerky), tallow, and hides from San Pedro either to Monterey or

San Francisco Bay. The ranchers, however, preferred the traditional and more feasible cattle

drive and they began the northward treks which would continue every year until the comple-

tion of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Among the drivers were Cave Coutts, W. B. Coutts, John

McPike, Jose Antonio Argüello and others. (Cave Coutts also drove cattle south from Los An-

geles–1,000 head in July 1853, for example, to San Diego County).They sold to Henry Miller, of

Miller and Lux, or to anyone with ready cash. In 1852, William Heath Davis, the



brought a herd of steers, milk cows, and oxen to San Leandro–1550 head in all, bought origi-

nally fromDon Eulogio de Celís and Don Emigdio Vega. The San Francisco


of November

19, 1854, in commenting on a drive of 1,600 head, the largest of the season, said that “In former

years such bands were not uncommon to be driven from here and, in fact, were of frequent oc-

currence.” Robert Glass Cleland compared this traffic favorably with that of the famed Bozeman

Trail to Montana and the Abilene Trail to Kansas. But, he declared, “despite its importance and

adventurous character, the subject has been almost ignored in both the historical and romantic

literature of the state, and information on it, whether statistical or descriptive, is disappointingly

meager.” As Evetts Haley indicated, this same sort of historical ignorance applies to the overland

drives to California from both the Midwest (mainly Missouri) and the Southwest.

Although it must have seemed like a case of hauling coals to Newcastle to drive beef cattle

to California, home of ranches the size of European duchies, sharp Texan and Pewk traders did

so, sniffing the wind for the prices which prevailed on the West Coast. For about ten years you

could count on up to $75 for a steer and $20-$25 for a calf in the San Francisco Bay area. Even

though Los Angeles County alone was supplying 25,000-30,000 head of cattle during the boom,

the supply could not keep up with the demand, and thousands of head were brought overland

fromMissouri as well as fromTexas to the Sacramento Valley. The Los Angeles


estimated on

September 18, 1852, that 90,000 head of cattle, not counting oxen, had passed Fort Kearney, Ne-

braska, during the spring and summer of that year, en route to California. Governor John Bigler,

in his Annual Message to the California Legislature on January 1, 1855, reported that 62,000 head

had entered the state during the year over the major emigrant roads alone–13,000 via the Carson

Route, 9,000 by way of the Gila, 15,000 over Sonora Pass, and 24,000 via Beckwith’s Pass.

According to the 1880 Census, there were 815,000 cattle in California as of that year, valued

at $12.49 per head. (Many of these bovines had either Missouri or Texas family trees.) This fig-

ure was quite a bit less than that of the height of California cattle production, which occurred

in 1862 when importation was virtually cut off and there was a renaissance of the cattle ranch in

California. In that year the number of cattle in California reached 3,000,000 head. But the ter-

rible drought of 1864 destroyed herds and whole ranches. In the ’70s, though California had its

own shortages, herds were trailed out to markets in neighboring states. A man named Schaffer,

later a big cattle rancher on the Saline River in Kansas, got his start driving beeves from north-

ern California to Idaho and Nevada for four years. Consumption continued to exceed produc-

tion in California in the ’70s, even with railroad shipments from the Midwest and Southwest, so

that it was once again profitable to drive cattle to California.

In 1860, the market had appeared glutted and the day of the trail herd to California over. Such

was not the case. It was pretty effectively stopped in 1861 when, on April 19, President Abraham

Lincoln, at the same time that he declared a blockade of the coasts of the Confederacy, forbade


commercial intercourse (including cattle drives, of course) with the seceding states. But, once

the war was over–when the great drives to Abilene, Ellsworth, and Dodge City began–the Cali-