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here is a general belief that trail driving of cattle over long distances to market had its

start in Texas of post-Civil War days, when


were long on longhorns and short on

cash, except for the worthless Confederate article. Like so many well-entrenched, traditional as-

sumptions, this one is unwarranted.

J. Evetts Haley, in editing one of the extremely rare accounts of the cattle drives to Califor-

nia which preceded the Texas-to-Kansas experiment by a decade and a half, slapped the blame

for this misunderstanding squarely on the writings of Emerson Hough. In a foreword to his

transcript of James G. Bell’s “Log of the Texas-California Trail, 1854”, which appeared in 1932

in volumes 35 and 36 of the

Southwestern Historical Quarterly,

Haley reminded his readers of

the drives of the late 1840s and the 1850s from Texas to New Orleans, Natchez, Natchitoches,

Shreveport, St. Louis, Sedalia, and even Ohio and Chicago. He might also have mentioned the

Ohio Valley drives of 1805-1855 which Paul C. Henlein studied in

The Cattle Kingdom in the Ohio


. Frederick Law Olmsted in 1856 described the Texas-to-New Orleans cattle trade: “The

herdsman’s sales are of steers which are sent to market at four years old. The beef is considered

better at five years but the profit to the herdsman is less. In early summer, after the cattle are in

good condition with the spring pasture, drovers make their appearance for the purchase. A con-

tract is made by which, at a price agreed upon, the herdsman shall deliver a certain number of

beeves, in marketable order, at a point where it will be convenient to add them to the drove for

New Orleans. The range is then scoured and the requisite number obtained, including all steers

found that have escaped the previous years.”

Olmsted met a “driver” who hired twelve extra hands just to get his drove of prairie cattle

across the Neches River but he still lost nineteen head, bogged down in the river bottom. He ex-

plained, “If these wild prairie cattle are left behind or become separated from the drove, they can

never be driven. There is danger that they will drive the drivers.”

When Olmsted asked, “What became of the cattle you left?”, the man replied, “God knows.

They got off into the swamp, I suppose, after awhile. There’s lots of beef cattle that stray off so

from a drove and are never recovered. As nobody owns these cattle but the driver and they are

all branded, so nobody else will claim them, and he never comes after them, I suppose they live

out their natural life of beef-cattle.”

According to E. E. Dale, the historian of the Southwest’s range cattle industry, it was found by

trial and error that a herd of 2,500 cattle was of the best size for trailing. With more cattle than

this, the herds tended to become hard to manage no matter how many cowpokes were available.

With fewer head, it was just about as hard to manage a herd as with the 2,500 head. A drove or

herd of this size formed a column about a mile long from “point” to “drag”. It required a dozen

cowmen with four to six horses apiece, and the herd could cover about twelve to fifteen miles

per day or from three hundred to five hundred miles a month. According to some sources of

the 1880s, it cost $500 a month to drive such a herd across country; according to others, it ran

to $1.00 a head no matter what the length of the passage. By 1886, trail herding of cattle ap-

proached something of a science as compared to Cyrus Loveland’s day of amateur cowboys. In

one month of 1886 some fifty-seven herds crossed the Arkansas River. They ranged in size from

This essay on trail driving appeared as the introduction to Richard H. Dillon’s edited journal of Cyrus C. Love-

land, published under title

California Trail Herd: The 1850 Missouri-to-California Journal of Cyrus C. Loveland


Gatos: Talisman Press, 1961). We reprint Mr. Dillon’s essay here because it remains an important reinterpretation

of traditional lore concerning the Texas cattle industry. We thank Mr. Dillon for his kind permission to reprint his

fine essay. A copy of the printed Loveland journal will appear in a forthcoming part of our Ranching Catalogue.