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Catalogue Ten, Part Four, Vol. II, The Ranching Catalogue, D-G

“hazard of loss” was not always as small as Olmsted thought. In 1854, ninety Mescalero Apaches

seized two hundred head from W. H. Oliver’s Colorado River of Texas herd when it was near

Eagle Springs.) Olmsted continued, on the type of cattle being trail-herded: ”No pains were here

taken to improve the breed. Some cows had been brought to this region from the States but did

not do well. Their calves, however, became acclimated and were the common prairie stock.”

According to John C. Reid of Alabama, who tramped through Texas in 1857: “The outfit for

stocking a ranche (stock farm) with a few hundred herd of animals is trifling... An ample supply

of grown cows may be obtained near, by judicious selection, at not exceeding $5 a head.” He also

reported that Mexican


or cowboys cost only $175 a year, exclusive of board, and “the sa-

line properties of the grass dispense with the necessity of buying salt.” So, if we can believe Reid,

after seven years a rancher on an outlay of only $2,000 could count on a clear profit of $23,564.

A pioneer of the business of driving cattle both to California and within California, a man

worthy of the attention of historians and biographers, was Colonel O. W. Wheeler of Connect-

icut. He came to California in 1851 in ill health, but California’s magic climate (naturally) made

a new man of him. He was still not strong enough for the arduous, wet, and cold work of placer

mining after New England consumption complicated by Panamanian fever, however, so he went

into the cattle trade. At first he would go into the Nevada desert and round up abandoned stock

or buy (for a song) jaded cattle in the possession of California-bound emigrants. This suppos-

edly worn-out stock responded beautifully to a few weeks rest in the grassy valleys of the Sierra

Nevada and returned a neat profit to the Colonel. After dabbling in freighting, merchandising,

and sheep raising, he drove stock up to Sacramento from Los Angeles, buying in one swoop an

entire ranch with its 3,000 cattle. He also opened a wholesale meat market in San Francisco.

In 1861, after a trip home to Connecticut, he brought a herd of a thousand horses safely

from the Northwest to California through Indian country. In 1867, Colonel Wheeler, noting the

long-lasting effects of the great 1864 California drought, determined to alleviate the scarcity of

cattle by driving a herd in from Texas. With two partners, Wilson and Hicks, he rounded up

2,400 head, one hundred and fifty cow ponies and fifty-four cowboys. He armed the men with

the most modern weapons available. As Joseph McCoy said, “No more complete outfit or bet-

ter herd of stock ever left Texas.” But 1867 was a year of rains, and floods and trails turned into

gumbo. The Indians were on the warpath and, worse, so was Asiatic cholera. The disease killed

some of Wheeler’s cowboys and frightened his partners so much that when the herd reached

Abilene, they determined to sell it there. Wheeler urged them to continue on to California as

planned, or to winter in Kansas and then go on, but he was overruled. The stock was sold and

shipped to Chicago.

On his own, Wheeler bought 1,500 head in Kansas, wintered the stock in the southeast cor-

ner of the state, fattened it up there in the spring, and in the summer drove the herd through the

angry mobs of farmers, fearful of Texas fever, through Missouri to Quincy, Illinois. He bought

more Texas cattle cheap (their owners feared they bore the Texas or Spanish fever) in Abilene,

contracted for 5,000 more to be trail herded to Nevada where he would meet them, and was

soon doing business all over the Midwest and West. In 1870 he sold 12,000 head, in 1871 it was

7,000. He became one of the major figures of the cattle business in mid-continent and all of his

success grew out of his plans to drive cattle to California. Another great cattleman of the Mid-

west who got his start by driving (and later, shipping) cattle to California was Dennis Sheedy. He

ended up the possessor of, in Joseph McCoy’s words, “a goodly fortune.”

Cleland’s study of the cattle frontier in California hardly touches the trade in cattle from “the

States.” He was concerned with the indigenous industry that grew out of the great herds of mis-

sion and rancho days. The first cattlemen there were of the military, the

soldados de cuero


Governor Pedro Fages. These leather-jackets were encouraged to hold grazing grants–

sitios de

ganado mayor–

a league square. From these huge 4,400-acre sites sprang California’s great ran-


The 1830s and 1840s in California can be viewed through the eyes of Richard H. Dana and Al-

fred Robinson. These were the decades of the “California bank note,” as the California cow hide

was called. Eventually the tides of


gold hunters would roll over Southern California as