Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  10 / 330 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 10 / 330 Next Page
Page Background

Sloan Rare Books

this systemwas based on nonownership of land, a small investment in labor, and a fairly leisurely

way of life. Living at a subsistence level, their only“cash crop”was cattle and hogs, and every fam-

ily had a few to round up and sell. Even at this economic level, every man, woman, and child in

the South consumed an estimated 248 grams of animal protein per day, which is five times to-

day’s intake. Largely beef and pork, with some wild game, the diet was supplemented with vege-

tables and fruits that grew nearly wild in the mild climate, and families were able to subsist with

very little labor.


Years later, when the Southern poor were relegated to a diet based on corn and

molasses, pellagra became rampant. Twentieth-century plain folk in the South were far more

poorly nourished than their pioneering counterparts.


Like the Celtic backwoods and Southern folk, Yankees brought a different style of agriculture

to New England with them. Coming from England, the settlers in the Northern colonies practiced

open-field agriculture, a system that relied on plowing, sowing, and reaping in an intensive yet co-

operative manner. They had farmed that way in England since medieval times, quite opposite to

the manner of the Celtic peoples. New England was orderly, with a community-oriented spirit. In

New England settlements, no one lived out of town; all houses were centered in a planned com-

munity while the arable land was divided into equal-sized fields. Everyone’s animals were herded

together on the common pastureland. The town hired a herder, and he came by each house in

the morning, picking up animals to take to graze. In the evening he would return the animals to

their owners, where they were penned up for the night. Anyone who let his cattle or hogs run

free and damage crop was fined severely.Villages even hired “fence viewers” to make sure every-

thing was in repair. “Good fences make good neighbors,” from Robert Frost’s poetry, sums up

the New England attitude, which was based on centuries-old English practices.

From these early settlement patterns North and South, pioneers who moved west took

their cattle culture with them. The grazing of large cattle herds on open range moved from the

seventeenth-century Carolinas to Texas. There the cattle grew quickly, with a good climate and

few diseases (besides tick fever), awaiting the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the trail

drives to Eastern markets. Confederate ancestors had driven scrawny, near-wild cattle on an-

nual trail drives from Scotland and Wales to feedlots in Essex, Kent, and Sussex. Open range

and the absence of fences had long been common in Celtic areas of Britain. Cattle herds were

large in sixteenth-century Scotland, where individual owners might keep a herd of four hundred

to a thousand cattle, selling off about a quarter each year. Irish herds were just as numerous.


English herds were small. A dozen or so animals was an average-size herd; one of the largest

yeoman farmers in eastern England in the early seventeenth century owned eight-seven cattle—

a significant number in that region. England was largely a nation of carefully controlled agricul-

ture. Fences, hedgerows, pens, and laws protected cultivated fields from livestock. Animals had

to be kept secure. Mixed farming, the tilling of fields, and the keeping of a few livestock became

the norm in Britain. It was orderly, with close control of one’s land as well as one’s animals.


People whose ancestors had practiced the same herding economics for generations followed

their patterns in the AmericanWest.

The Lewis and Clark expedition returned from exploring the Louisiana Territory in 1806 and

opened up the West to the U.S. fur trade. Decades later, farmers and livestock herders led the

westward movement across the continent, moving first across the Southern frontier. Wealthy,

slaveholding planters did not take the lead in settling the continent; rather, it was the South-

ern plain folk who were the true pioneers of the Southern frontier. They had initially settled in

Pennsylvania, then moved into the backcountry and hills southward, where land was cheap and

winters were mild. Behind the plain folk were the planters who settled where fertile soil or wa-

terway transportation made cash-crop agriculture profitable.They generally held over two hun-

dred acres and worked more than twenty slaves. Behind them came the tradespeople and others

who settled small crossroad towns.


The plain folk lived in dispersed rural settlements, with relatives and extended family spread

out across the land to raise small herds of cattle or pigs. Living on isolated, widely separated

farmsteads, they allowed their marked and branded cattle to forage on the unfenced range. Split-