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Christopher Columbus brought cattle too. Columbus had taken cattle aboard on his first voy-

age, but they were carried to provide fresh beef for the crew. None made it to the New World

alive. On his second voyage, Columbus brought seventeen ships with fifteen hundred adven-

turers. He also picked up a herd of cattle in the Canary Islands. After a month of searching for

a coastal land, he put in at Hispaniola. Aboard were ten mares, twenty-four stallions, and an

unknown number of cattle. That herd is likely to have seeded the first North American cattle.

More ships came with more colonists and their cattle. Eventually they spread out into other is-

lands and made it to the mainland. It is not certain who brought the first Spanish cattle to North

America—perhaps Hernando Cortés in 1521 when he set out fromCuba to take Mexico from the

Aztecs. But Florida historians claim that Ponce De Leon landed a herd of cattle there months

before Cortés.


Within a decade of Cortés’s arrival, cattle ranches had proliferated on the mainland of Mex-

ico and along the Gulf Coast. As always, the beef market was quickly flooded with an oversup-

ply, and between 1532 and 1538 the price of beef in Mexico City dropped 75 percent.With cattle

in abundance the Spanish colonists spread out over the continent, taking herds of cattle every-

where they went. Coronado, on his quest for gold, took along five hundred cattle to provide fresh

meat on the hoof while he and his men trekked over Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Kansas.

Catholic missionaries settled down and raised herds of animals, relying on them for the financial

support of the missions.With native converts (or slaves), the missions were able to establish the

beginnings of industrial beef ranching. By 1700 Texas was home to Spanish missions and Span-

ish cattle. At the time of the American Revolution, California was heavily established in ranch-

ing, becoming the major supplier of cowhides and tallow to New England.


The first cattle brought into the New England colonies were dairy breeds: Devon, Jersey, and

Alderney—Scottish and Danish cattle.The Dutch settlement at NewAmsterdam (later renamed

New York by the British) was home to imported well-bred cattle. Dutch farmers in what would

become New York City built log walls six feet high around their pens to protect the cattle from

thieves. It became known as Wall Street. When Boston Commons was laid out in 1634, it had a

twofold purpose: as a “trayning field and from the feeding of cattell.”


By the mid-1600s, cattle drives were common in New England. Cattle were driven to Bos-

ton from Springfield, Massachusetts, and hundreds of head were moved from the Piedmont to

coastal towns. Seasonal droves of cattle were the only way to get fresh meat to market. Farther

south, Kentucky cattle were driven to market at Baltimore, while Ohio ranchers drove their

animals to New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. America’s first highways were “drove

roads,” and roadside “drove stands” catered to the drovers with food and lodging as well as feed

for the cattle.

With the elements of cattle-keeping came another aspect of British Highland culture, a dis-

dain for authority. For centuries the border people in southern Scotland and northern England

had fought each other.Many of the clans practiced cattle rustling, and large gangs of professional

rustlers operated on both sides of the border. American cattle rustling on the Western frontier

had its roots in this period and place. Continual lawlessness and violence marked the region and

the people. Tenant farmers were secure in their leases because landlords relied on them to partic-

ipate in fighting for protection.


When these people migrated to America they entered at Phil-

adelphia and headed to the Appalachian backcountry, then into Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma,

and Texas. In that swath of backcountry, more than half the population was from Scotland, Ire-

land, and northern England. Here they resumed their farming and herding, relying on family

and clan support for protection. They battled the Indian residents and each other in a world of

anarchy like the one they had left behind in Britain.


As the country shifted its collective viewpoint, the backcountry became the frontier. People

built log cabins, which Scandinavians, Germans, and north British border people had built for



Barns and stables were crudely constructed from logs and saplings; cattle were

kept in “cowpens”—simple timber fences. This “architecture of impermanence,” as one histo-