Monday, October 17, 2016

Driving cattle up the trail

In the 1870s local ranchers began to gather up herds of cattle to drive north to market, according to a master's thesis by Frank R. Gilliland given to me by my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller.
When we think of the history of this region of Texas we think about cowboys, and it's true great cattle drives originated here. It's also true the period of those cattle drives was brief, only a decade or two, as transporting cattle to market by rail became easier, quicker, and more reliable.
But the legends of those cowboys and the cattle drives they endured continues to be a part of our local culture.
Unlike most of the movies we've seen, most of the cowboys on those cattle drives were young, and most only made the trip once. It was a very difficult journey.
According to Gilliland, "the herds had increased sufficiently by the 1870's for a number of Kerr County ranchers to send cattle 'up the trail.' Some of the largest buyers were Charles Schreiner, Hance Burney, R. H. Burney Sr., Thomas A. Saner, and C. C. Quinlan. Among the herd bosses and cowboys who made frequent trips to Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita, and other Kansas markets were Jones Glenn, Sam Glenn Sr., Jesus and Simon Ayala, John M. Hankins, Seebe Jones, Elick and Jim Crawford, Bill Wharton, Till Driscoll, Zack Light, Doc Burnett, Buck Hamilton, and Bill Caveness."
The cattle drives were essential to the development of Texas, providing capital in a land without much money.
Gilliland quotes a report given at the 1917 reunion of the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association:
"At the close of the Civil War the soldiers came home broke and our state was in deplorable condition.... In 1867 and 1868 some of our most venturesome stockmen took a few small herds of cattle to New Orleans, Baxter Springs and Abilene, Kansas, and other markets. The northern drives proved fairly successful, though they experienced many hardships and dangers going through an uncivilized and partly unexplored country. The news of their success spread like wildfire, and the same men and many others tackled the trail in 1869.
"At that time it was not a question of making money; it was a question of finding a market for their surplus stock at any price. There was very little money in the country and no banks or trust companies to finance the drivers. In the great undertaking some of them drove their own stock and others bought on credit to pay on their return, giving no other security than a list of brands and amounts due...1870 was a banner year at all the markets. Excitement ran high; there was never such activity in the stock business before in Texas. Drivers were scouring the country, contracting for cattle for the next spring delivery, buying horses and employing cowboys and foremen. Many large companies were formed to facilitate the handling of the fast growing business.
"This work generally lasted from April 1st to May 15th. The drivers would receive, road-brand and deliver a herd to their foremen, supply them with cash or letters of credit, give the foremen and hands instructions and say, 'Adios, boys, I will see you in Abilene....' Some of the drivers would go on the trail, others would go by rail or boat to the markets, and lobby around waiting for the herds, sometimes going down the trail several hundred miles to meet their herds, often bringing buyers with them."
I'll share some more about cattle drives next week. Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native knows all the trails in the Lone Star State, then something about a V-8. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 15, 2016.

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