There are few things that smack of the Old West as much as a cattle drive and all that one entailed–cowboys, drovers, rowdy cowtowns. Remudas of horses and thousands of head of longhorn cattle. Dust and sweat–and fortunes made at the end of the line.
But once I had the plot in mind, my creativity stalled. What did I know about cattle drives–besides almost nothing? So I hit the Internet and found some lovely rare book sites. Along the way, I uncovered some intriguing tidbits of information. Here’s a few I’ll share with you:
1. The horns on longhorn cattle had a spread of up to seven feet wide and were strong enough to rip bark off a tree.
2. The average size herd during the peak of the cattle drive era was 3,000 head. It took a remuda of 75 horses and 7 – 10 cowboys to drive the herds. Trail bosses were paid $100/month, the cook $50/month and each cowboy, $30/month. These were minimal expenses for herds that when sold netted their owners $100,000 for a trip that took anywhere from several weeks to several months. Do the math. That’s a hefty profit for the time.
3. The usual fare for cowboys was beans, bacon, hard biscuits and strong coffee. Ironically, though they were surrounded by beef, the outfits rarely killed a beef on the trail because only a smart part of the meat could be eaten before it spoiled.
4. In dry country, thirsty cattle could smell water ten miles away.
5. Lightning was the most common cause of death on the trail. During a storm, the cowboys would hide their silver (metal spurs, knives, even six-shooters) to avoid being struck.
For those rare times when beef was available, the camp cook would make his own version of “Sonofabitch Stew.” (Sorry–I don’t mean to offend anyone, but this is what they called it. Honest! Variations were SOB Stew, or Son-of-a-gun Stew.)
Here’s one yummy-sounding recipe:
Kill off a young steer and cut up beef, liver and heart into 1 inch cubes. Slice the marrow gut into small rings. Place in a Dutch oven or deep casserole. Cover meat with water and simmer 2 – 3 hours.
Eww! <gag, choke!> Can you imagine eating this?
(By the way, this picture is one an old-time photographer took of cowboys eating the stew out on the range.)
What are some of the strangest foods you’ve eaten? Where were you when you ate it? How did it taste?
Okay. I’ll go first. My Sicilian grandmother used to fry zucchini blossoms, and they were the best! She’d go out into her garden first thing in the morning when the bright yellow blossoms were open (during the hottest part of the day, they’d close). Now, maybe you didn’t know there were female and male blossoms, but there are. The female part bears the fruit, so if you pick those, you won’t have any zucchini. She’d pick the male blossoms, dip them into beaten eggs, dredge them in seasoned bread crumbs, romano cheese, salt and pepper and fried them. Mmm. I can almost smell them now. A wonderful Italian treat and a treasured memory!
I look forward to hearing from you!
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