While many people assume the proliferation of railroads doomed the classic cattle drive immortalized in song and film, a much more insidious cause was also at play. In 1868 the Veterinarian Journal reported that a ‘very subtle and terribly fatal disease had broken out amongst cattle in Illinois. Called Texas Fever, the disease was traced to longhorn cattle driven from south Texas. The disease went by many names: Red Water Fever, Spanish Fever, Splenic Fever, but all these names led to the same fate for Midwestern cattle…death.
To protect their cattle, states along cattle trails began enforcing quarantines and restricting the movement of cattle to winter months–when the spread of the disease slowed. By 1885, Kansas had closed its borders altogether. This protective measure ensured the safety of Midwestern cattle, but doomed numerous cattle towns to stagnation.
For many years the cause remained unknown, therefore, complete quarantine was the only option. The Texas longhorns remained immune, but the disease was almost always fatal to Midwestern cattle. By the late 1800’s, scientists had discovered the Texas longhorns contained a pathogen that killed red blood cells. The pathogen was spread by ticks—which accounted for the slowing of the spread in the winter months.
Further research revealed that since the disease was widespread in southern Texas, the longhorn cattle had developed immunity. All calves are born with a natural resistance and exposed during this time of protection which provided the cattle with antibodies. The Midwestern cattle, exposed as adults, lacked this immunity.
While the disease still flourishes in other countries, the United States eradicated the disease by an extensive program of ‘cattle dipping’. (Must have been a pretty big pool!) Northern cattle imported to the south were immunized.
So while droughts, blizzards, railroad expansion, barbed wire, settlements and embargos also played a factor in ending the cattle drives, Texas Fever played the dominant role. On a more productive note, the disease brought about the separate veterinarian division of the United States Department of Agriculture. Standards and regulations helped regulate the industry. When you look at Texas Fever through the lenses of history, this disease has directly affected each and every one of us.
If you have a hankering for a City Slickers experience, there are plenty of modern ranches willing to oblige—for a hefty price! I think I’ll just watch John Wayne in The Cowboys…
A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul. Write to Sherri at P.O. Box 116, Elkhorn, NE, 68022, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sherrishackelford.com.
The Marshal’s Ready-Made Family releases in February, 2014:
A Marriage of Necessity
Gentlemen don’t court feisty straight shooters like JoBeth McCoy. Just as she’s resigned to a lifetime alone, a misunderstanding forces the spunky telegraph operator into a marriage of convenience. Wedding the town’s handsome new marshal offers JoBeth a chance at motherhood, caring for the orphaned little girl she’s come to love.
Garrett Cain will lose guardianship of his niece, Cora, if he stays single, but he knows no woman could accept the secrets he’s hidden about his past. The lawman can’t jeopardize Cora’s future by admitting the truth. Yet when unexpected danger in the small town threatens to expose Garrett’s long-buried secret, only a leap of faith can turn a makeshift union into a real family.