CATTLE DRIVES — On the Trail

Cattle Drives – On the Trail

(Research for The Oak Grove Series)

By Kathryn Albright

Oak Grove, Kansas, the fictional town and setting of the Oak Grove Series that I am writing with Laurie Robinson, is the end of the trail for the Texas cattle drives. The town grows and prospers with the cattle industry in the 1880s much like Dodge City, Ellsworth, and Abilene. With its stockyards and a train depot, I knew some of the inhabitants would have to have jobs that involved the cattle business.


Cattle Drives

The era of cattle drives in American history began at the end of the Civil War and lasted into the 1890s. Demand for beef in the big cities in the east as well as an abundance of cattle in Texas (five million!) created an opportunity for hard-working men. In Texas, a steer was worth about $3, whereas in Chicago, that same steer would fetch an average of $20, although demand would sometimes push its value to $40. Other reasons for moving the cattle north were to feed the miners in Colorado and California, or to stock ranches as far as Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.

Some herds were as large as 3,000 cattle. Along with the cattle, extra horses were also included on the drive so that when one horse tired and needed to rest, another could be saddled and used. Cattle could stretch out for a mile on the trail and to manage the herd, cowboys had certain positions.

Cattle Drives


Duties of each Cowboy —

  • Point – Rode out in front and helped guide the herd.
  • Swing – Rode along the flanks of the herd to keep them gathered in.
  • Flank – Rode behind the Swing and performed the same job.
  • Drag – Rode behind the herd and kept stragglers from being lost or falling behind. A dusty job.
  • Wrangler – Took care of the remuda of extra horses. Lowest paid position.
  • Cook – Drove the chuck-wagon, cooked the meals. Next to the boss, he was the highest paid man on the drive.

These were not gentle milking cows! Longhorns were cantankerous and bad-tempered. The horns on a steer spread an average of five feet from tip to tip. Rounding up cattle, branding them to establish ownership, and getting them to head in one direction as a group was not without mishaps and sometimes dire consequences. Then there were the dangers along the trail.

Cattle Drives - Longhorn Steer

Range cattle were not smart. They got lost in gullies. They headed out into snowstorms rather than seeking shelter. They were easily spooked and alarmed. A flash of lightning, the boom of thunder, or even an odd odor could initiate a stampede where the herd would run for miles. The only way to stop a stampede was for the cowboys to get out in front of the herd and fire their pistols, wave their hats and yell in a effort to confuse and frighten the cattle into slowing and circling until they calmed down.  One wrong decision and in an instant a rider could be impaled on a horn or trampled to death under hooves. Stampedes were the chief threat and worry for a cowboy on a trail drive.

Another danger could occur at river crossings. Should a cow or steer panic, they could drown and take a cowboy down with them.

Then there were the predators. Rustlers—men who would steal the cattle and, although much less common, Indians on the reservations who attacked the drive. Animals such as the American Timber wolf, cougars, brown bears, and farther north…grizzly bears where also a threat. Rattlers and scorpions bothered the men. Although their bite or sting was not usually fatal to a healthy young man, it could still cause horrible pain. A smart cowboy checked their bedroll before bedding down at night, and in the morning, checked their shoes or boots before putting them on.

Cattle Drives Weather was also a danger. Freezing temperatures and blazing heat were both enemies to the herd and to the cowboys. Finding water along the trail was a matter of life and death. Traveling this way, a drive from San Antonio to Kansas would take about two months. No matter how careful the cowboys were, there was always a percentage of cattle that did not make it to the stockyards.

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In spite of the danger and the dust, I believe many cowboys enjoyed the camaraderie of driving cattle to the stockyards. Sleeping on the hard earth after a long day’ work, however, is not so appealing. I am thankful for my comfy bed!

What, in this season of Thanksgiving, are you thankful for?

Comment for a chance to win a copy of  Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove!

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In the book that will be released in December — The Prairie Doctor’s Bride — a character has an accident along the trail, leaving behind unfinished business in Oak Grove. More on this in a future post…For now, Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove, the first book in the Oak Grove Series, is available.

Mail Order Brides of Oak Grove

Kathryn Albright writes sweet historical Americana Romance.
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31 thoughts on “CATTLE DRIVES — On the Trail”

  1. I lost my precious Mom on February 1st of this year. I am thankful that God blessed me with a wonderful Mom who was also my best friend for 64 years. I am also thankful that God blessed me with a giving and caring husband that helped as a caregiver to my Mom in her final years. I also thank God for His grace and gift of salvation because I know I will be united with my precious loved ones one day in eternity.

    May you all be blessed this Thanksgiving.

    Cindy W.
    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Oh Cindy, It will be an emotional holiday season this year for you. Hugs. What a wonderful memory–so many good years with your mother. And what a beautiful testament to yours and her faith–so much hope. Your husband must be such a treasure and comfort to you. You certainly are blessed!

  2. I always wanted to experience a cattle drive I am thankful for the new additions to my family – a new daughter in law and my first grandson.

  3. Thankful that I have Wonderful children that I love dearly. Oh how I would love to win your book Kathryn Albright I love to read new to me authors Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving

  4. I would love to win this book and have the opportunity to read one of your books. Im always looking for a nee author to add to my go too list. I loved this blog. Cattle drives have always intrigued me. My father was a cattle broker and owned and/or co-owned feedlots my entire life. I know about corraling and dealing with baulky, ornery cattle and I just can’t imagine long cattle drive issues.

    I have so many things to be thankful for; family, friends, my health,(with MS I never know what any given year can hold for me) my boyfriend, I have a roof over my head, my elderly parents are still with me and healthy, I have good to put on the table and I’m just very blessed! Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Hi Stephanie,
      How good to hear of all your blessings! Doesn’t it put everything into perspective when they are listed? There is a lot to be said for having an “attitude of gratitude!”

    • Hi Caryl, I’m so glad you stopped by! I have a few of those who I hold dear–the ones that seem to bolster my faith just when I need it and who make my life so much richer. They light up our lives, don’t they?

  5. I am thankful for the times I have with my family and friends. I hope you and your family have a very happy Thanksgiving!

  6. I am so thankful for my family and friends I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I think a cattle drive would be rough.

  7. I’m most thankful for !y large family and just being. Thank you for the interesting post.
    Carol Luciano

  8. Thank you for the wonderful, informative blog and for the Oak Grove books which I have thoroughly enjoyed! I can hardly wait for your Prairie Doctor’s Bride book to be released next month.

    Please don’t enter me in the contest since I’ve already read all of the available Oak Grove books. To other readers: I highly recommend them!!

  9. Hi Eliza! So very good to have you stop in! Thank you for your kind words about the series. (I am currently finishing up my next book for it.)I hope your holidays are filled with warmth and joy.

  10. Thankful for work to keep my hands busy, music to keep my mind on higher things and the sunshine coming in through the windows this morning.

    • AW…love this Kathy! Music is amazing in the way it can speak to one’s soul. And sunshine is such a balm–I am always brighter and happier when it is sunny outside. Thanks for joining in!

  11. I am thankful for my family and friends. I am also thankful that we are lucky enough to be comfortable in our lives. That has given us the opportunity to be involved in the community to help others and give them something to be thankful for.

  12. Thank you to all who visited and joined in the conversation! The winner of my drawing is MH!


    MH –please contact me at Kathryn at kathrynalbright dot com and let me know your address for a print book or your email and type (ePub, Kindle, etc) for an ebook!

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