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AMERICAN WEST: CATTLE RANCHING
Key Question 3: What were the consequences of the spread of cattle ranching to
How and why did cattle ranching spread to the Plains?
The Spanish settlers in Texas brought with them both horses, which had already
transformed the Indian way of life, and a hardy breed of cattle, the Longhorn. In
Mexico conditions were ideal for cattle breeding and soon there was far more meat
than was needed. After the war between Mexico and the US, white Americans took
control of the herds and decided to drive the cattle north where there was demand for
meat. In 1837 the first drives began, where hired cowboys (Indians or half-breeds)
rounded up the cattle. During the civil war the cattle were largely abandoned and by
the end, people returned to find 5 million longhorn roaming freely. If they could
drive them the 800km to the new railroad, their cattle could be transported nationwide
to fetch a price of $40 a head, instead of the $4 they got in Mexico. Regular cattle
drives were organised in 1866 about 260,000 cattle journeyed north. Some people
took advantage of situations such as Goodnight and Loving who sold 1700 head of
cattle to the government to feed starving Indians. Cattle Ranchers faced many dangers
and problems: armed mobs and cattle rustlers, the deadly Texas fever, shortage of
grass and water and the hostile Indians. Joseph McCoy solved these problems by
setting up the first cattle town. In 1867 he built the beginnings of Abilene, on the
Kansas-Pacific railroad. He built cattle pens and a small hotel and gradually, as more
cattlemen came to Abilene, he could expand and built more hotels. The plan was to
establish a market where the cattleman and buyer could meet on equal footing, without
threats of cattle rustling. It was successful and it provided a place for the cattle to be
fed up after long drives, before being sold on to buyers who could move the cattle
straight onto the railroads.
What was the life of a cowboy like?
It was the cowboy's job to round up cattle, brand them and then organise the long
drives. The cowboys had to be well organised as they often drove a trail of cows 2km
long. The trail boss who led the way got paid good money, but the further back of
the formation (the wranglers and drags) got paid little money around $35. The work
was exhausting involving hours on horseback with little entertainment and the
constant worry of a stampede, scorpions, snakes and quicksand, not to mention the
Indians. Even when ranching took over from drives and cowboys had bunkhouses and
cookhouses, they still had to `ride the line' and drive cattle to market in all weather
still having dangers of stampede and storms. Cowboys' lives were full of excitement
and danger, with little comfort or necessities. It could be said that cowboys were
similar to Indians in their lifestyles.
What crimes were committed in the West?
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Cattle Rustling was a popular crime as the great herds of cattle were easy targets with
so many of them. Although branding did temporarily solve this problem, rustlers
began to adapt brands to make them different. Horses were worth a lot due to their
central importance. Claim jumping occurred during gold rushes, where late arrivals
stole land of those who had already put in claims for it.…read more
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Why did the open range come to an end?
Due to the huge numbers of herds of cattle, the grass on the Plains was no longer
good enough for grazing and so cattlemen began to consider enclosing their cattle.
By 1882, there was so much meat that it wasn't actually needed and so profits
dramatically fell. Then the cold winter of 1886 followed by a hot summer caused the
grass to dry up.…read more