Let's turn back the clock today to the era of the open range. Before trains made moving product to market, cattle ranches needed to get their product from the range to the dinner table. The idea of the cattle drive was born. Ranchers banded together, hired a group of drovers to move their cattle from Texas to the west coast.
The influx of people to the west coast because of gold fever created a seller's market. If a rancher could get his herd to the west coast, he might be able to get anywhere from five dollars to ten dollars a head. If the cattle made it all the way to San Francisco, the price could even be twenty times as much. From Texas, herds of cattle from San Antonio, through El Paso, to San Diego, or Los Angles. By the year 1866, an estimated 260,000 head of cattle crossed the Red River on their journey north. But what did it take to get hundreds to thousands of head to market?
Banding together to get as much beef to market as possible, ranchers would hire a trail boss to over see the operation. (Remember Gil Favor from Rawhide?) The Trail boss would work with owners to get documentation on all herds. He would need to know ear tags, ear marks, brands, as well as the number of head each ranch would be sending. He would then hire a crew of at least twelve men to ride herd. These hands would begin the process of placing a trail brand on the cattle. With many herds moving north and west, cattle might migrate together and would then have to be cut out and returned to their respective herds.
In order to get the job done, each rider would have to bring a long a string of eight to ten horses for the journey. These horses would be cared for by nine to ten wranglers. The herd of horses were called a Remuda.
This is a photo of a cattle drive in the Dakota's taken in 1887 by Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Notice the herd continues far into the distance. Some cattle herds going to market stretched twenty-five to fifty miles
With each rank, a cowboy's pay was different. A trail boss might receive between a $100.00 and $125.00 dollars for his tour of duty. A drover no more than $60.00 a month. Wranglers in charge of the Remuda would receive the lowest pay a mere $30.00 a month for the five to six months it took to get their herd to market.
The Panic of 1873 put an end to the great day of the cattle drives as rail heads pushed west and the invention of refrigerated cars took over transportation.
Famous trails out of Texas:
Next month will look at the positions and jobs of the drovers on a cattle drive. Until then, happy trails!