KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
CATTLE TRADE OF THE WEST AND SOUTHWEST, BY JOSEPH G. McCOY




Chapter I.


THE HONORABLE ANTIQUITY OF THE LIVE STOCK BUSINESS -- THE GRAZING REGION OF NORTH AMERICA -- TEXAS -- ITS NATURAL DIVISIONS -- CATTLE RANCHING -- HOW BEGUN -- BRANDING -- THE TENURE OF TITLE -- HOW SOLD --

ENERGETIC RANCHMEN SUCCEED BEST -- "COW PONEYS" -- " THE COW BOY" -- HIS LIFE AND LAB0R -- TEXAS THE WEST FOR SOUTHERN YOUNG MEN -- EXAMPLES OF Wm PERRYMAN --L.B. HARRIS -- J.F. ELLISON -- J.M. CHOATE.

     Among the earliest vocations spoken of by the sacred historian is that of the producers of livestock, the herdsmen, or as would be styled, by western men, the ranchmen. The word rancho is Spanish term meaning a farm and "farm " may be used for any purpose; whatever that maybe, the prefix will indicate. Thus it is common to hear of a corn ranch, a wheat ranch, a sheep ranch, a horse ranch, a cattle ranch. Sacred writ plainly tells us that Abel's offering the product of his stock ranch was more acceptable to Deity than that of his agricultural brother, but it is painful to learn that the Granger Cain should get so choler and jealous of his brother to let murderous thoughts take possession of him. Every bible reader (and what stock man don't read his bible) knows full well that the great wealth and possession of the Patriarchs consisted principally in live stock, and the inspired writer tells us that among other mentioned assets belonging to Deity, "the cattle upon a thousand hills" are his. Noah, an ancient, and extensive live stock shipper; but had the congressional legislation of the present day prescribing twenty-six hours as the limit of time that a stock shipper shall keep his animals aboard, been in force then, Mr. Noah would certainly have been put in the lock-up, or in the basement of the Capitol with the contumacious witness; for he kept his first shipment aboard forty days without unloading it for rest or feed. However he must have done well, for history tells us that he straightway got on a spree, and went for the ladies in true cattleman's style Nevertheless he seems to have become disgusted with the business of the cattle trade and quit it entirely.

     To the superior skill of ancient Jacob as a successful breeder of "speckled" cattle was he indebted for his great success in acquiring wealth; but the less said about the morals of that speckled cattle operation the better perhaps, for the reputation of Jacob. Nevertheless he seems to have enjoyed special favor, and frequent communications for Deity. Indeed it seemed deity's special pleasure to make his will toward mankind known through the medium of live stock men, more than any other class, It was to a refugee herdsman attending his father-in-law's flocks that he appeared in the burning bush and held audible converse with that modest shepherd who was there told of the high duties and destinies that were upon him, nothing less than to deliver his people from the iron hand of bondage and lead them through great trials and tribulations unto the promised land that "flowed with milk and honey."

     Great as was his diffidence and humble as was the estimate he put upon his own abilities, believing himself too obscure and to slow of speech " to stand before Egypt's opulent King, yet with the unmistakable assurances given him of Divine support and assistance, he went forth in full confidence to the accomplishments of the greatest task ever imposed on mortal man, the faithful unfolding of the will and promise of God to his people, and the laying down in tablets ol stone and imperishable parchment the foundation of all civilized just human jurisprudence. It is a remarkable fact that both Jacob and Moses had such special notice by Providence whilst in the service of their father-in-laws; in this day and generation it is supposed to be the "mother-in-laws" who make a double portion of Providence indispensable to family quiet.

     It was a herdsman fresh from tending his father-in-law's flock that God chose to designate as being one after his own heart, and to inspire to write the richest strains of sacred poetry chanted by earth's worshipping millions. It was the herdsmen upon the hills of Judeah that first heard the angelic tidings of "Peace on earth and good will to man" and they alone had the honored guidance of a brilliant star specially deputed to guide them to where lay in the ox's manger the being "before whom every knee shall bend and every tongue confess." We deem it time idly spent to farther show, what all must acknowledge, that the vocation of live stock is not only ancient, but of old as now, altogether honorable in the highest degree.

     The live stock business, or the breeding, rearing, and marketing of cattle, hogs, and sheep, is a subject of peculiar interest to almost every man of all vocations of life. The western man is interested in it, for it is largely his business, his means of making money. The western merchant, tradesman, and mechanic are interested in it, for upon its pecuniary prosperity depend, in a large degree, his own. The eastern man is interested in it, for it is a part of his living, and with a part of the laboring classes of the east, its products namely, animal flesh, is one of their rare luxuries. The importer looks to the export of barreled pork and beef for the exchange to pay his debtor balance. The accountant at his desk, weary and careworn, deprived of his liberty, looks wistfully forward to the day when with ample means he can retire to some villa and enjoy himself in unrestrained freedom among a troupe of favorite domestic animals. In short, we believe the love of domestic animals is universal, and we believe that that love is elevating, when indulgence is guided by proper intelligence. At all events, those whom we most revere in high stations of life, at present and in the past, were lovers of domestic animals.

     As all trades have peculiarities which mark them in different sections, so the cattle trade of the west and southwest has traits distinctive and peculiar to itself, some of which we propose to note as we attempt a brief history of its early development, and our effort shall be more especially directed to what is familiarly known as the western and southwestern Cattle Trade, which is an interest, a commerce, that has not received the attention its magnitude and importance deserved.

     The area of the American continent, situated east or the Rocky Mountains, that is especially adapted to the production of live stock, is very great, and embraces the western and larger halves of Texas, the Indian Territory, Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota, all of Wyoming, the eastern half of Colorado, and nearly all of New Mexico, aggregating many hundreds or thousands of square miles and many millions of acres. Each of the above mentioned Territories will receive special attention in its turn. Texas, being not only the largest but the first one settled, will receive first attention. The Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande River, form its southern and southwestern boundaries. The territory of New Mexico forms its western boundary; Red River is its northern line and Louisiana bounds it on the east. Its area is over 237,000 square miles, or over 152,000,000 of acres, one hundred and fifty millions of which are devoted principally to the production of live stock. From its near geographical location to old Mexico, from whence a supply of live stock for ranching purposes was early obtained, and owing to its excellent climate, being almost destitute of winter weather and its unlimited grazing facilities, Texas first attracted settlers from Mexico, as well as from all parts of the New World. Texas was originally a part of the domain of Mexico, and from that country was at first sparsely stocked up with Spanish cattle, of similar blood and quality to those originally placed in Mexico by Cortez, the conqueror. But a brave and hardy class of white men soon came to the control of political affairs in Texas, and struck for freedom. So self reliant and daring a race of people, as then constituted the white population of Texas, could not be conquered nor fail to obtain any reasonable object forwhich they might unitedly make an effort to attain.

     After many bloody struggles, victory perched upon the Independent banner and the independence of Texas was acknowledged by the mother country. For a few years Texas was an independent republic, but believing that in union there is strength, she cast her lot with the United States, but retained the ownership of her public domain. So that an emigrant locating upon her public lands looks to the State government for a title instead of the United States, as is the case in other States and Territories. The admission of Texas into the Union was the cause of the Mexican war, the history and results of which are familiar to most readers. The State of Texas is watered and drained by the Rio Grande, Pecos, Colorado, Brazos, Trinity, and Red Rivers; the eastern portion is heavily timbered with immense forests of pitch or hard pine; the central portion of the State is more diversified with prairie and timber, and its soil and climate conspire to make it the very best agricultural country; the western portion of Texas, and by far the largest half, is as well adapted to stock raising asany portion of the globe, and like any other portion that is well adapted to that business, it is fit for little else than stock raising. For a distance of fully five hundred miles east of the Rocky Mountains the grasses are different in character and appearance to those found in the balance of the Mississippi Valley. It is a fine, soft, velvety species, seldom growing over three or four inches long, and has a mild, sky bluish, green color. It is familiarly known as Buffalo grass. It usually attains its full growth in the spring months, during the rainy season, and when the dry, heated months of summer approach it cures or dries up, but retains all the nutritious qualities originally possessed. In fact, many stock men regard it as superior feed, making more fat or tallow when it has attained its growth, and is cured by the sun's hot rays, than when it is in process of growing and is fresh and green. Western Texas is covered with species of grass nearly akin to the buffalo grass, one of which is called gramma grass; also, another variety is called mesquit grass. Both varieties cure up in summer and constitute excellent food for stock during the winter. It is too short of growth to make much of a fire. In fact, a person unaccustomed to it would be loath to think that there was so much as bare sustenance in it, much less good living and thick tallow. There are several varieties of mesquit grass, one of which is noted for its disposition to run over the ground, much like a miniature watermelon vine. It is considered the best grass that grows in Texas. From sections of that State where the vining mesquit grass abounds comes the heaviest and fattest Texan cattle, and in the mesquit regions the cattle grow larger than in any other portion of Texas. In 1870, according to the census, Texas had three and one-half millions of cattle, three-fourths of a million of sheep, and one-half million of horses, the aggregate value of which would fall little short of thirty-five millions of dollars.

     The largest live stock owners in the United States are residents of Texas. Several individuals, owning from twenty-five to seventy-five thousand head of cattle each, with horses in proportion, are to be found in Southwestern Texas.

     If it was true in the past political history of our country that there was "an irrepressible conflict" between the ideas and domestic institutions of the two sections of our nation, it is none the less true now that there is a similar "conflict " between those interests denominated or dubbed "short horn" and "long horn" or Texas cattle and Durham cattle. Both breeds, we believe, sprang from Europe the first from Spain the latter from England. Neither, strictly speaking, is native nor do we know of any record of cattle of any description being found on this continent at its discovery. The Spanish cattle were introduced into Mexico by Cortez, the conqueror. Although he may have destroyed and despoiled a rich government and a happy people, and sown the seeds of despotism, discord and revolution by an unfit "amalgamation" of races, so that in that land of perpetual summer nothing human is permanent, yet he did confer a good and enduring benefit by the introduction of a stock of cattle peculiarly adapted to that clime and people.

     Before we go any farther in tracing the history of the southwestern cattle trade, let us look into the life of the producer, the owner, the ranchman, their manner of life and their labor -- in short, how the cattle are raised. In Texas perhaps not one owner in ten lives upon his stock "ranch, " but usually in some near post-office village; occasionally one is found living in a city. In choosing a location for a stock ranch a point centrally situated as to grazing lands and an abundance of living water is selected for headquarters of the ranch. Here is erected, usually of logs, a rude house and corrals, with capacity in proportion to the herd, with a small pound or chute for branding of large cattle, such, for instance as a drove of beeves, preparatory to starting them to market.

     The slight brand put on the stock at that time is called a road brand, in contradistinction to the ranch brand which is usually put on the animal when young.

     We will suppose a man to be just commencing in the stock business; after having purchased enough land to give him a footing whereon to build the above houses and corrals with sufficient water and timber for his purposes, he then decides what his "ranchbrand" and ear marks shall be, and whatever device or letter or figure he selects, he is careful to have it differ from all other brands and marks in that portion of the State. Then he goes before an officer of the county or district and places upon record his brand and ear marks, filing a copy thereof, also a statement of the number of cattle and horses he has at that time bearing that brand and marks, taking from the Recorder a certificate of his action, from thenceforward alll stock found bearing that brand and oar marks are his, and by him can be taken possession of by summary process, wherever found in the State. The stock laws of Texas are very complete and provide ample penalties for violation. When a stock man sells his entire cattle or horses he gives the purchaser articles of writing which are proper subjects of record, conveying all right and title to all stock bearing the brands and ear marks therein described. The conveyance is as absolute and complete as is a deed to a piece of land in the Northern States, and as has been said, like deeds should be recorded. The ownership of a stock of cattle in Texas is determined in a legal contest by the records just as we determine the ownership of a piece of land. When a stock is purchased it is usual, if it be not very large, that each animal is counterbranded; i. e., the first brand burned out and the purchaser's brand burned on instead. The purchaser has the right to continue the same brand if he so chooses, not only upon those he buys but upon their increase, for he not only by his purchase becomes the owner of the stock but of the brand also, and has all the rights thereunto pertaining of the original owner. It is customary to brand the increase whilst quite young, which is often done by the men from the various ranches of the neighborhood working in concert, driving to some one of the corrals all the stock in a given district, and when they are safely enclosed proceed to catch the calves or colts with the lasso and draw them outside the corral; where is provided a fire for heating the branding irons, which are quickly put on, after the proper cutting of the ears.

     The ownership of the young animal is determined by the brand of its mother. When this process is completed the little frightened animal is let run free, and human hand is not placed upon it again for years, perhaps not until it is full grown and sold to go to market, and it is necessary to road brand it. After all has been done by co-operation that can be advantageously, the cow boys, as the common laborers are termed, go in squads of four or five, scouting over the entire range, camping wherever night overtakes them, catching with the lasso upon the prairie every young and animal found whose mother bears their employer's brand. It is lega(l) and a universal practice to capture any unmarked and unbranded animal upon the range and mark and brand the same in their employer's brand, no matter to whom the animal may really belong, so be it is over one year old and is unbranded.

     It is easy to see that any energetic, enterprising ranchman can greatly increase the number of his stock by this means; in fact, to this opportunity is the rapid increase of many stockmen's herds owing. Unbranded animals over a year old are, in ranchmen's parlance, called "Mauvrics," which name they got from a certain old Frenchman :of. that name, who began stock raising with a very few head, and in a very brief space of time had a remarkably large herd of cattle. It was found that he actually branded fifty annually for each cow he owned. Of course he captured the unbranded yearlings. To supply a ranch, whereon a stock of ten thousand head of cattle are kept, with the necessary saddle-horses, a stock of at least one hundred and fifty brood mares should be kept. The geldings only are used for the saddle. This class of horses are small, hardy animals, bordering on the pony closely, and are of Spanish origin. Their food is grass exclusively, and many of them are as utterly unfamiliar with the use of grain as they are of Latin, and will often, when kept in the north, starve to death before they will eat grain. Almost everyone has to be taught to eat corn or oats by placing a quantity in a small muzzle-shaped sack and fastening it over the animal's nose. If any one imagines that the life of a ranchman or cow-boy is one of ease and luxury, or his diet a feast of fat things, a brief trial will dispel the illusion, as is mist by the sunshine. True his life is one of more or less excitement and adventure, and much of it is spent in the saddle, yet it is a hard life and his daily fare will never give you the gout.

     Corn bread, mast-fed bacon and coffee constitute nine-tenths of their diet; occasionally they have fresh beef and less often they have vegetables of any description. They do their own cooking in the rudest and fewest possible vessels, often not having a single plate or knife and fork other than their pocket knife, but gather around the camp kettle in true Indianstyle, and with a piece of bread in one hand proceed to fish up a piece of &#quot;sow belly " and dine sumptuously, not forgetting to stow away one or more quarts of the strongest coffee imaginable, without sugar or cream, indeed you would hesitate, if judging it from appearance, whether to call it coffee or ink. Of all the vegetables onions and potatoes are the most desired and the oftenest used, when anything more than the "old regulation" is had. Instead of an oven, fire place or cooking stove a rude hole is dug in the ground and the fire made therein, and the coffee-pot, the camp kettle and the skillet are the only culinary articles used. The life o( the cow boy is one of considerable daily danger and excitement. It is hard and full of exposure, but is wild and free, and the young man who has long been a cow boy has but little taste for any other occupation. He lives hard, works hard, has but few comforts and fewer necessities. He has but little, if any, taste for reading. He enjoys a coarse practical joke or a smutty story; loves danger but abhors labor of the common kind; never tires riding, never wants to walk, no matter how short the distance he desires to go. He would rather fight with pistols than pray; loves tobacco, liquor and women better than any other trinity. His life borders nearly upon that of an Indian. If he readsanything, it is in most cases a blood and thunder story of the sensation style. He enjoys his pipe, and relishes a practical joke on his comrades, or a corrupt tale, wherein abounds muchvulgarity and anima1 propensity. His clothes are coarse and substantial, few in number andoften of the gaudy pattern. The "sombrero " hat and large spurs are inevitable accompaniments. Every house has the appearance of a lack of convenience and comfort, but the most rude and primitive modes of life seem to be satisfactory to the cow boy. His wages range from fifteen to twenty dollars per month in specie. Mexicans can be employed for about twelve dollars per month. The cow boy has few wants and fewer necessities, the principle one being a full supply of tobacco. The desire for anything to read is very limited.

     We will here say for the benefit of our northern readers that the term "ranch" is used in the Southwest instead of "farm," the ordinary laborer is termed a "cow-boy," the horse used a "cow horse," and the herd of horses a ''cavvie yard."

     The fame of Texas as a stock growing country went abroad in the land, and soon after her admission to the Union, unto her was turned the eyes of many young men born and reared in the older southern States, who being poor in this world's goods but were ambitious to make for themselves a home and a fortune. Many of this class went to Texas, then a new and comparatively thinly settled country, and began in humblest manner, perhaps for nominal wages, to lay the foundation of future wealth and success. Time and space will not suffice for us to mention all who are worthy examples of what young men of energy and enterprise have accomplished in Texas, but we will present one as a worthy and fair example of a large class: Mr. Wm. Peryman, now a ranchman and drover, of Frio county, Texas, began business life by caring for his father's stock of cattle, which was not large, for one-third of the increase. In a few years he was able to buy out his father's stock and then sat out exclusively for himself. He has now been ranching for seventeen years and has acquired a fortune of princely magnitude. His ranches aggregate fully twenty-five thousand acres of and, all under fence, of which he cultivates but few acres, only sufficient for the necessities of his own house and one or two fancy saddle horses kept for his own private use. The balance of his lands are devoted to grazing. His stock of cattle numbers twenty-five thousand head, and the annual increase varys from four to five thousand. Mr. Peryman keeps a stock of one thousand horses and annually brands about three hundred colts, Upon his premises may also be found from five to six hundred hogs which live and fatten upon the nuts found in abundance in the timber belts which skirt almost every stream.

     Mr. Peryman has declined seventy-five thousand dollars specie for his stock of cattle, and his horses are worth perhaps fully twenty thousand dollars. His ranch would be cheap at fifty thousand dollars. Near one hundred and fifty thousand dollars is found to be the net results of seventeen years ranching under the management of Mr. Peryman.

     For the first five years after the close of the civil war New Orleans and old mexico afforded market for a limited number of cattle, and to those points Peryman was a constant drover, but finding that the plains of Western Kansas afforded a field for much larger operations he has of late years turned his droves northward, and for four years has driven annually from three to five thousand head of beeves, yet he is particular to keep his stock on the ranche intact and fully cared for in his absence. His principal rancho is on the San Magil, a lively stock steam affording plenty of water, and abounding with sufficient timber for rancho purposes. The timber affords an abundance of mast for his hogs, a part of which are always fat and ready for the knife. Mr. Wm Peryman is an Alabamian by birth, but has spent most of his youth in the State of his adoption. He is a finely proportioned, muscular fellow, fond of his friends, courteous, kind hearted, and chivalrous, a fine type of a southern gentleman. If in his power, he will make you happy; is warm and impulsive in temperament, shrewd in business transactions; in his leisure moments jovial and convivial. His extensive business is conducted with Mexican help exclusively, and although often one hundred men may be seen employed on his rancho, not a single female can be seen to grace the premises with her presence, for although young, Peryman is what the ladies term an "OId Bach."

     There are many men now in Texas engaged in ranching who went to the State before it was detached from Mexico, and when the struggle for independence began entered heartily into the war, for liberty and freedom.

     Perhaps history gives account of no more hardy, self-reliant, daring, and brave soldiers than were marshalled under the Lone Star banner in the bloody war for the independence of Texas.

     L. B. Harris, of San Antonio, has been a resident of Texas for forty years, coming from Georgia at the age of six years. At an early age he was thrown upon his own resources, which were nothing more than a clear head, a stout, fearless heart, an abundance of energy, and a pair of hands not afraid of work. There are few points, indeed, few hills or hollows in Texas or old Mexico, that he has not roamed over.

     If there are privations and hardships that he is not familiar with, they are few. When but a boy his hard experience learned him full well the intrinsic value of a dollar, and today Texas has few more shrewd and successful ranchmen and drovers than Mr. Harris. Beginning life, as we have said, penniless, it was just to his hand to take part in the Mexican war, and was among the first to take up and the last to lay down arms in that struggle, which grew out of, if not caused by, the admission of his State into the Federal Union. At the close of the Mexican war Mr. Harris turned his attention to civil pursuits and began ranching with only one hundred and fifty head of cattle and a few horses, which business he pursued for seventeen successive years, and we need not add with a reasonable degree of success. His ranches (two in number) contain about thirty-four hundred acres of land. As he has been for the last five years driving north to market annually about five thousand head of cattle, mostly of his own raising, his stock has become reduced to about two thousand head of cattle, but he still maintains a stock of twelve hundred horses. The surplus horses are sold at home to stock men and drovers. Mr. Harris has lived an active, out-door life, always ready for any emergency, and never afraid to help himself or his neighbors, but of late years he has concluded to reduce his business into a smaller compass, that he may enjoy the comforts of his beautiful home and interesting family in San Antonio, Texas. There are few markets for Texan cattle that he has not been in with his own stock. But in 1857 he turned from the limited and uncertain demand in New Orleans and old Mexico to the larger and more reliable market found in Western Kansas.

     Whoever becomes intimately acquainted with L. B. Harris will recognize in him a kind-hearted, true man, whose every impulse is honest, and who would disdain to do a mean act or oppress a man when in his power to do so. Quick, wiry, shrewd, always ahead of his appointments, and never tardy; does his own thinking and acts on his own judgment, and seldom fails to do better than those who make far greater pretensions. It is said that he made the largest single sale of cattle during the year of 1873, which was to one firm, of seven thousand head for the snug sum of $210,000.

     But we will close this chapter and pass to the history of the cattle trade of the West by presenting sketches of one or more Texan ranchmen, such as are not only producers and drovers, but farmers also.

     James F. Ellison, of San Marcos, Texas, left his native Alabama home at the age of twenty-one, and turned his face toward the Lone Star State to make for himself a home and fortune. No sooner did he land in the State of his adoption, than he engaged in marketing stock. For nearly twenty years he was a constant drover to Orleans and Mexico, but finding Western Kansas afforded a more inviting market, the last five years has found him making an annual drive of from four to twelve thousand head thereto.

     Mr. Ellison is a solid, substantial man, one who thinks for himself and looks upon life as a great solid reality. But little given to frivolity, is sober, honest, upright, and true-hearted; is shrewd and energetic in business, and always manages to sell out in good time and at fair prices. Is public spirited, and wide-awake, full of resources and withal a genuine good cattle man, and belongs to that type of men of which any country may be proud.

     But perhaps no more appropriate personal sketch of a genuine Texan ranchman could be presented than that of J. M. Choate, a Tennesseean by birth, but a Texan of twenty-eight years residence, is perhaps as true a specimen, both in appearance and manner of life, of the patriarchial ranchman and drover combined, as could be presented. His broad, high forehead, open frank countenance, full grown, untrimmed and unshaven beard, mark him as a genuine frontiersman, one accustomed to untold privations and hardships; yet one to whom no phase of frontier life has either terror or trials that he would fear to face or shrink from enduring. He is a close observer of transpiring events, an unerring reader of human countenances and character. A man whose sincere aim is to do right with his fellow man, one who suffers in heart when the people of his State are outraged or are made to endure unjust impositions. Although upon the shady side of life yet he is well preserved; hale and robust and as fond of fun and jollity, a good joke or a laughable story, as are those many years his juniors. Such are briefly the characteristics of J. M. Choate, of Helena, Texas, who has spent the entire time that he has lived in Texas upon a farm and stock ranch. Since the war he has devoted his time and energies to the live stock business. He was a drover of '66, and one of those who wended their way into Iowa with their herds, but he did not admire northern driving, regarding it as too precarious -- too uncertain, not to say dangerous to life and limb. So in '67 and '68, he turned his herds toward New Orleans; but the following year a better report of the prospect north reached him, and hither he has annually driven from one to eight thousand head of cattle, and generally sold them upon the prairie in preference to shipping. There he feels at home and knows just what he is doing.

     Mr. Choate owns a ranch of about fifteen hundred acres, upon which, and adjoining outlying Government lands, he keeps about three thousand cattle and five hundred horses. To his live stock interest he looks for his money, and when he can sell at home for satisfactory prices prefers to do so, but when the home buyer fails to come he does not hesitate to outfit one or more herds and drive them on his own account.



Next   Contents