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




Chapter V.


GATHERING CATTLE TO DRIVE TO MARKET -- CUTTING OUT -- ROAD BRANDING -- STARTING ON THE TRAIL -- A CAMP WAGON -- COW BOYS -- J. W. TUCKER -- WILLIS McCUTCHEON -- J. H. STEVENS.

     We have seen something of the production of live stock in Texas, let us now before going farther into the history of the cattle trade, look briefly at the life and labor of a drover, or one who markets cattle.

     Many owners of large ranches and stocks of cattle are drovers also, not only of their own production, but buy of others and drive them also, however, the lines of business are regarded as distinct, and as is the case in other differing vocations, most men are not adapted by nature to both occupations. The life of the ranchman is common place and routine in duties and labors, whilst that of the drover is ever subject to changes, new combinations of circumstances as well as new acquaintances and new scenery, always attended with more or less excitement arising -- if not in the events that do actually occur, then in the hope of good markets, large profits and sudden fortune.

     Let us trace the foot-steps of the drover who has determined to drive to the Northern market; early in the year he determines to drive, and straightway goes into the section from which he has decided to bring his herd; and riding from one ranch to another, contracts with the owner or his agent at the ranch, for the delivery at a given place, usually at the corral, of a certain number of cattle of whatever age he may have decided to drive. Droves are usually largely composed of what are termed "Beeves," that is a steer four years old or older, and it matter not whether he weighs seven hundred pounds gross or seven tons gross, so he is the proper age, he is a "beef" and counts one and only one, and it matters not whether he be lean or fat, thrifty or scrubby, if he is four years or fourteen years old he is "beef," and a drove thereof is styled a drove of "Beeves." Our drover pays but one price to all ranchmen, and when he has completed his contracts and whilst the ranchman is gathering the stock to fill them, the drover rides to some horse ranch and buys the necessary saddle horses, i. e. gets up a "cavvie yard," also a wagon for hauling camp supplies, and then secures the necessary number of cow boys to aid him in driving, not forgetting to obtain a cook whose duties on the road in addition to cooking is to drive the camp wagon, and to take care of the usual regulation supplies. When the day for receiving his purchases arrives, the drover with his outfit of hands and camp equipage puts in an appearance at the designated place, and all such cattle as will fill the contract are received, and often many that do not fill the contract are taken simply because a custom has obtained to take almost everything the ranchman has gathered, and a drover who will not do so is termed very particular and illiberal, a reputation that they abhor, so thus often the drover is pulled into taking animals that he never bought, and that his business sense tells him he should not take. And this is the reason, more than anything else, why so few really select droves of Texan cattle reach the Western market. It is no lack of judgment but because it is the custom to take almost everything that is gathered by the ranchman. Again, these contracts are usually verbal only; and to be particular would lead to wrangles and differences of memory and understanding, which are not pleasant to the drover. The ranchman in gathering the stock to fill his contract, drives together, or, in drover parlance, "rounds up" a large number of cattle of all ages and sexes, and whilst from six to ten cow boys hold the herd together the ranchman with one or two assistants separate such as are suitable. This process is termed "cutting out."

     The process of "cutting out" is one that requires skill and expert horsemanship, both of which the experienced cow-boy invariably possesses in a high degree, especially the latter, for it is indeed a desperately bad cow-pony that he cannot ride. The reputation of Texas for horsemanship is national, and needs no eulogiums in this place. To accomplish the greatest amount of labor with the least effort and the least amount of hard riding, two cow-boys work together. When a beef is selected to be "cut out," he is adroitly and quietly maneuvered to the outskirts of the round-up, and when the opportune moment occurs, the cow-boys dash at him, and, before he is aware of it, is on the outside of, and separated from the herd; but no sooner does he discover the situation, than he makes a desperate effort to regain his comrades, and just here is where the skill of the cow-boy is put in requisition. Whilst one rides beside the steer, the other rides just behind him, to prevent or check any sudden change of direction that the frantically excited bovine may chose to make in his efforts to get back with the herd, which he tries desperately to do, and persists in trying so long as there is a shadow of a chance to outrun his pursuers. Often the race is close and the contest exciting, and sometimes the outer circle of the round-up will be run more than once, before the beef will be induced to abandon the effort to get back into the herd. But when he finds himself outrun and out generaled, he will toss up his head and look for the comrades which have been previously cut out, and are being held a few hundred feet distant. In the beginning of the cut-out, a few gentle cows or working oxen are driven a short space from the round-up and held, to form a nucleus, to which those cut out gather. Cutting out is always done on an open, smooth spot of prairie, and never done inside a corral, as a Northern man handles or separates his cattle. When North with their herds, a Texan drover always prefers the prairie to any inclosure to handle his stock, for there, mounted on his pony, he feels at home and knows just how to manage; besides he has a fixed, constitutional prejudice against doing anything on foot that can possibly be done on horseback, not to speak of the almost universal fear they entertain of being among their stock on foot. They are justified, to some extent at least, in indulging this wholesome fear; for but few Texan bullocks will hesitate, when inclosed alone in a strong corral, to show decided belligerent proclivities, or to furiously charge the venturesome wight who dares to show himself on foot within the inclosure. Occasionally, whilst loading a herd upon cars, a bullock will become detached from his comrades, and, almost invariably, so soon as he finds himself alone, without ability to escape, will manifest a disposition to fight anything or anybody that may chance to be in sight. Often considerable difficulty is experienced in getting him to any desired place. A Northern man, unaccustomed to handling Texan cattle, will often rush into the corral wherein is a single bullock. He will have scarcely got cleverly in the corral before the bullock, with arched back, downset head, extended nostrils, and glaring, fiery eyes, darts toward his supposed adversary, who, suddenly taking in his dangerous situation, but too late to retreat by the way of his entree, rushes post haste to the nearest fence, which is usually so high he cannot spring to the top of it; but reaching the top with only his finger tips, draws his body as high as possible, and clinging to his hold with frantic grip, yells lustily for help. In the meantime the bullock, failing to pin the body of the man to the wall, puts in vicious strokes with his horns at the dangling coat-tails and posterior of the thoroughly alarmed man. When the frightened fellow is relieved from his perilous attitude, he finds, on casual examination, his coattails in shreds, and the seat of his unmentionables ripped in a shocking manner, much resembling a railroad map of a western commercial metropolis. He does not want to either sit down or lay down on his back, This excites his profound disgust, and he is an immediate applicant to borrow or buy a new suit of clothes. At all events he is fully decided that driving Texan critters on foot is not his best forte, and he has a modified opinion of his own prowess as a live stock driver. At another time, when he attempts to drive or cut out a Texan bullock, he decidedly prefers the horseback mode. But to return to the main subject.

     Those cut out are held under herd until others are added from other quarters, and when finally the required number is got together they are taken to the corral, herded in day time and corraled at night until the day of delivery to the drover comes, when, as I have before stated, he is expected to take all gathered for him.

     As fast as the drover receives the various detachments of his drove, they are by his own men driven to some previously secured corral, and when all are in and the herd is complete then the job of road-branding begins, which by the aid of plenty of help, is soon completed. All things being ready, a start is made, but not before the drover has secured and recorded a bill of sale from each ranchman or his lawful agent from whom the stock was purchased. The bill of sale sets forth not only the ranch brands, but all the ear marks. The appearance of a bill of sale is much like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The more a northern man looks at one the less he knows about it. But it is necessary for the drover to have it, for without it the officers of the law would regard him as a thief, and of course arrest him. Now that a start is once made, hard driving for the first few days is the custom. For several reasons this is done; first, in order to get the stock off of their accustomed range, whereon they feel at home, and know all the country, and are much harder to keep under control than when on strange ground. Second, it is done to break or accustom them to being driven, at the same time to tire them by hard traveling so they will feel at nightfall like lying down and resting instead of running off, as they would be sure to do if they were not fatigued. We have heard drovers say that they traveled the first three or four days at the rate of twenty-five or thirty miles per day. But as soon as the cattle are driven off of their usual range, and are got on to the regular trail, the distance of a day's drive is reduced to ten to fifteen miles each day, They are permitted to go out on the range in the morning early and to feed, care being taken that they be kept headed in the direction the drover is desirous of going. They will feed along for two or three miles, then turn into the trail and travel three or four miles, when after drinking their fill of water, they will lie down and rest from two to four hours in the middle of the day. Getting up from their beds, they soon turn from the trail upon the grass and take their afternoon feed preparatory to being rounded up for the night. When upon the bed ground one or more men remain with them during the silent hours of the night, being relieved by regular relays from the camp, much as the soldier upon guard is relieved. With each herd are about two men to every three hundred cattle, and each man should have at least two saddle horses, which he rides alternately, they living exclusively upon the grass. The extra horses not under the saddle are called the cavvie-yard, and are driven behind the camp wagon, which is drawn by one or more yokes of oxen, and is often a cumbersome, rude cart, made with an eye to strength rather than beauty, and is made the receptacle of the provisions and camp outfit.

     To drive a drove of cattle properly more patience and perseverance than labor is required.

     The cattle are often shamefully abused on the road. Especially is this the case when Mexican help is employed, for they will not drive any other way than in a rush, and have no more feeling or care for dumb brutes, either cattle or horses, than they have for a stone. Their heartless cruelty is proverbial, and we have yet to see a drove of cattle driven by them or a cavvie-yard used by them that was not as poor as wood. They are the dearest help in a long run that a drover can employ, although they will work for considerable less wages than white boys. But unless their "boss" keeps them under strict surveillance they are intolerably impudent and mean.

     An Indian would not be more treacherous than are some of the Mexican cow boys. Several instances of brutal murders of the men in charge of herds have been perpetrated by the Mexican cow boys, employed to drive to Western Kansas. Nothing but gold will pay them for their services. The idea that greenbacks are of value does not, and cannot be made to enter their understanding, and they will accept one-third or one-half wages, if it is only paid in gold. But we would not do them injustice, for many of them are good faithful help, and true to the interests of their employers. But as a rule they are unprofitable as well as unreliable help.

     Many traders of moderate capital do a profitable business in Texas in getting together herds ready for the trail, then selling out to some regular drover. Quite a number of young energetic men, have thus made considerable sums of money. In fact laid the foundation of future fortunes in this manner.

     Perhaps no better specimen of a local Texan trader could be presented than J. W. Tucker, of Trio City. Texas. Born in Georgia, but reared to young manhood in Alabama, he turned his steps toward Texas at the age of nineteen, and spent several years in traveling over the State, running upon first one stage route, then upon another, thus getting a complete knowledge of the geography of Texas, as well as of the ways of the world. Becoming dissatisfied with the precarious life of the stage driver, he turned his attention to the local cattle trade, and for five years did little else than furnish herds to drovers, who forwarded them to market. Having thus obtained a thorough, practical knowledge of the cattle business and acquired sufficient means, in the year 1872 Mr. Tucker determined to try the trail with a herd, on his own account and we need only add that such were the results of his first effort, that the succeeding year found him again upon the market with another herd of eighteen hundred head of fine cattle, for which he soon found a buyer at satisfactory prices. But the spirit of speculation was abroad in his breast, and but little time elapsed -- after selling out -- before he purchased about two thousand head of superior cattle in Western Kansas, which in consequence of the wide spread financial panic of 1873, he was not able to dispose of at prices that would justify him in selling. Fortunately an opportunity presented itself, and he put them to feed in large distilleries at Peoria, Illinois.

     Mr. Tucker is a remarkable quiet drover, seldom having anything to say, and never heard talking in a boisterous manner. But his quiet turn and affable manners, mark him as a young man of generous impulses and manly aspirations, and one who will make good impressions and enduring friendship wherever he goes.

     Wherever you meet a man who in his childhood was trained to business and labor as a cattle drover, you find a being whose second nature and greatest delight is to be with live stock. No endearments, of home, or profits of a more quiet or routine business, can retain or allure him from persistently following his favorite pursuit; no matter if it is not half so profitable, really, as are other more quiet, unexciting employments. He loves the drove and the trail, the risk, excitement, and ever changing scenes and circumstances incident to the drover's life.

     Willis McCutcheon, of Austin, Texas, is a native of the Lone Star State, and was reared to the business of farming and stock ranching. He accompanied his father with a herd of cattle, which was one among the few driven North as early as the year 18S7. At that time Willis was but a boy, but his memory of events occurring on that trip then the greatest one of his life is as distinct as though they had transpired but yesterday. They crossed the Missouri river near Independence, and met a purchaser for the herd at Quincy, Ill., at the remunerative price of twenty-five dollars per head, in gold, which afforded a snug profit. This early induction into the life of the drover, had a marked effect in shaping McCutcheon's future, for no sooner had he arrived at the years of maturity, than he selected a location in the stock regions of Texas, and went largely into stock raising. Always selling at home when an opportunity presented itself but driving to other markets when the home purchaser failed to put in an appearance. In connection with his associates in business, he has gathered and marketed many tens of thousands of cattle.

     During the civil war he furnished the Confederate army with thousands of beeves, and at its close began driving cattle. In 1866, when he learned of the blockade in Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri, he had his herd turned westward, and drove around the settlements of Western Kansas and landed it in Iowa, where good prices were obtained.

     During the year 1865 he drove several herds to Mexico; also made several trips to New Orleans with cattle. Not liking his experiences in 1866, he stayed upon his ranch the following year; but in 1868 engaged with his associates in driving about twelve thousand head of cattle to the mouth of Red river, where they were delivered to certain Chicago gentlemen, to whom they had been previously contracted. The cattle were put upon river steamers, in crowded, hot quarters, without room to feed, water, or lay down to rest, and shipped to Cairo, Ill., and there carried up into the central and eastern portion of that State. This importation of cattle into Illinois was a sad misfortune to the sections of country that received them, and a calamity in its effects to the State of Texas. Just how this was, will appear elsewhere. However McCutcheon did well and returned to his home satisfied with his summer's work. But the habit of driving cattle much like that of shipping them once formed, is hard to break up. Home and life on the ranch seems too quiet, and the excitement of a trip off is longed for, to break the dull monotony of existence. So the years of 1869, '70, '71 '72 and '73, found McCutcheon's herds en route for the Western Kansas market, in which he has disposed of about two thousand head annually.

     Willis McCutcheon is one of those substantial, matter-of-fact, every day kind of men, that you feel instinctively will do to tie to, and when you look into his frank, open countenance, a sense of his straightforward manner of life and business integrity impresses you. You feel that in him -- a true, big heaarted man, who could not have pleasure in a mean, dishonorable transaction -- you can rely with safety.

     The civil war was, in its effects upon the agricultural interests of the South, a complete revolutionizer, and bankrupter. Many whose lands were valuable for purposes of cultivation, and whose wealth consisted in agricultural lands and slaves, suddenly found themselves without laborers, and their lands so depreciated in market value, as to be almost worthless. The owners of these departed fortunes, in many cases became vagabond loafers, spending their dispairing hours lounging in bar-rooms, hotels and other public places; never tiring of the story of their calamity, and ever trying to maintain the semblance at least of that genteel dignity, once the pride of a Southern slave owner. Although the effort generally results in but a seedy appearance, and frequent loud declarations of their "high tone". Other planters became bankrupt, or nearly so, by the War, were able to rise, superior to their misfortunes, and after fully taking in the situation, turn their energies and efforts to some promising field of industry, and therein put forth noble efforts to retrieve their damaged fortunes. To this latter class belongs J. H. Stevens, whose magnificent plantation or farm of fifteen hundred acres, once in high state of cultivation, became to him worthless, nor can it be sold for anything now, although, before the war, twenty dollars per acre in gold was its market value. It is not profitable to hire laborers and cultivate it. So it is allowed to lay awaste, whilst its owner has turned his face to stock-driving; sometimes horses are driven exclusively, and sold in Missouri or Illinois. In later years cattle have received his undivided attention, of which he annually drives about four thousand head; first to western Kansas, then if no buyer is found there, he goes on to some one of the more northerly territories, or delivers them to some Government contractor, to be turned over to the Indians.

     Mr. Stevens has been a constant driver since 1868, and has each year driven larger herds, or more of them, than the previous year. He is a substantial solid man, of good practical sense and fine judgment, and one that has a large list of friends. His quiet, affable manner, and air of genuine courtesy, attract the attention of observing men, who are always able to discern in him the true North Carolina gentleman.



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