SHIPPING EXTRA CHOICE CATTLE -- CATTLE DRIVEN TO MOUTH OF RED RIVER -- OUTBREAK OF SPANISH FEVER -- CONVENTION OF EXPERTS -- THEORIES OF THE CAUSE OF SPANISH FEVER -- " SPORULE THEORY" -- "TICK THEORY" --"SHIP FEVER THEORY" -- SYMPTOMS OF THE DISEASE -- PREVENTIVES -- J. T. ALEXANDER -- CORN FEEDING.
Among the many fine herds of cattle that arrived at Abilene in the spring of 1868, there was one of 800 head, a very choice selection. Great pains had been taken in the best cattle regions of Texas in selecting choice fat cattle, and equally as great caution had been exercised in driving them to Kansas. After arriving at Abilene they were put on the best herd grounds in the county, where they added greatly to their already fine condition. The eye of a certain Illinoisan had been upon this herd for some time, fully determined when the opportune day arrived, to retrieve some of his severe losses sustained the previous year. When the proper time came he purchased two hundred and twenty-four head, his choice of the eight hundred head, and after selecting them carefully, one by one, drove them four miles to the shipping yards, and after standing them therein for twelve hours weighed them. They made the remarkable average of twelve hundred and thirty-eight pounds each, and amounted to seven thousand four hundred and sixty-eight dollars. They were placed upon the cars and sent forward to Chicago, thence forwarded to Buffalo, New York, where they were sold, and due account of sale made to shipper; but, alas, the net returns was only fourteen hundred and sixty-eight dollars, six thousand being lost, and not since found or heard of. The shipper has come to regard it as a permanent contribution, of a benevolent nature he hopes, toward feeding the oppressed laborers of New England's manufactories. So let it be, but not any more in the same way.
The charity of that cattle shipper is nearly exhausted, and bread for himself and family much in the same fix. This great loss was not because the cattle were not good and fat, for they were, but arose in part from the prejudice of people against Texas cattle, and the farther east the greater the prejudice, and the less they actually knew about the cattle. But the main cause of great sacrifice was the outbreak of the so-called "Spanish fever," which caused a tremendous excitement throughout the North. A disastrous panic occurred among holders of short-horn cattle, resulting in severe losses and often ruin to many northern cattle men. But before we go further into the discussion of the subject of the disease, its primal cause, preventives, etc., we will notice another enterprise that took practical shape in the spring of 1868. A certain firm of cattle-men in Chicago went to Texas and contracted with certain large cattle drovers to deliver about forty thousand head of cattle on the Mississippi river at the mouth of Red river where, upon delivery, the cattle were crowded in large numbers on the hot unventilated decks of large steamboats. After six to twelve days of perpetual standing upon the hard deck without room to lay down, or drink, or feed, suffering with heat and overcrowding, they were landed at Cairo, Illinois, in great poverty of flesh and famishing with hunger, and so near dead from exhaustion that in many instances they had to be helped up the levee to the shipping yards of the I. C. R. R., upon which road they were shipped to Tolono, ILL., and there unloaded and turned upon the prairies whereon all the domestic cattle of the county were grazing. Many of the Texas cattle were sold to feeders and grazers in that portion of Illinois, and some went into Indiana and were put in pastures, often mixed with the domestic cattle, no danger being apprehended. But before thirty days of hot weather had elapsed the domestic cattle on the prairies and in the pastures began to sicken and die at a frightful rate. Many grazers became alarmed and rushed their cattle off to market, fearing if they kept them that they would lose the entire herd by the dreaded disease. Several herds of domestic cattle which had been exposed were shipped east, and upon the way developed the disease, and speedily died, causing great losses to their owners and a feeling of indignant fear and excitement among all Eastern as well as Western cattle men, resulting, as before stated, in a crash and panic throughout the entire Northern cattle market, and a feeling of intense hostility toward southwestern cattle. Upon the prairie about Tolono, ILL., nearly every cow of domestic blood died. In one township every milk cow except one died. This was a great and serious loss to many poor farmers of that region and they became perfectly enraged at Texan cattle, and would have mobbed a man unto death who would have dared to talk in favor of Texan cattle, much less shipped a car-load of them. The trade via mouth of Red river was thoroughly broken up, with disaster to those engaged in it from the North. It was just at the outbreak of the excitement in the East that shipment of the two hundred and twenty-four head of fine Texan cattle from Abilene, arrived at Buffalo. Hence the great loss. About the same time that the disease appeared near Tolono, it also appeared m a much less fatal and less malignant form in other portions of Illinois, among domestic cattle which had been grazed with Texan cattle that had been introduced via Abilene Kas. But it is a fact well authenticated that but few cases of disease actually occurred after exposure to Texan cattle coming via Western Kansas, and those that did occur were of a milder type, and not sufficiently alarming to have created more than a local excitement, but coupled with the disaster that arose from the introduction of cattle, via mouth of Red river, it was sufficient to put an entire stop to the eastern demand, and consequent shipment of Texan cattle from all points to the east or anywhere into the northwest.
At the same time the disease appeared in Illinois, a few cattle died near Abiline, which were all or nearly all paid for by voluntary contributions of the cattle drovers and parties interested at Abilene; and thus the verbal pledges made to the farmers more than a year before -- at a public meeting called to effect the dissolution of a hostile organization, the particulars of which have already been given -- were made good to the letter.
The total loss of domestic cattle in Dickinson county was about forty-five hundred dollars in value. However, the prices at which the animals were appraised were often grossly exhorbitant, and in one or two cases fraudulent claims were made, a few of which were paid before detection. Of the fund necessary to liquidate these claims, about twelve hundred dollars was contributed by the drovers then at Abilene, the balance was paid by the parties who owned the shipping yards. The K. P. Railway Company, by its general superintendent, agreed to contribute five hundred dollars, but after the claims were all settled and the Texan cattle shipped, the Railway Company repudiated its agreement and refused to pay anything. Such conduct became quite fashionable with the K. P. Railway Company in after days, indeed they soon became notorious for their bad faith in regard to contracts. It seemed to be their policy to repudiate every contract made. But we will speak of this more definitely in its proper place.
Throughout the entire Western states an unprecedented excitement arose about "Spanish fever," a name given by common consent to the malady or disease disseminated by Texan cattle. It was the subject of gossip by everybody and formed the topic of innumerable newspaper articles, as well as associated press dispatches. A panic seized upon owners of domestic herds everywhere and many rushed their cattle off to market only to meet panic-stricken operators from other sections and ruinously low prices for their stock.
The butchers, venders and consumers were alike alarmed and afraid to buy, sell or consume beef of any kind. The Agricultural Society of Illinois appointed of its members a committee of three to investigate the cause of the disease, the remedies, and the preventive, if any could be found. This investigation was conducted in all the districts in Illinois where the disease had made its appearance, also at Abilene, Kansas.
We believe it was as thorough in character and as conscientiously made as circumstances would admit. But no satisfactory cause of the disease was discovered, and of the various theories maintained none seemed to be entirely satisfactory or conclusive.
Soon after the outbreak of the disease the Governor of New York appointed inspectors and attempted to quarantine all cattle from the west or northwest. This soon began to work a hardship on the cattle shippers from Illinois and the Governor of that State appointed two commissioners to look after the interests of the Sucker State cattle boys. This diplomatic choir of ministers plenipotentiary in all matters pertaining to bulls of Suckerdom, were heavy weights, intellectually and otherwise.
We doubt not the State of New York was awed into respectfully considerate conduct by the magnetic presence of the mighty geniuses sent into her borders by the Governor of Illinois. Under the old Quaker rule they must have made splendid envoys.
This immortalizing act of the Governor of Illinois was followed by another, the calling of a convention of experts to assemble in the Sucker Capitol. This convention as a collection of quondam quacks, and impractical theorists, and imbecile ignoramuses, was without an equal.
There were in attendance delegates from most of the northern States; also two or more from the Canadas. A portion of the delegates were esculapians of the most deadly type -- others mere political bummers -- sent to that convention by their respective Governors to relieve the community, for a short time, at least, of a pestilential crew. Others were so prejudiced as to be utterly unfit to deliberate on, or investigate anything; a portion were of that class who will enjoy especial immunity on the final day, if it be true "That unto whom little is given, little will be required." There were a few earnest seekers after truth and information upon the vexed subject of "Spanish fever," and the importation of Texan cattle, and "What to do about it."
The convention as a body, was a prejudiced, impractical one, filled with a burning hatred of long-horned kine. The object of the convention was to determine upon a practical mode of protecting domestic cattle from disease, and to recommend a practical basis of legislation against the introduction of Texan cattle.
Upon the organization of the convention it was patent to the most casual observer that recommendations of absolute prohibition, for at least eight or ten months in the year, was the only policy that could or would be adopted, and such was the case.
There was but one man upon that floor, and he an honorary member from Kansas, that dare raise his voice in behalf of Texan cattle, and his speech brought forth a storm of indignation from the members of the convention, for it was exceedingly unpalatable to hear Texan cattle spoken of in any other terms than those of the strongest condemnation.
But it was idle for the speaker to point out that an attempt to prohibit absolutely the products of one State from passing through or into another State or to the common markets of the country, by the legislature enactment of a State, was clearly in violation of the Federal Constitution, wherein is delegated to Congress only, the power to regulate commerce between the States. It was futile to urge the equal rights of the owners of cattle, no matter whether the cattle's horns were long or short, although the owner of the former might be a citizen of Texas. It was useless to point out the utter failure of prohibitory legislation, as exemplified in the case of several of the western States, to accomplish the design sought, to-wit: To protect the short-horn cattle from disease. It were words spent in vain to point out legitimate and legal quarantine measures or methods of attaining the end desired. There were few who would heed whilst the arrangement of nature was pointed out, in that, that the west and southwest must produce, the northwest fatten, and the east consume the beef product of the United States; and that one section was dependent on the other for its ultimate prosperity.
All these and other weighty considerations were urged upon the attention of the convention; but their announcement fell as soft water upon the flinty stone, for it had predetermined on prohibition.
Of the various theories advanced concerning the primal cause of Spanish fever, three only had any considerable number of adherents. The first called the natural or "Sporule" theory, was advocated if not invented, by the scientists and doctors who composed in part at least nearly every commission sent out to investigate the disease and its causes. This theory is that the primal cause of the disease is found to be a small egg or sporule deposited upon the blades of grass in Texas, which being eaten by the animal finds its way into the blood and grows to be microscopic monsters. Disorganization of the blood, disease, the symptoms of which is fever, and death follows as a kind of natural result.
But it was worth enduring the evils of a perverse generation to have heard those sage theorists dilate upon the devilish character and proclivities of those horrible sporules. How their discovery had cost them so much profound scientific research -- how they had dived in the carcass of the defunct bovine -- searched his utmost intestine -- torn to atoms and inspected his paunch, and subjected his stomach to the most rigid scrutiny -- bursted asunder his liver, and looked into its innermost recess -- pried into the secrets of his kidneys -- subjected his bladder to the severest chemical tests -- looked through powerful telescopes into his dying eye and discerned the anguish of his departing spirit. But it was in his gore that their indominitable energy and profound research was rewarded, by the discovery of the inexpressably horrible sporule. They well knew that in the very nature of things he must be somewhere, for it was plain to them that the symmetry and perfection of the universe would have been incomplete without him--the elements of material nature would have long since resolved themselves back into original chaos, if there had been such an omission in creation as the sporule. They justly felt that the discovery of him was the crowning glory and most momentous event of the nineteenth century -- if not of all modern times. It was plain that none since the days of the ancient mathematician engulfed in his ablutions had so good a reason to cry out, "Eureka! Eureka!" But the advocaters of this theory failed to inform the waiting world what villain put those Sporules upon the grass blades in Texas, or from whence he got them, or why he wanted to make short-horned cattle sick unto death, or whether he had been told to desist, or warned that drawing "back pay" for services once paid for would not be tolerated; or that he was not "putting things where they would do him the most good." That fellow, whoever he is and whatever his malicious intent may be, must be a diabolical monster and worthy of immediate extermination. His body should be embalmed in carbolic acid and placed in the cabinet of those scientists; there to remain as a trophy of the most profound scientific research of the nineteenth century. But in this case it is questionable whether all the investigating conventions, commissions, doctors and scientists ever did the cause of truth one iota of practical good, Their learned and beautifully arranged theories were enunciated and elaborated with all manner of profound erudite detail. Although in practice and for all practical good, they were valueless unless it be as a curious specimen of what great profound thinkers can do for the relief of their country in distress. Indeed their bulky disquistitions clothed in high-sounding words when shorn of their verbiage and compressed into intrinsic truth and practical common sense, would remind matter of fact cattle men of the fabled mountain bringing forth the mouse. In fact the results of the various commissions for the investigation of Spanish fever reminds one of the ancient royal commission of sage scientists who spent many days and weeks investigating and profoundly debating the all absorbing question of natural history, to-wit: "Which is the butt end of a billy goat."
Aside from the honorary member from Kansas, who was the party in interest at Abilene, the convention was as eager to deal a death blow to the new opening stock trade of the southwest as are a pack of ravenous wolves to devour the powerless lamb. It was a noticeable fact that Texas as a State was without a single representative upon the floor of that convention, although the subject had been brought to the attention of a large number of drovers sojourning at Abilene, who did appoint a certain ex-Governor of their State to be a delegate, but failed as usual to provide funds for defraying necessary expenses, so he failed to put in an appearance. So Texas, the State above all others the most interested, was entirely unrepresented where her most valuable product was the subject of discussion, and measures adopted recommending a basis of legislation which effected her for weal or woe, to the amount of many millions of dollars in value; and all for the lack of public spirit and public enterprise of her citizens.
The recommendation of that convention formed the basis of legislation enacted by many of the northern States during the following winter. During the summer of 1868, the Federal Government employed to thoroughly investigate the subject of Spanish fever and its prime causes, manner of contraction, and prevention, Prof. John Gamgee, an English Veterinary Surgeon who had won distinction in England during the time when rinderpest made such sad havoc among the herds of England. This capable gentleman visited all portions of the United States where Spanish fever had raged, and also the State of Texas, and made a thorough and practical investigation of the disease, endeavoring to trace its primal cause, origin, and nature. But we have never seen his report in print, and we are not sure that the government had it printed, for the excitement soon abated and Texan cattle began to appear on market both east and west.
Indeed we have often thought that the outbreak of Spanish fever and the consequent excitement, really served to draw toward Texan cattle the attention of stock men from every quarter of the country, and eventuated in their becoming recognized as a staple commodity upon the markets.
It is the opinion of others that the doctors and scientists had caught up one of the effects or symptoms of the disease and manufactured a fine spun theory which looks plausible on paper, but has not one ounce of truth or fact in it. In Spanish fever like pneumonia in horses, the blood, we opine, becomes totally disorganized, in fact might be called rotten, and upon examining it with the microscope a very unnatural appearance is detected. But the actual cause of the disease can only be conjectured from this standpoint.
Another, the second theory, is that the disease is solely and entirely caused by the ticks peculiar to the climate and country of the southwest. It is argued that only ticky cattle will disseminate disease; that every native that dies of Spanish fever will always be found to have almost one tick for every hair on his hide; that his stomach will be found often to contain ticks although small yet numerous mingled with the food. It is held, truthfully too, that the large ticks seen in great numbers on almost all cattle fresh from Texas that have been shipped direct north, soon yield their hold on the animal and fall to the ground where they by a process peculiar to their nature, become as an egg, from each one of which a thousand or more little ticks will be hatched in a short space of time, and crawl upon the blades of grass wherefrom they get on the legs of the grazing animal, and when it lays down to rest get on to its body. Also the ticks whilst in this diminutive state are eaten by the domestic animal in great quantities. Whether on the outside of his body digging into his skin or within his stomach, they are to the domestic cattle rank poison, which, when a sufficient amount has been absorbed by the animal's system, acts in such a manner as to create fever and death. It is urged in support of the "Tick theory" that the advent of frost, as is well known to be the case, puts a stop to the spread of the disease by killing the young ticks. It is also a well known fact that in every case wherein a ticky herd of cattle came upon the pasture in contact with natives, that disease was sure to follow. The cattle that were introduced into Illinois via the Red river route was always very ticky, often having so many that the actual color of the animal would be hid by the large distended, greyish white bodies of the million of ticks which were clinging to his hide, and sticking blood from him.
Wherever on the pasture fields or prairies these cattle came in contact and grazed with the domestic stock, pestilential disease and death followed with infallible certainty.
The "Tick theory" had for its advocates some able practical cattle men, some of whom had lost heavily by Spanish fever, and had made close observations and tests to ascertain the real cause of the disease and its manner of contraction.
The third theory is that the Spanish fever is superinduced by much the same causes, as ship fever aboard emigrant steam ships, to-wit: by hard usage and privation of the usual and necessary rest, food, and water.
The cattle of Texas being wild and free, almost as much so as the buffalo of the plains in the west, are fretful and worried by restraint and handling much as is the full grown wild animal when caged.
It is not uncommon to over-drive and starve the Texan cattle en route for market. Often in dry seasons water being scarce herds do not get sufficient for a week at a time and often the haste of the drover or his indolence allows his cattle to be over-driven, and that too without sufficient food to prevent his stock from suffering.
We leave the reader to form his own opinion which of the theories stated is the correct one, only adding that a carefully driven herd of Texan cattle coming via Western Kansas into the northern States seldom if ever disseminate disease. If permitted to rest for thirty to sixty days on good range abounding with plenty of water and grass, they will not infect the domestic cattle. This we know to be correct. But whether during this rest from travel and hardship the fever becomes extinct by the recurperative power of the animals, or whether the losing of the ticks, as they invariably do, rids them of the seeds of disease, we leave the reader to form his own opinion, only adding that after the closest observation of many cases and often trying to seek out the real causes of Spanish fever, we are unable to say whether the "Tick theory" or the "Ship fever theory" is the correct one. For both theories have almost unanswerable arguments in their favor. Of one thing we feel certain, that is, that the cattle in Texas upon their accustomed range are as healthy as any cattle in the world.
There is one peculiar characteristic of Spanish fever among Texan cattle, that is, its presence is scarcely perceptible to the casual observer, for it never kills a Texan animal, and effects them so slightly that it requires an experienced eye to detect its presence in a herd of Texan cattle. Nevertheless, they do have the disease and occasionally one of them will be sick near unto death with it, especially is this the case with 'Texan cattle that have been wintered in the northern States.
It is a well settled fact, settled by every investigation yet instituted as well as by the unanimous testimony of the closest observing practical cattle men, that the disease is communicated to the domestic stock only by grazing and laying upon the same grounds or pasture lands which have been previously grazed over by Texan cattle.
That to travel upon the same road, to drink at the same pond of water, to pass through the same shipping yards or in the same cars, will not furnish the necessary conditions for contraction of the disease. But, we repeat, the domestic stock must eat of the same grass that has just previously been depastured by the Texan cattle. Whether the seeds of disease left on the grass are in the shape of ticks, or is a poison left in and with their saliva or slobbers, or in and with the urine or residuum deposited upon the grass, or whether they are the veritable "Sporules"of the scientists, is an undetermined question and one about which practical cattle men as well as doctors disagree.
We propose to deal with facts or practical effects, rather than with theories. One thing, there is little use to deny or gainsay, that there is such a malady as is commonly called Spanish fever; or that it is under certain circumstances disseminated by Texan cattle. It is in ninety-nine cases in one hundred, fatal in its effects upon the short-horn cattle. While it is an unsettled question just how the short-horn contracts, or the Texan disseminates, the disease, none other than an obdurate man, one who would not or could not, be convinced by evidence, will longer dispute or disbelieve the actual existence, at certain seasons of the year, of the disease among certain classes of cattle.
In about two to four weeks after the short-horn has been exposed to the necessary conditions; that is, grazed over and rested upon the same pastures upon which certain herds of Texan cattle have previously been pastured, he may be observed to become stupid, refuse to eat or drink, inclined to stand or lie in the fence corners, his head will droop below its natural position, his ears will lop down beside his head, his eyes will become nearly fixed, and a wild glaring stare, will be observed, whilst from his nostrils or mouth, will constantly drool a whitish ropey slobber resembling excessive salivary secretion. The animal's coat of hair will stand up on end or turn forward, presenting a rough unthrifty appearance, whilst his back will become arched. Frequent urinary discharges will occur presenting the appearance to the casual observer, of pure blood, but rare evacuations of the bowels will occur, and those will be very hard and dry. The animal will become intensely hot, and suffer great pain, and when near dissolution, will often bellow piercing shrieks, expressive of the racking pain endured. Sometimes they will plunge about wildly for a few moments and then suddenly fall down and expire instantly.
If the subject is milk stock, one of the first symptoms of approaching disease will be the diminution of the supply of milk, which in one or two days will cease altogether. Milk cows are more liable for some unknown reason to contract the disease, than are other cattle.
A sucking calf never takes Spanish fever, no matter if it sucks its dying or dead mother, as they have been seen do, without contracting the disease. One short-horn will not contract the fever from another short-horn, nor will a herd of short-horns contract Spanish fever from the worst infected herd of Texans, if they are separated by so much as a partition fence. Although the water the short-horns drink may have come first through the pasture whereon are grazing infected Texans; it will not convey the seeds of disease to the short-horns. We repeat, it is the necessary conditions for the native cattle to graze over, and lie upon pastures which have just previously been grazed over by Texans, in order to contract Spanish fever. No well authenticated instance of the contraction of the disease in any other manner or under other circumstances has yet been produced.
It is not difficult generally for an experienced western cattle man to detect the Spanish fever existing in a herd of Texan cattle, but it requires close scrutiny and experience, for the evidences of its presence are not discernable to the casual observer or inexperienced cattle man. No specific, infallible remedy has yet been found for Spanish fever, but enough is known or established as the result of experiments, to warrant the assertion, that if the animal is thoroughly drenched with any powerful purgatives, so as to relieve the system or all food while the animal is in the earlier stages of the disease, it is quite likely to recover. But inasmuch as the animal's stomach or manifold becomes as dry as a gunny sack, and the contents as dry and hard as a pine board, looking much like a hard sponge, in the latter stages of the disease, it is plain that physics or any other remedy can not afford relief. It has been found very beneficial as a preventive and cure to feed green corn, to exposed animals, or those taking the disease. It is found that corn will in this case as in "milk sickness," neutralize the poison, much as the essence of corn, familiarly called whisky, will neutralize the poison of the rattlesnake.
Many cattle men are fond of neutralizing snake bites. In fact, some of them neutralize so often, that they dream of snakes being in many disgustingly familiar attitudes, especially about their boots.
Perhaps no one man sustained greater losses, both direct and indirect, from Spanish fever, than John T. Alexander, of Morgan County, Illinois. Certainly no man in that State or any other has handled more Texan cattle on his own account than has he. Indeed, there are few, if any, who have handled more cattle of all classes than has Mr. Alexander. Beginning when he was a lad of thirteen years to assist his father, then an extensive drover from Ohio to the eastern markets he gradually grew to the business for which he had a natural taste, and great, good judgment -- two indispensable qualifications for the successful cattle man. Although a Virginian by birth, he was reared in Ohio, spending his youthful days in aiding his father drive cattle from that State over the Alleghany Mountains to the Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston markets. At the age of twenty years, his father having met one of those severe reverses so common to the life of the drover or cattle shipper, young Alexander determined to try the West on his own account. Accordingly but a few short weeks elapsed before he might have been seen in St. Louis, looking for something to do in the line of his chosen business, without capital, other than his abilities and energy. He was not afraid of work, and gladly accepted a situation upon a moderate salary, to aid Christian Hays, then one of Louis' heaviest operators, in his live stock transactions. At that early day such a convenience at live Stock Scales for weighing animals alive was unknown, or if known, unused so far west as St. Louis. It was the custom to select an average bullock, slaughter him, weigh the carcass, and then from that compute the average weight of the entire herd. It was the custom then in vogue for the drover and the purchaser to select, or arrive at the average steer, by choosing alternately one the best and heaviest steer, the other the lightest and meanest steer, until all but one steer was chosen. This, of course, was taken for the average. It is easy to see that much depended upon the judgment of the parties who did the selecting, If the drover was a better judge than the buyer, he was sure to get the better of him, and vice versa. Young Alexander was soon detailed to average a drove for his employer, and the manner in which he did that duty, the mature judgment, the "cattle sense" which he evinced, was noticed by Mr. Hays, and he concluded that young Alexander possessed abilities fitting him for superior duties, and at once put him into commission and sent him to Central Illinois to buy fat cattle for the St. Louis market. Mr. Hays made no error in sending the young cattle man out with instructions to buy upon his own judgment, for it was more and more apparent from day to day that young Alexander well understood his business.
In a few months, after several trips to Central Illinois, he determined to feed a moderate sized drove on his own account. His friend Hays was quite willing to aid him to accomplish the undertaking by loaning any needed funds.
After spending two or three years in operating in live stock in connection with Mr. Hays, young Alexander determined to drive a herd of two hundred and thirty head of fat cattle of his own feeding to the eastern market. In those days there were no railroads extending into Illinois. Sending western cattle direct to the Atlantic coast markets was an experiment never before extensively tried, and it required a man of will and energy to undertake and execute the effort, for it was not only a great hazard, but required the entire summer to accomplish it. Great care had to be exercised, and the herd prudently managed and carefully driven, to prevent a ruinous shrinkage in flesh and condition. The cattle had been full fed during the previous six months, and were well fatted. Upon the skill of the drover in handling his herd depended the retaining or losing of this flesh or condition. No one understood how to handle a drove of fat cattle better than Mr. Alexander, and it is needless to add that he was successful. After driving over the broad prairies of Illinois and Western Indiana, feeding the cattle upon the natural grasses while upon the prairies--through the timbered portion of the remainder of his journey, turning them upon the fenced pastures of the farmers -- he arrived in Albany, New York State, just in time to meet a purchaser, at thirty-one dollars per head, delivered in Boston, Mass. This price was considered very satisfactory, although it looks to a cattle man of the present day to be a very low figure. But everything was proportionately lower then, and one dollar would buy as much land or other valuables, as will ten dollars at this time. As a proof that Mr. Alexander made a good sale we add that his purchaser lost money on the cattle, not because they were not good, but because the Boston markets were too low.
After operating for three or four years longer as a trader, Mr. Alexander decided to purchase land, and embark in farming and cattle feeding exclusively. Accordingly in 1848 he made his first investment in real estate, selecting lands in Morgan County, Central Illinois, as being the best in the State. The first purchase was made at three dollars per acre for a large tract of land, still owned by Mr. Alexander, and now worth not less than seventy-five dollars per acre, and is located on the T. W. & W. Railway, near a station named after the extensive cattle shipper.
Indeed, there are few, if any, superior lands for agricultural or pastoral purposes within the limits of the United States, than are found in Central Illinois, and in that district there is no better lands than are those selected by Mr. Alexander.
Central Illinois has become universally wealthy by corn raising and hog and cattle feeding, or, in other words, making the live stock product of other regions fit for eastern markets and consumption.
The manner or corn feeding cattle is familiar to most northwestern men, but as it is a business of great importance and magnitude, one in which millions of dollars are annually invested; one that engages the attention and efforts of thousands of enterprising, energetic men; and one that doubles the value of every head of cattle fed, of which there are many thousands; it is deemed worthy of more than a passing notice. The best inland corn growing regions, where corn can be produced or bought cheaply are the cattle feeding centers. The farmer, who is often a feeder also, devotes his whole attention during the spring and summer months, to planting and cultivating a large crop of corn. When the fall season arrives, and the corn begins to mature, It is cut and shocked, which process consists in cutting and placing in the center, all the corn on a space of ground equal to fourteen or sixteen corn hills square. The corn stalks are cut off near the ground, and are set up snugly together, forming a compact shock, which is allowed to stand in the field until it is fed. A few weeks before the grass in the pasture fails, the feeder begins to give his cattle corn, at first but little, gradually increasing the amount until the cattle become thoroughly accustomed to it, without gorging or foundering. When the pasture becomes bare of grass, the cattle are brought into the feed yards, and there daily fed for from four to six months. The feeder's outfit is usually an ox team of one or more pairs of cattle, which are attached to a wagon upon which is placed a long, rude, strong rack, much like a hay frame, upon which the shock corn is thrown, then drawn from the field to the feed yard. Entering the yard with his team, the feeder mounts the load, and with a stake or standard from the rack, throws the corn to the ground, first upon one side then upon the other, while the team moves around a beaten circuit which they soon become accustomed to follow and which is soon marked by a high ridge of corn-stalks, which in muddy, rainy times, forms a dry spot or circle, as well as an excellent bed in cold weather.
The ground is literally floored or paved with corn stalks in the feed yard, and the cattle are allowed to eat as much as they desire, and that too of the best ears of corn. An average sized bullock will eat and waste, one-half bushel of corn each day, and will become, in time, very fat. The usual gain in four to six months feeding, is from two to three hundred pounds. Extra good feeding of extra good cattle, will often make greater gains. Many feeders prefer to feed husked or snapped corn, which is fed in boxes or troughs. There is less waste of corn, but this method requires feeding hay, or straw for roughness.
When shock corn is fed, two yards are provided, in which the cattle are fed alternate days. Whilst they are being fed in one, a herd of swine are eating up the waste and offal in the other. One to two hogs to each bullock are thus made fat. The profits on the hogs fatted, is no inconsiderable item in the feeding operation.
To secure the hogs to follow the feeding cattle, sometimes the whole country is scoured, and occasionally resort is had to distant counties. This branch of trade, like all others, developes characteristics peculiar to itself. In Central Illinois, a noted cattle feeding district, resort is sometimes had to southern counties for stock hogs to follow cattle. Those counties less adapted to corn production, but abounding in heavy forests of oak, hickory and walnut, which furnish mast, upon which the industrious long-nosed, cat-hamed porcines, indigenous to those regions, subsist. When the local trader becomes aware of their value, he will industriously seek them out, gather them into small squads, and ship them to central portions of the State, where, with a manner the most bland, he will seek to sell them to some cattle feeder. These itinerant pig-pedlers are of very doubtful morals, or virtue, and usually reside upon a State road, or public thoroughfare in a hilly district, where the yellow clay soil is uppermost; usually a few miles east of some pleasant plains. These pig venders are genuine heroes, and often hail from "Pinckneyville," or other mellifluous regions. Should the reader ever journey in those regions, he will not fail to hear of, or meet, one of those "heroes," and will know at once that he is in the presence of unappreciated greatness, of which he will be aware.
There is quite a diversity of opinion among feeders, as to the most profitable manner of feeding, as well as to kinds or classes of cattle to feed. Many hold, and practice a system of full feeding, and selling off of the grain feed. Whilst others feed less grain during the winter, and finish fatting on the pasture the following spring and summer. Others simply "rough through" and fatten exclusively on the grass.
Many feeders will not feed other than graded Durhams, or natives, whilst just as respectable and successful a class prefer the Texan, or southern cattle. Of course the whole matter hinges upon the question of profit.
The native to begin with cost fully twice as much as the southern bullock, and when fat sells for a better price per pound than Texan. But when both are fat, the difference in price per pound is not so great as the difference in first cost; but the native feeds better, eats corn to better advantage, takes on more fat on corn feed than does the Texan, but the southern bullock excels the native in fatting on grass -- makes great gains in less time than the native.
It may be truthfully stated, that for fatting on corn, the native excels and is therefore preferable, whilst for "roughing through," and fatting on grass, the Texan is superior.
The feeder who reverses this order, in handling either class, rarely does it to his profit. Nevertheless a herd of Texan cattle which has been delivered in the north during the early part of summer, and has become thoroughly rested and climated before winter, can be made really fat on corn.
In various experiments made in feeding Texan cattle, it has been demonstrated that to shell the corn is of great advantage. It has been found that the cob, being hard and unnutritious, is unpalatable to them, and is a great obstacle to successfully feeding them. But as a rule, to "rough through" and fatten on the grass, is the most profitable manner to handle Texan cattle in the Northwestern States.
In Central Illinois many of the most successful dealers in Southern cattle, feed them upon the blue grass pastures, and never lot them up, but aim only to bring them to grass the following spring in strong thrifty condition, upon which they will soon become fit for the shambles of New York. This is the manner in which Mr. Alexander handles his large purchases of Texan cattle.
For many years, all the suitable cattle of the Missouri Valley region, were driven to Central Illinois, and there, by six months corn feeding, made fat, and doubled in value. Thus, by combining the products of those rich corn lands, as much money or value was created in six months, as the producer of the unfatted steer had made in three years handling or rearing the same animal. This fact soon became patent to the thinking agriculturists, and it was not long before the corn-growing portions of Illinois became either a cornfield or feed yard, annually sending to eastern markets thousands of fatted cattle. in this business Mr. Alexander saw and realized great profit and was fast becoming princely wealthy. But there occurred a year of severe drouth, something uncommon to that country, cutting off the corn crops upon the uplands, so that corn in sufficient quantities for cattle-feeding purposes could be found only on the river bottoms, and to those sections Mr. Alexander took his herds and full fed them during the winter of 1854 and 1855. When spring came no buyer offered him such prices as he thought he ought to have, so he determined to drive and ship on his own account. At that date the nearest railroad terminus, or shipping point, was at Logansport, Indiana, a distance of three or four hundred miles, and hither he turned his droves, earring them to Toledo, Ohio; thence to Dunkirk by lake steamer. Then recarring them to New York city, from whence a part was sent to Boston. In this transaction Mr. Alexander did not realize so much by several thousand dollars as be had had offered him for his cattle in the west.
Instead of discouraging him from future shipments it only excited his energy and determination to retrieve his losses in the same place and business wherein he had sustained them. Many readers would suppose that no man would leave a business in which he had in a few years aquired four thousand acres of fine, valuable land, and ten thousand dollars in cash, to engage in another; especially one that was uncertain, and had already lost the snug sum of five thousand dollars. But if they do so think they do not understand the peculiar turn of mind, and temperament necessary to constitute a cattle shipper. Nothing arouses his will and determination more surely and drives him to greater ventures than losses on the first shipments. Like the devotee of the card table, he determines to get even and more. This determination has ruined many good men and turned them out of house and home.
Mr. Alexander's loss only seemed to make him determined, and contrary to the advice of his financial friends, he engaged in shipping cattle via Chicago to the eastern markets during the year 1856, but without making or losing to speak of. But during the following year, in connection with his partner, he shipped via the T., W. & W. Railway, then just completed, ten thousand head of cattle, and at the end of the season divided the snug sum of sixty thousand dollars.
But success only stimulated him to greater undertakings, and the following year, his partner having been killed in a railroad accident, Mr. Alexander shipped eleven thousand head of cattle, but with more loss than profit. The succeeding year (that of 1859) fifteen thousand head of fat cattle went east as the contribution or business of Mr. Alexander. To say that this years's operation was a losing one, is putting it mild, it was "a ripper," as a cattle man would style it. Mr. Alexander's losses were equal to, or greater than the value of his entire estate, but the public did not know it, and still had the greatest confidence in his ability. During the two succeeding years but little money was made or lost, although an immense business was done.
Then the civil war broke out. There were many thousands of cattle and mules in the State of Missouri, one of the States deeply involved in the struggle, in fact was largely the battle ground. This turn of affairs made the tenure of personal property very insecure in that State, and most owners were willing to sell at any price, no matter how low. This offered a good opportunity to venturesome cattle men, and Mr. Alexander's financial condition was such that he was prepared to take any manner or kind of risks to retrieve his financial losses. Accordingly he put several energetic buyers in Missouri, with instructions to penetrate the disturbed districts, and, where war's dreaded cloud hung darkest and most threateningly, there buy every steer or mule they could (of course as cheap as possible) and send them to his farm in Illinois. Two years, affording such opportunities for good investments, were sufficient to make good all previous losses of Mr. Alexander. At the close of the war an inventory of his assets would have shown seventy-two hundred acres of land, worth seventy-five dollars per acre, one hundred thousand dollars in bank; his pastures full of cattle, and not one dollar of debt. One would think that such an exhibit would satisfy any one's greatest desires for wealth, so far at least, as to prevent him from engaging in any operations in which there was great hazard; but such was not the case with Mr. Alexander, he, like the ancient conqueror of the same name, looked and longed for other and greater conquests but, different to his ancient namesake, he soon found a "New World," which he essayed to conquer. It was the purchasing and improving of what was then called the "Sullivan," but afterwards the "Broad Lands" farm, a tract of twenty-six thousand acres of land, near the T., W. & W. Railway in Champaign County, Illinois. This purchase in connection with heavy losses by cattle shipping, also a loss of fully seventy-five thousand dollars by Spanish fever, to this may be added the repudiation of a contract by certain railroads whereby he was made to sustain a loss of near two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, produced a crisis in his affairs of the gravest nature. As is usual in such cases, every effort put forth to prevent impending disaster only brings additional distress. So in his case. Finally he took a survey of his affairs, and concluded to sell his Broad Lands farm, accordingly hunted up a purchaser in the person of the agent of a Canadian Company, and contracted to sell him the entire tract, for six hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. 0f this transaction he hastened to inform his most pressing creditors. But alas for him, when the time came to ratify the contract, the Canadian Company refused to abide the contract of its agent, and the land trade failed. This precipitated the impending crisis. In compliance with the advice of his friends, he turned his entire estates and immense personal property--in short all his assets--into the hands of three assignees for the benefit of his creditors.
This was perhaps the darkest, bitterest year of his existence--a year of crushing disappointment and pungent humiliation, such as a high ambitious sensitive soul could scarce endure. It was crushing and overwhelming to Mr. Alexander, for he had ever been a man of the keenest sensibilities; of the most exalted honor in all his business transactions; above petty spites or contemptible actions. The word "failed," which was bandied about from mouth to mouth, grated harshly upon his ears and wounded deeply his inmost soul and rendered life itself almost an undesirable burthen.
Such were the results of a few years of persistent cattle shipping in connection with incidental disastrous business transactions. A fortune of colossal proportions, riven to shreds, as is the oak by the lightning's hot bolt. Scattered as if by a cyclone, as are the fragments of a rock riven ocean steamer.
Notwithstanding the liabilities reached the enormous figures of twelve hundred thousand dollars, the estate was ample to pay every creditor, dollar for dollar, and leave Mr. Alexander about two thousand acres of the best of his Morgan county lands, without a single legitimate unsaid claim outstanding. With an energy peculiar only to men of real ability--but never found in the fungus brains of the maudlin goslings who flash like a meteor athwart the business horizon and die out never to be seen or heard of again, save as some abandoned loafer or drunken saloon ornament--Mr. Alexander set himself about retrieving his lost fortunes, and in his success during the last two years can be taken as a harbinger of the future, the time will be quite brief before his Morgan county estate will be as large as ever.
His greatest losses occurred in 1868, during the great excitement about Spanish fever, and were carried until 1870, in which a desperate effort was made to cover, and fully seventy thousand head of cattle were shipped to the eastern markets. This is the largest year, or season's business ever done by a single individual, in marketing cattle, in the United States, or perhaps in the world.
Mr. Alexander regards himself as taking his third start in the world--one at St. Louis, one at the beginning of the war, and one now.
His first financial friend was Christian Hays, of St. Louis; his second was Thomas Condell, for many years President of a strong banking institution of Springfield, Illinois, and a man who had almost unerring judgment in business matters, especially those pertaining to cattle transactions--one who stood by and aided with money and council, his friends and business patrons in the darkest hours as well as in the brightest. More than one cattle man remembers the name and fidelity of Thomas Condell with feelings of the deepest gratitude, if not of love and veneration. He has some years since retired from active business, greatly to the regret of many cattle men of Central Illinois. It seems strange that of the many bankers who in former years were more than willing to loan their money to Mr. Alexander, not one was willing, after he had met his great reverses, to aid him in his effort to recuperate his shattered fortune, although he had paid in full every legitimate claim against him. Yet, it is said, "where there is a will there is a way," and Mr. Alexander certainly had the will and a good vigorous one at that.
Finally to him came Geo. Wilson, a banker of Geneseo, Illinois, a man of considerable ready means and a shrewd operator; one who has made his money largely out of cattle, and with cattle men; one who is blessed with that rare quality called "Cattle sense" -- an article quite rare among bankers -- and proposed to furnish all cash needed to stock up Mr. Alexander's ends. This he did for two years, besides paying for three thousand fine cattle, at panic prices, during the fall of 1873, for the pastures and feed yards of Mr. Alexander. These cattle will be grazed on blue grass pastures until February, and then be fed corn on the pastures until spring. Then they will be grazed on the blue grass pastures and fatted which requires but few month's to accomplish.
But we can not close this imperfect sketch without offering a few thoughts upon the life and labors of such men as Mr. Alexander. No right thinking man can regard them other than public benefactors, and as such, are of much greater consequence and benefit in a substantial way than many think. They take from the feeder's yards his fatted stock, and four times out of five pay him more than it is worth, and that in cash without delay or serious inconvenience. By their perseverance and business tact they are able to get the lowest rate of freight possible, which the local feeder, nine times in ten, gets the benefit of, in the increased price obtained for his fat stock.
We do not hesitate to assert that the cattle men of the northwest, and especially those of Central Illinois, owe to John T. Alexander a debt of gratitude for many hundreds of thousands, yes, millions of dollars, distributed among them by his liberal hand. We confidently affirm that for more than ten years he added from three to ten dollars per head to the value of the cattle fatted in Central Illinois, which were and are many thousands of head, annually. Mr. Alexander is not above fifty-three years of age, is tall and of commanding appearance, looks hale, fresh and youthful, is of sanguine mental temperament, and naturally impulsive. He is very quiet and unassuming in manners, speaks but little, and never in a loud or boisterous tone, is affable, social, warm-hearted; appreciates true manhood, is upright, honorable, and high-minded in his business transactions. No superior has gone before him, and there are none to follow after him.