Many stockmen do not live on their ranches. Cowboys take charge of the ranches, looking after the few horses, cows, and hens, which are kept thereon for immediate use. One cowboy can take care of a ranch ordinarily, from November to May, when the herd is wandering over the range for food. A pretty lonely time is his, too, spending six months in solitary housekeeping, with no neighbor, perhaps, within ten or twenty miles, and no post-office within twenty-five or fifty miles. An occasional visit from the proprietor, bringing supplies and such advice as the circumstances require, breaks the monotony of the lonely and somewhat singular life.
This illustration is not a fancy sketch. It is the photograph of a stockman, taken when he was mounted and ready to start for his ranch a few score of miles away. Wearing "half an acre of hat" to protect his face from the hot sun, with a scarf about his neck for a like purpose, and his apparel well adapted to his business, his appearance is so changed that an introduction to his own wife may be quite necessary. He may be a millionnaire, though he looks like a shack. He may be as proud as Lucifer, but necessity arrays him in a homely dress; and he appears humble. Seated upon a Mexican saddle, which cost a hundred dollars, if it is a good one, and drawing up the reins of a bridle that cost twenty-five or fifty more, if it is worthy of an aspiring stockman, he puts spurs to his horse, and is off in a jiffy,. Grass does not grow under his horse's feet. The animal is trained to the saddle, and the stockman is trained to him, and the two are so trained together, that they fly over the plain as if they were one thing, as much as the two parts of a whole. It is a lonely ride to his ranch, forty, fifty, sixty, perhaps a hundred miles away; but his head is full of business and his heart of contentment--about the happiest looking man, though he may be the homeliest, to be found within cattledom. If he happens to pass a prairie post-office, the unique affair serves to remind him that humans do live in the "silent and solemn country" through which he is passing.
When calling attention to the cowboy's home on the ranch, we should have said that many of these abodes are located where various poisonous creatures infest the country, as rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and centipedes. On the shelf before me is a bottle of alcohol containing a scorpion and centipede which a stockman captured in his cabin and presented to me. He exhibited, also, the skin of an enormous rattlesnake, four and a half feet long; and his snakeship was caught just outside of his adobe cabin. And yet it is seldom that serious results transpire from the intimacy which these denizens of the Rocky Mountain region try to cultivate with ranch-life families. We think, however, that even cowboys will agree with us, that their room is better than their company.
A ranchman writes of rattlesnakes: "The rattlesnakes were mostly of a small species, and I used to kill one or two nearly every day during the summer. I once killed ten in three hours, not looking for them, but just getting off my horse when I heard one rattle, and destroying it. I generally killed them with my 'quist,' which is a kind of riding-whip, about eighteen inches long, made of raw hide and leather plaited together, with a piece of iron in the handle. A snake cannot strike unless it first coils itself up, so you can hit it when it is gliding off, with even a short weapon, without fear of the consequences. The dogs used occasionally to get bitten by rattlesnakes, but they always recovered in a day or two, without any treatment, and one of my horses was once bitten right on the nose. His head swelled up tremendously, and he could not eat for two or three days, but he ultimately recovered. When a man gets bitten, the cure chiefly relied on in the States is copious doses of whiskey, on the principle, I suppose, of similia similibus curantur."
Below is the castle of the tarantula--a remarkable little nest, with its bevel-edged and closely-fitting door. It is built by the female, her husband possessing no talent or inclination in that direction. He is fierce and warlike, ever ready to kill his foe with his deadly poison. The female is shy, and stays at home to look after her family, with closed door when she is within her castle. On leaving her nest, the door is thrown wide open, and remains in that position until her return. At the approach of danger, she springs into her castle at a bound and closes the door behind her. The tarantula is venomous, and there are many of them in California, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Cattle are obliged to seek water for themselves as well as food. Hence the stockman looks for a well-watered ranch. It is not always possible to have all the water facilities desired, so that cattle must travel quite a distance, sometimes, to quench their thirst. If they have to travel two or three miles for water, they will drink only once in two or three days. They excel men and women in adapting themselves to circumstances. They understand the laws of storms full as well as scientists, and govern themselves accordingly. They surpass "Probabilities" in forecasting the weather, find know when a storm is actually approaching, as well as we who take and read the papers. For this reason they thrive and grow when we think they would starve, and live when we wonder they do not perish.
The profits of stock-raising are marvellous. For this reason, men endure hardships and brave dangers, dwelling apart from friends and civilized society. The prospect of speedy fortunes reconciles them to privations for the time being.
We shall furnish the estimates of several reliable authorities, showing amount of capital invested, and the actual profits in a series of years.
A Dakota editor says that men unacquainted with the cattle business do not realize how rapidly cattle multiply when all the female progeny are allowed to breed. And he goes on to say:--
"If one hundred cows and their female progeny be kept at breeding for ten years, the result would be as follows, estimating that forty per cent of the cows would have heifers which would, beginning when two years old, in their turn have
100 cows in first year drop........ 40 | 402 cows in seventh year drop........ 161 100 cows in second year drop....... 40 | 525 cows in eighth year drop......... 210 140 cows in third year drop........ 56 | 686 cows in ninth year drop.......... 274 180 cows in fourth year drop....... 72 | 896 cows in tenth year drop.......... 358 236 cows in fifth year drop........ 94 | ----- 308 cows in sixth year drop........ 123 | Total, ten years.....................1,428
"The number of bulls would be the same as that of heifers. From the above an idea can be got of the rate at which capital increases in the live-stock business on the Plains, where the cost of keeping a beef from birth to maturity is less than six dollars."
In Harper's Monthly of November, 1879, A. A. Hayes, Jr., who wrote after careful personal observation, follows some valuable suggestions with an estimate of his own, which cannot be said to be rose-colored:--
"1. What amount of capital is needed?
"It would hardly be advisable to begin an independent business with less than five thousand dollars, of which three thousand would be invested in stock. It is common for men employed by owners to have a few cattle of their own, which range with their employers', and in this way they sometimes get quite a little property together, and are enabled to start on their own account. On the other hand, the profits on a large herd increase in a greater ratio than the expenses, and the figures to be given herein will be based on an investment large enough to secure this benefit.
"2. What profits may be expected in the stock business?
"The following may be pronounced a fair and reasonable commercial estimate, and it is put forward with only the remark that while the figures apply to circumstances as they are now, and there are chances and contingencies and possible disasters attending money-making adventures of all kinds, the margin here is so large that after making all allowances which caution may suggest, one has still the promise of great results.
"1. No allowance need be made for depreciation of stock, as the cattle can with proper care always be sold for beef.
"2. If the profits be invested in cattle, they will be largely increased.
"3. No account is taken of interest on profits.
"4. No account is taken of the gradual improvement in the quality of the stock.
"5. Profit can often be made by buying cattle and keeping them for a year.
"6. During the latter part of the winter and the spring the food is of course poorer than before, and as the cattle are not then in the best condition, there is much demand for good beef for local consumption. By feeding cattle during those months for sale in Colorado, excellent gains should be realized. Good beef on the hoof was worth four and a quarter cents per pound in Pueblo in the spring of 1879.
"7. A ranch purchased in Southern Colorado at present prices is almost sure, in view of the great increase in the business and the decrease of suitable land, to appreciate considerably in value--say, at least ten per cent per annum.
"It will be plain to any one who will examine carefully into the matter that under ordinary and favorable circumstances profits will mount up each year in an increasing ratio, and he can readily make the figures for himself. In the mean time we have a balance-sheet at the end of the third year as follows:--
Assets Ranch, with three years' appreciation, at 10 per cent....... $65,000 5,400 cows, at $18.......................................... 97,200 80 bulls at $50....................................... 4,000 1,4oo two-year-old heifers, at $15.......................... 21,000 1,890 yearling heifers, at $10.............................. 18,900 1,400 three-year-old steers, $26............................ 36,400 1,400 two-year-old steers, $16.............................. 22,400 1,890 yearling steers, at $10............................... 18,900 -------- Total....................................................... $283,800 ========= Liabilities Capital put in ranch........................................ $50,000 Capital put in stock........................................ 76,000 Capital used in expenses.................................... 28,149 Profits on stock, three years.................... $114,651 Profits on ranch................................. 15,000 $129,651 -------- -------- Total....................................................... $283,900 =========
"A risk to be taken into account would be a possible outbreak of disease at some time, but out of profits as shown an insurance fund could readily be created. That so many cattle will be raised that prices will greatly fall need not be a matter of present fear; for, leaving out two most important factors,--the great and increasing demand for our beef in Europe, and the new uses to which it is put in this country,--our population has hitherto increased faster than the supply of good meat."
The last paragraph may require some modification, since there has been quite a depression in the cattle business of late. However, the following table will furnish a reliable basis for present estimates; for it is still true, that England's demand for American beef is constantly increasing, while the home demand is necessarily greater from year to year in consequence of the rapid growth of population. Stock-raising has its bonus as other kinds of business have, and doubtless it will continue to have them in the future from various causes, some of which may not be well understood.
Frank Fossett, in his "History of Colorado," has the following estimate:--
His estimate is for seven years, because a herd is supposed to double in that period. Cattlemen say a herd will double in seven years by natural increase, and during that time enough beef will be sold out of it to pay the expense of running it, and nearly enough more in addition, to cover the original investment. One-twelfth part of a herd is sold for beef annually; and the annual yield of calves will amount to about one-fourth the number of animals in the whole herd. That is, a herd of one thousand animals will amount to two thousand in about seven years. The calves would number about two hundred and fifty the first year, increasing from year to year as the herd grows. The number of cattle sold for beef the first year would be one-twelfth of one thousand, or eighty-three; and this number will increase from year to year. In this way stockmen estimate their material prosperity on paper; but sometimes the paper loses its value by the severity of an unusual winter, the prevalence of cattle disease, or the ravages of grasshoppers. Four-fifths of a herd of cows will bring the owner a calf annually until the cows are twelve years old, if kept so long. A single cow is the mother of one calf at three years of age. At four, she has two, the first a yearling. At five, she is the mother of three calves, the oldest two years. When the mother is six, she has four children and one grandchild, her oldest calf becoming a mother herself. At seven, she has five children, and three grandchildren; for the oldest daughter has her second calf, and the next daughter in age has her first calf. At eight, the grandmother has six children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild--the whole family numbering fourteen; for her oldest calf has her third calf, the next in age her second, and the third in age her first, and the first grandcalf has a calf also. At nine, the original cow has seven children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren; for her oldest calf has her fourth, the second in age her third, the third in age her second, and the fourth in age her first; and the first grandcalf has her second offspring, and the second grandcalf her first. There are twenty in the family now. At ten, the original cow his eight children, fifteen grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren; for her oldest calf has her fifth, the second in age her fourth, the third in age her third, the fourth in age her second, and the fifth in age her first; and the first grandcalf has her third offspring, the second her second, and the third her first--twenty-nine in all. At eleven, the cow has nine children, twenty-one grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandcalf; for her oldest calf has her sixth calf, the next her fifth, the next her fourth, the next her third, the next her second, and the next her first; and the first grandcalf has her fourth, the next her third, the next her second, and the next her first; and, also, the first great-grandcalf has her first, the fifth generation. Now the family numbers forty-one. At twelve, the maternal ancestor has ten children, twenty-eight grandchildren, fifteen great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren; for her first calf has her seventh, the next her sixth, the next her fifth, the next her fourth, the next her third, the next her second, and the next her first; and the first, grandcalf has her fifth, the next her fourth, the next her third, the next her second, and the next her first; also, the first great-grandcalf has her second, and the next her first--a family of fifty-six. Five generations,--ten of the second, twenty-eight of the third, fifteen of the fourth, and three of the fifth. By this time the mission of the original cow ought to be considered accomplished, and she be allowed to die a natural death, if she will, although it is more probable that, after making herself the source of such a marvellous income to her owner, she will close her earthly career in some busy mining camp where canned corned beef is reckoned as the staff of life.
There is one serious trouble, however, with the foregoing figures. The estimate is based upon the supposition that the cow's progeny are all females. To this date, however, by no artifice or persuasion, have stockmen been able to make their cows bring them all heifers. We have no doubt that they would if they could. This is one of the few things in which cattlemen have been baffled; their cows will bring forth about one-half males, in spite of any coaxing, fixing, or blaspheming. Nevertheless, the foregoing estimate will serve a good purpose, without reflecting at all upon the cow; for, after making due allowance for her male progeny, her family will number about thirty when she is twelve years old; and this ought to satisfy reasonable stockmen, since five thousand cows could show, even at this rate, one hundred and twenty thousand animals in twelve years, though but four-fifths of their number become mothers, provided none die, or are killed. At twenty-five dollars per head, this number would bring, three million dollars. The original investment for five thousand cows would not vary much either way from one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
The Commissioner of Immigration, Whigham, of Colfax County, New Mexico, published the following statement in 1883:--
"The principal industry of the country at present is raising cattle and sheep. The grazing lands of Colfax County are justly celebrated, and are unrivalled in any section of the Rocky Mountains. No business has proved a more lucrative one here than stock-raising. There are in Colfax at present, it is estimated, seventy-five thousand head of cattle, two hundred thousand head of sheep, and seven thousand head of horses and brood mares. The following table will not be out of place, as not only giving an estimate of the profits in the cattle business here,--and it is indorsed by cattlemen hereabouts as a fair exhibit,--but will also give current prices of common stock, with which it starts, and the price of the improved also.
"Let us say the stock-raiser makes a purchase in September of a herd composed of the following grade and class:--