Excerpts from MARVELS OF THE NEW WEST by William M. Thayer.



The following description of a "night run" of cattle in Montana, going to the railroad, will furnish the reader with additional ideas about the cowboy's trials:--

     "A large herd of big steers for market were being driven across the country from Missoula to Billings, on the Northern Pacific Railroad, where they were to be shipped on the cars for Chicago. There were about two thousand head, I should judge, the property of a Mr. De Hass, a very young man. One evening a military camp had been made just ahead of the cattle, and on the same side of the creek with them, up which the cattle were being driven. A storm was coming up, and the cattle exhibited some signs of uneasiness. Mr. De Hass sent word to the military officer that he had better get his men, wagons, and animals on the opposite side of the creek and out of the way, as he feared there was going to be a "night run." The herders were instructed to keep their horses saddled and be ready to mount at a moment's notice. The cattle were very uneasy, getting up, lying down again, and shifting about as if uncomfortable. At last, about midnight there came a sharp flash of lightning, followed by a heavy peal of thunder, and in an instant the whole herd were upon their feet. 'Mount and whip out,' cried De Hass, and the herder who was at the head of the column drove off a few of the leading steers in the direction they were to go. All the others followed and the herd was soon in full flight. The herders made no effort to check or control them, further than to keep them going straight; they rode at the head of the column, one on each side of them, swung to the right or left, and keeping the trail; bluffs and precipices were avoided, and the open flat ground courted. The run lasted about two hours, when a gorge was being neared, in which the cattle would crowd and break their limbs. They were now quite tired, and the herders determined to exert their authority and stop the run. The head of the column was bent out on the prairie, and circled round and round until the cattle became tied up in a huge ball and could not move at all. In this way they were obliged to stay till morning, the herders riding round and round them, and keeping them completely tied up. At daylight they were allowed to "open out." First, the outer edge scattered, and then layer after layer, until the huge pile of beef was once more a herd, grazing as quietly as if nothing had happened."

     When the train arrives, the cowboys meet a very difficult problem to solve; viz., putting the cattle on board the cars. Think of enticing or driving a wild steer into a car! The average steer is not drawn naturally toward a railroad train. To him the car is a "newfangled notion," which has no attractions for him. He protests against such a mode of conveyance, and sets up his Ebenezer, as wild steers only can. But the cowboys know their business, and they know their steers, too. Brute force always surrenders to intellectual power. The cowboy conquers in the end.

     It is hard work--indeed, the whole cattle business is hard work; and the boys never have harder work than they do between the time of herding the cattle, and delivering them at Kansas City or Chicago. For the cattle must not be allowed to lie down. A car will hold from eighteen to twenty-two animals, in the standing posture; and, if one lies down, the cowboy, on the alert both night and day, must punch the animal up. If one lies down, others will trample on him. Of course there is no sleep for the cowboy on the way to market. Day and night are alike to him. When the destination is reached, it is difficult to tell which is in the most pitiable condition, the cowboy or the cow. This is especially true when the distant market sought is Chicago. Most of the cowboys declare, when the trip is accomplished, "Never catch me in that business again"; but they forget the hardships before the next annual market season, and play the heroic over again.

     "Blabbing calves," as it is called, is a method adopted to wean a calf when the mother is growing thin. "A 'blab' is a piece of thin board, six inches by four inches, which has a piece cut out of the middle of one of the longer sides, so shaped that you can just force it on to the membrane that divides the nostrils of a calf. When put on, it hangs down over the mouth of the animal so that it cannot suck, but is able to graze without difficulty. When you start out on a blabbing expedition, you place several blabs in your pocket and ride along till you see a big calf whose dam looks as if she would be the better for being relieved of the support of her progeny. You then take your lariat off your saddle, and, holding it in convenient coils in your left hand, with the running noose in your right, you gallop after the calf till you get close up to it. Then you whirl the noose round your head two or three times, to get a good swing, and launch it at the head of the calf. If you are like me, you will probably find no result, the calf continuing to pursue his way across the prairie with the same vigor as before. Then, if you have a professional cowboy with you, he takes up the running, and probably brings the calf to book before long, though even he will not always succeed at the first throw. When you have the calf roped, it is an easy matter to throw him down and stick the blab on his nose, after which you turn him loose and go on in quest of another."

     Since the New West contributes so largely to make the stockyards of Chicago what they are, we will stop here to describe them.

Chicago Stockyards.     The stockyards of Chicago are a cattle city, covering three hundred and twenty acres, laid out in complete order, lighted with gas, supplied with pure water, with ample hotel accommodations for cattlemen, and connected by rail with the entire railway system of the West. Two hundred acres have been covered with yards, pens, feed-barns, scale-houses, and platforms for loading and unloading stock. The remaining one hundred and twenty acres are covered with railway switch-tracks, side-tracks, etc., for the purpose of connecting the marvellous city of live stock with the railroad world. There are seventy five miles of these switch and side-tracks.

     This remarkable city of live stock has a bank, an exchange, telegraph and telephone offices, a post-office, and a newspaper. It has thirty-five miles of sewers, ten miles of streets and alleys, paved with wood, three miles of water-troughs, two thousand three hundred gates, two Artesian wells, and a fire department.

     An average of seven hundred men daily is employed to conduct the business of the stockyard; receiving, yarding, feeding, watching, weighing, and delivering stock. Miles of elevated drive-way have been constructed for driving cattle and hogs over the ground lots, pens, etc., from the central portion of the yards to the different packing houses adjacent, and to the shipping departments. Of course, the Union Stockyards of Chicago are a marvel so unique and remarkable that the sight-seer who does not visit them can scarcely be said to have seen Chicago.

     These stockyards were opened in 1866, and received that year, 393,607 cattle, 961,746 hogs, 207,987 sheep, 1,553 horses, valued at $42,765,328. In 1884 the receipts were, 1,870,050 cattle, 5,35I,967 hogs, 801,630 sheep, 18,602 horses, valued at $187,387,680. For several years past it has taken 200,000 railway cars to transport all the animals received at the yards. The outlet for all this stock touches nearly every portion of the civilized world.

     On Jan. 1, 1885, $5,000,000 had been expended in the construction of the Union Stockyards; and their capacity for receiving and yarding stock, at any one time, was 20,000 cattle, 150,000 hogs, 10,000 sheep, and 1,500 horses.

     From the report of the company for 1885 we quote following statistics:--

        Largest Receipts of Stock in a Day.

Cattle, Aug. 27, 1885 . . . . . . . . . .    12,096
Calves, Sept. 1, 1885 . . . . . . . . . .     1,773
Hogs, Dec. 5, 1884  . . . . . . . . . . .    66,597
Sheep, Feb. 24, 1885  . . . . . . . . . .    10,937
Horses, Oct. 5,1874 . . . . . . . . . . .       460
Cars, Dec.10,1884 . . . . . . . . . . . .     1,522

       Largest Receipts of Stock in One Week.

Cattle, week ending Oct. 20, 1883 . . . .    52,192
Calves, week ending Sept. 12, 1885  . . .     4,369
Hogs, week ending Nov. 20, 1884 . . . . .   300,488
Sheep, week ending Dec. 19, 1885  . . . .    32,027
Horses, week ending March 26, 1881  . . .     1,125
Cars, week ending Dec. 6, 1884  . . . . .     6,964

       Largest Receipts of Stock in One Month.

Cattle, October, 1883 . . . . . . . . . .   217,791
Calves, September, 1885 . . . . . . . . . .  15,449
Hogs, November, 1880  . . . . . . . . . . 1,111,997
Sheep, December, 1885 . . . . . . . . . .   109,111
Horses, March, 1873 . . . . . . . . . . .     4,253
Cars, December, 1884 . . . . . . . . . .     25,387

       Largest Receipts of Stock in One Year.

Cattle, 1885 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1,905,518
Calves, 1885 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     58,500
Hogs, 1880 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7,059,355
Sheep, 1885  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1,003,598
Horses, 1873 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     20,289
Cars, 1885 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    214,146

        Valuation of Stock for Twenty Years.

1866 . . $42,765,328  |  1876 . . . $ 111,185,650
1867 . .  42,375,241  |  1877 . . .    99,024,100
1868 . .  52,506,288  |  1878 . . .   106,101,879
1869 . .  60,171,217  |  1879 . . .   114,795,834
1870 . .  62,090,631  |  1880 . . .   143,057,626
1871 . .  60,331,082  |  1881 . . .   183,007,710
1872 . .  87,500,000  |  1882 . . .   196,670,221
1873 . .  91,321,162  |  1883 . . .   201,252,772
1874 . . 115,049,140  |  1884 . . .   187,387,680
1875 . . 117,533,942  |  1885 . . .   173,598,002
    Total . . . . . . . . . .  $2,247,725,506
    Average weight of hogs, 1885 . . 239 lbs.

     How it is that cattle can be exposed through the extreme cold of winter and not perish in the most northern latitudes of the New West is an enigma to many. Perhaps the following brief statement from the Bismarck Tribune, concerning the cattle business in Montana and Dakota, will throw light upon the subject:--

     It is now conceded that Montana and a portion of Dakota is the greatest stock region in the world. The country is rolling, and the cattle find excellent shelter from severe storms which sometimes prevail. The snow-fall is light and the snow is dry. No crust forms, and cattle do not freeze their feet, as is the case in Kansas and Nebraska, where sleet storms are frequent. At no time in the winter does the snow. cover entirely the cured grasses of the Montana ranges. Cattle have no trouble to get enough to sustain life and even get fat. In Kansas frequently the backs of the cattle are covered with ice to the depth of an inch or two, and the wet snow 'balls' on their feet. A severe cold snap comes, and the animals die from exhaustion and frozen feet. Montana and Dakota has been the winter home of buffalo for years, and wherever they live and thrive, there also will cattle do well."

     The Pioneer Press speaks of the Northwestern stock ranges as follows:--

     "Persons uninformed as to the nature of the country, and knowing that the cold has been extreme throughout the Northwest this winter, are apt to refuse credence to the statement that the loss of animal life on the Montana and Dakota ranges, so far has been slight, and the prospects are good for successful wintering of stock through the remainder of the season. Those who know the peculiar adaptability of the country in question to stock-raising are not surprised at the small loss of life reported. Montana and Dakota beeves have far better chances to pull through the severest weather safely than their brethren of Kansas and Nebraska, and the statistics show that the amount of loss in the former is not nearly so large as in the latter division. In the Northwestern Territories the ground used for ranges is broken by coulees and ravines, which afford perfect protection from the wind, no matter how fiercely it rages on the plains above. Cattle are like men in that they can stand a terrific degree of still cold, but when exposed to storm perish quickly. In portions of Montana, strange as it may seem, the winter season is far shorter than it is farther south, since the chinook winds, which often commence early in February, divest the ground of snow, and leave the succulent buffalo grass exposed and easy picking. The coulees, too, are not all drifted full, many of them showing drifts on one side only, while the other is bare, or so nearly so that acclimated cattle will paw the snow aside readily and graze with little hindrance. The grazing country of Nebraska and Kansas is far flatter than that further north, the wind gets a wider and longer sweep, and the thin belts of timber along the streams are but little, if any, protection. Besides, the upper animals are inured to colder weather and will thrive in a temperature which would be certain death to the hardiest of Kansas or Nebraska steers. Any honest ranchman, from north or south, will bear witness to the truth of these statements."

     In estimating the profits of stock-raising in the New West, it is usual to deduct five per cent for losses by the cold of winter. But, in ordinary winters the average loss will not be more than two or three per cent. In winters of great severity, the losses will run up to ten, fifteen, and even thirty per cent, but such winters are infrequent. A stockman writes:--

Hauling a Cow from the Mire.     "As the days grow warmer, an annoying insect called the 'heel fly' makes its appearance. The cattle are in great dread of this pest, and the instant an animal feels one, it hoists its tail in the air and takes a bee-line for the nearest water. Now a good many of the streams and water-holes in that part of the country have very miry bottoms, so that a cow plunging violently in is very apt to stick there, and, unless assisted out, will certainly perish. Often more cattle are lost in that way than from all other causes, and it is advisable during the spring and especially during the heel-fly season, which fortunately, does not last longer than three weeks, to ride along the dangerous places in range every day. When a cow is discovered mired down, two or three men throw their lariats over her horns (if she has none, then over her neck), and taking two or three turns with the rope round the horns of their saddle, drag her out on terra firma. If she has not been in very long, she generally goes off all right; but if she has been in a sufficient time to become thoroughly chilled, she will probably die. Sometimes her legs are so benumbed that she has to be assisted up before she can stand, and when this happens, frequently the first thing which she does when she finds herself on her feet is to put down her head and charge her deliverers. But in her weakened condition it is easy enough to get out of her way, and she either falls down in her further attempt or abandons the chase." Of the Texas fever, he remarks:--

     "Texas, or Spanish fever, as it is sometimes called, in a very curious disease. It usually originates with cattle that have come up from Southern Texas. . . . But the peculiarity about Texas fever is that the originators of it do not die from it nor even appear to be diseased. When, however, any of the 'graded' cattle come in contact with one of those fever-breeding herds, or even graze over the ground along which one has passed, it may be weeks previously, sickness and death are sure to follow. The better bred an animal is, the more liable is he to the disease. Texas cattle that have been wintered in Kansas sometimes show symptoms of disease after being exposed to the contagion of a herd from the south, but they usually soon recover, while in a herd graded up with short horn or other fine blood mortality is often considerable. But an animal that has thus caught the disease cannot communicate it further. It never spreads beyond those that have received the contagion directly from the Texas herd. Consequently the fears sometimes expressed that Texas fever might be imported into England are perfectly groundless."

     The prairie fire is a foe to stock-raising, endangering often both ranch and herds and flocks. A Dakota newspaper describes a prairie fire in that territory thus:--

     "Last Sunday evening, as the sun was sinking in the western horizon, a fire was noticed encircling this place, and at no greater distance than twenty miles to the north and west. The scene that immediately followed was too horrible to be thought lightly of. The whole heavens seemed as one mass of seething, hissing fire. The roar that accompanied the flames as they darted upward, was enough to startle the pioneer and completely shatter the bold and fearless tenderfoot. The dense cloud of smoke that hovered above the fire sent huge coils upward that, as the flare of the flames showed against them, pictured to the beholders standing below and shivering with fear, grimacing demons as they flitted about in their aerial home in the skies.

A Prairie Fire.     "A cry was raised, and in a few minutes the citizens had turned out en masse with wet bags and coal oil torches, and going to the north and northwest limits of the town along the wagon trail leading west, immediately plied the torches. The grass went off like powder, burning, a back-fire twenty feet wide in an instant, reaching nearly a half-mile. Then to meet the creeping flames approaching from the north, a double back-fire was started by the torchmen, and had just been completed when the roar of the flames was heard ascending the hill--only in a moment to flash in the tall grass and meet the backfire with the swish peculiar to the concussion following the discharge of a cannon. The fire to the west was then about two miles distant, but nearing at the rate of about eighteen miles an hour; and when the north fire had been safely met, all hands went to the southwest trail, running to about twenty yards north of the new school-house, and started a back-fire on the north side of the trail, and then bringing the fire over the trail, it was left to burn around the south side of the school-house, being watched by eight or ten to prevent the fire spreading to the building. At one time it seemed as though the blaze would get the best of them, hut the wet sacks were applied and the flames subdued. Others parties were sent in different directions and succeeded in checking the fire. The damage done, however, was estimated at $10,000."

     When such a fire is started near the stockman's ranch or herd, everything is in peril. A woman on a ranch was asked by a visitor from the East, "What are your precautions against fire?" She replied:--

     "A can of kerosene and a bundle of matches to set back-fires with, though the fire-guards of ploughed ground that you have seen all round the ranch are the ounce of prevention, better than any cure. Then we always keep a hogshead full of water at the stable, ready for carting to the spot."

     "A hogshead of water! What good can a hogshead of water do against a prairie fire?"

     "Oh, we don't put it on with a hose, I assure you. My imagination gasps at the conception of managing a prairie fire with a hose. We dip old blankets and old clothes in it, or boughs of tree if we can get them, and beat the fire down with them."

     "The illustration followed soon. All day smoke had been drifting over Cameiro (Kansas), and at nightfall the scouts reported that the whole force better be put on. The 'whole force' at the moment consisted of about twenty men who had just come in to supper, and who started at once in wagons and on horseback. Ponies were ordered after dinner for the entire household, even the ladies riding far enough to have a view of the exciting scene, --parties from New York were spending the summer here. There were no tumbling walls or blazing buildings, and there was no fear of lives being lost in upper stories; but there were miles upon miles, acres upon acres, of low grass burning like a sea of fire, while in the twilight shadows could be seen men galloping fiercely on swift ponies, while the slow wagons crept painfully, lest the precious water should be spilled, from every homestead, each with its one pitiful hogshead. It seemed incredible that such a mass of flame could ever be put out by such a handful of workers; and it was only, indeed, by each man's laboring steadily at his own arc of the great circle, trusting blindly that others were at work on the other side; as of course they always were, that the lurid scene darkened down at last."

     An eye-witness describes as follows, the way of guarding ranches and stock against prairie fires:--

     "Adjoining the sheep ranch was a cattle ranch belonging to a Swiss gentleman, a brother-in-law of the American sheep-man, and they made a common fire-guard to go round both their ranges. The plan was to plough four furrows all round the outside of the ranges, and then another ring of four furrows was ploughed inside the first, at a distance of about fifty yards. In order to make the operation of burning the guard safer, a mowing-machine had been run round on the outside of the outer ring of furrows and on the inside of the inner ring. The total length of the guard was about seven miles. After the ploughing and mowing were done, we proceeded to burn the guard. Two men fired the grass along the two sets of furrows, the furrows preventing the fire from getting into the range or out to the open country. Behind the men firing came two men with wet sacks, with which to beat out the fire in case it showed any inclination to jump the furrows. A fifth man drove a wagon which contained a tub of water in which to wet the sacks from time to time. The man firing on the leeward side of the guard would always precede the other by a little, so that when the flame was swept across by the wind it might be met by the back-fire from the leeward furrows, which would prevent so much danger of its getting over into the grass beyond the guard. Of course it would not be safe to attempt to burn the guard when the wind was at all strong. The fire-guard, when completed, presents a barrier of bare ground to an approaching prairie fire, which the latter is unable to cross for lack of combustible matter to feed on. It has to be renewed every autumn, as during the spring and summer it becomes overgrown with grass again."

Continue to "The Sheep Ranch" . . . .

Enterprise Agriculture Contents

Return to Books