Monday, July 18, 2016

Cowboys & Cattle Drives

We are romance writers, who write our stories based in the Old West.  Naturally, the rugged and handsome cowboy is often the hero of our stories.

Many of these cowboys we base our stories on would have worked a cattle drive in real life, which in truth could be far from the exciting and romantic portrayal in our books.  There are many articles that give the details of where the cattle drives went - up the Chisholm Trail, or the Great Western Trail - usually starting in Texas and ending up in places like Dodge City, Kansas.

But, what happened while they were on the trail?  What would it be like for the cowboys driving the cattle across the prairies?

The Cattle Drive

By Geo B Bonnell (Heritage Auctions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The herds they were driving could be anywhere from 1000 - 3500 head of cattle, and up.  These drives would need at least 18 cowboys, a cook driving the chuck wagon, and a horse wrangler who could look after the remuda.

The remuda was the herd of horses that would be brought along for the cowboys to switch out and use.  Since the trail was long and tiring for the horses, they could take turns giving horses a rest.

And of course, there was a trail boss.  The trail boss was the one who made the rules, and the cowboys working the drive were expected to follow.  Sometimes the trail boss would be the rancher themselves, but more likely they would be hired to control the drive for the rancher.

The cowboys were placed with what were called “swing riders” who would be about a third of the way back to the sides of the herd.  They followed the point cowboys who would be leading the lead steer.  Flank riders were nearer to the back, about two thirds of the way back of the herd.

And, the least desirable position was the tail riders.  Their job was to keep the slower and weaker cattle moving.  These cowboys had to endure the dust and smell that would be following the herd.

In order to try and avoid stampedes, which could be dangerous for both cattle and cowboys, the cam - lightening, a dropped pot on the stove, even something as small as a branch snapping under someone’s feet.

The cowboy’s pockets were normally empty until they reached their destination and they could be paid.  Businesses boomed in the towns where the drives ended and the cowboys could finally let off some steam with their new found wages.

A True Cowboy

John C. H. Grabill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The life of a cowboy could be lonely, and often they drifted from one job to another.  But, learning about the work they would do on a long cattle drive has made me realized that these men deserve the rugged, heroic images we give them in our books.

They were hard working men who helped to grow a nation.


Kay P. Dawson’s first mail order bride series, Wilder West, is available on Amazon.  Her new series, Oregon Sky, features the Wallace family who have settled in the Willamette Valley.  The first two books in the series, "Phoebe's Promise" and "Audrey's Awakening" are now available on Amazon - with "Ella's Embrace" scheduled for release soon!

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1 comment:

  1. No arguement there, it was tough work. Just watching 2 cowboys trying to drive a heard of 20 or so recently showed how much work it was. They were out in the open, near the highway. Fascinating, but...
    Thanks for the additional info. Angela