was all these cheap long-horned steers over-running Texas; here was the
rest of the country crying out for beef -- and no railroads in Texas to
get them out. So they trailed them out, across hundreds of miles of wild
From the southernmost tip of Texas, cattle trails pointed north -- the Shawnee, the Chisholm, the Western, the Goodnight-Loving. They all led to railheads, where the cattle were loaded into freight cars bound for eastern markets.
In less than two decades six million steers and cows were moved along them; so many, one trail driver said, that in places the dust was knee-deep to the cattle. The men who brought them to the railroads were given a new name "cowboys."
They were a mixed group: former Confederate cavalry men and immigrants who had only recently learned to ride; there were Indian cowboys and African-Americans -- and Mexican vaqueros, whose ancestors had introduced cattle to the West centuries earlier. A cowboy, one westerner observed, is "just a plain bowlegged human who smelled very horsey at times."
person the cowboys were mostly medium-sized men... quick and wiry, and
as a rule very good-natured; in fact, it did not pay to be anything else.
In character, their like never was or will be again."
Edward C. Abbott was born in Cranwich, England, and brought to the West by his parents as a boy. Hoping the open air would improve his frail health, his father let him help drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Nebraska when he was just 10 years old. The experience, Abbott said later, "made a cowboy out of me. Nothing could have changed me after that."
family and I went separate ways, and they stayed separate forever after.
My father was all for farming... and all my brothers turned out farmers
except one, and he ended up the worst of the lot -- a sheep-man, and a
The cowboys' average age was 24. They were paid so badly, and worked so hard, that two-thirds of them made only one trail drive before finding something better to do. They owned their saddle, but not the horse they rode -- and they rode it day and night.
a man to be stove up at thirty may sound strange to some people, but many
a cowboy has been so bunged up that he has to quit riding that early in
life... My advice to any young man or boy is to stay at home and not be
a rambler, as it won't buy you anything.
"If a storm come and the cattle started running -- you'd hear that low rumbling noise along the ground... then you'd jump for your horse and get out there in the lead, trying to head them and get them into a mill before they scattered to hell and gone. It was riding at a dead run in the dark, with cut banks and prairie dog holes all around you, not knowing if the next jump would land you in a shallow grave."
singing was supposed to soothe the cattle and it did... The two men on
guard would circle around with their horses on a walk, if it was a clear
night and the cattle was bedded down and quiet, and one man would sing
a verse of a song, and his partner on the other side of the herd would
sing another verse; and you'd go through a whole song that way... I had
a crackerjack of a partner in '79. I'd sing and he'd answer, and we'd
keep it up like that for two hours. But he was killed by lightning."
After up to four straight months in the saddle, often in the same clothes every day, eating every meal at the chuck wagon, drinking nothing but coffee and water, the cowboy's job was finally done -- he was paid for his work, and turned loose in town.
bought some new clothes and got my picture taken... I had a new white
Stetson hat that I paid ten dollars for, and new pants that cost twelve
dollars, and a good shirt and fancy boots. Lord, I was proud of those
clothes! When my sister saw me, she said: "Take your pants out of your
boots and put your coat on. You look like an outlaw." I told her to go
to hell. And I never did like her after that. "
Cowboys were big spenders, but while businesses profited, all the cowtowns soon became wilder than their permanent residents liked.
Marshal has posted up printed notices, informing all persons that the
ordinance against carrying firearms or other weapons in Abilene will be
enforced. That's right. There's no bravery in carrying revolvers in a
Gun control ordinances were common; cowboys who insisted on carrying their six-shooters in town risked fines and imprisonment. To make sure the laws were obeyed, some cowtowns resorted to hiring notorious gunmen -- Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok -- to keep the peace.
Morally, as a class, cowboys are foulmouthed, blasphemous, drunken, lecherous, utterly corrupt. Usually harmless on the plains when sober, they are dreaded in towns, for then liquor has an ascendancy over them.
One by one, the cowtowns would declare themselves off-limits to the Texas herds and the cowboys who came with them.
I went home. After I got home my father said to me one night: 'You can
take old Morgan... and plow the west ridge tomorrow.' Like hell I'd plow
the west ridge. And when he woke up next morning, Teddy was gone."
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