Prairie Challenges " Part 2: "Texas Fever"
by Delbert Trew
A wise man once said, “No one is born with character In order to acquire character, one must meet and conquer adversity: When this quote was presented to an old-time rancher, he studied a bit and said, ” If that word adversity means troubles, every rancher should have over-load springs to help carry his share of character around:
Those familiar with the past history and current problems of the agricultural industry would agree The people responsible for bringing the industry to its present level were a tough, hardy lot with more than their share of character Many of the long-time readers of “The Fence Post” are excellent examples of the character exhibited among our rural families.
It is human nature for each man to assume his problems are greater than those of his peers and ancestors and at times may become discouraged This series of articles will revue some of the tremendous problems faced by early-day stockmen Let us gain strength and pride in the way these ancestors met adversity and conquered.
The prairies were open, the trails north well marked, and the “cattle poor” ranchers could see a light at the end of the trail. With hard work, anyone could trail a herd to market. Whether the market was a railroad terminal in Kansas, a mining camp in Colorado, or the un-stocked ranges of the North, the cattle of the South moved out.
However, once out of southern Texas, each passing herd set off a series of mysterious happenings. Some cattle alongside the trail began to get sick. They arched their backs, eyes became glassy, and each stood with drooping heads and ears. Loss of appetite caused weakness and they began to stagger. Final symptoms were fever, fetid breath, bloody urine, and a coma-like lethargy. Death losses often reached 30 percent in the local herds. The malady was named Spanish Fever, Texas Fever, or sometimes Poisonous Halitosis. Whatever the title, it was blamed on the Texas longhorn cattle.
The mysterious disease had been noted as early as 1814 in South Carolina, but as southern cattle seemed to be immune little attention was given. By 1853, when southern cattle began to be driven north, indignant local livestock owners became violent turning back herds or forcing them to retrace their routes.
In the early 1880s, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and New Mexico enacted quarantines prohibiting southern cattle from passing through their states. These actions blocked nearly all southern cattle from market.
The first glimmer of hope for a solution came when stockmen noticed that cattle along a certain line to the north were free of the fever, while cattle to the south carried the disease. Bob Kleberg, owner of the great King Ranch, and the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry proved the lowly cattle tick carried the disease using livestock as the natural host. Simply put, livestock in tick country were immune to the disease, but wherever they walked, the tiny ticks dropped off, crawled up the legs of other cattle, and infected them, resulting in their death.
Further testing proved the tick could be eliminated by systematic dipping of cattle in a strong Creosote solution. The answer was obvious: get rid of the ticks or get out of the cattle business. State and Federal authorities established quarantine lines and designed a program to rid the south of fever ticks. Cattlemen’s Associations supervised and ranchers cooperated.
The process wasn’t easy. Thousands of dipping vats were built throughout the south. All livestock owners selling cattle to the north were ready to dip. Others were not so willing. It was hard work causing stress on humans and livestock. Law authorities had to be called at times to force reluctant owners to dip their animals.
Violence broke out in “The Dipping Vat Wars” when protesters dynamited the vats. Louisiana constructed 3,478 dipping vats and hired 600 inspectors resulting in tick free status in one year. Other states were slower.
In all, it took 30 years to rid America of the fever tick.
Even today, a narrow quarantine line along the Texas-Mexico border is still maintained requiring all livestock crossing the border to be dipped.
Imagine the logistics of dipping all the livestock located in the southern 14 states. Think about the work and expense involved in the 30 year project. It was a prairie challenge almost beyond comprehension. But, it was done and the fever was eliminated.
In two weeks watch for Part 3 of Prairie Challenges ” “Accepting the Devil’s Rope.”
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