The long trail |

The long trail

After the Civil War, cattle owners wanted to move cattle north and during the years1867 to 1884, longhorn cattle were walked, though the word used is driven, from San Antonio, Texas, and other areas as far south as the Rio Grande, to points north. Abilene, Kan., was a shipping point until 1871, then other Kansas towns had the honor. In 1871, 600,000 cattle were shipped, including from Abilene where the cattle could be loaded onto railroad cars and shipped east or west, where the buyers were. Once cattlemen in the Plains states were able to establish ranches, they stocked the longhorns themselves.

No matter how much I read or study I cannot fathom what the old trail drives from Texas were like. The cattle were longhorns, which are not known for meaty carcasses to start with. Mostly my question is, how did the cattle have any meat on their bones after all of that walking and stress?

This particularly comes to mind when freshly weaned calves are bawling their heads off in the cowlot. It is not the noise that gets us, it is the sudden silence. From past experience we know that — just like little kids when they are quiet, you had better go check on them — when the bellering ceases, something is wrong. It may mean some of them have grouped up and breached a fence. We had that happen a couple of times over the years. The weanlings would scatter for several miles and it took some days to get them all home. They had to get tired and settle down before they could be easily managed.

With better fencing installed, the confidence level is higher, yet you sort of listen while you sleep. The bawling usually lasts less then 48 hours.

When we had a Grade A dairy for five years, occasionally a gate would not get firmly latched and of course the cows would find the weak spot. We would be awakened by hearing cows tramping next to our bedroom window and even hearing them snort as they walked by. With dairy cows we couldn’t just wait for daylight to get them back in; they had to be milked. So there we would be with flashlights, trying to get them to go home. Most readily cooperated because they were seasoned cows that knew where their meals came from.

At one time we had a solid black dairy cow that was “snorty,” so we were especially wary and attentive around her. Her ear tag was #9. I remember the night we were trying to get the cows back in and 9 was giving us the run around at the haystacks. I had my flashlight glowing, came around the corner of the stack and there she was! I knew enough not to challenge her. We eventually got them all in and tried to go back to our night’s sleep.

I was glad we weren’t on a trail drive to Abilene that night.

Peggy Sanders is a national award winning columnist from southwestern S.D.

Peggy Sanders

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