Origin of Cattle Driving
Figure [ 1 ] Drovers about to start a drive
As early as 1836, ranchers in Texas began to drive cattle along a "Beef Trail" to New Orleans. In the 1840s, cattle drives expanded northward into Missouri. The towns of Sedalia, Baxter Springs, Springfield, and St. Louis became principal markets. The Shawnee Trail, also known as the Texas Road or Texas trail, played a significant role in Texas as early as the 1840s. But by 1853, as 3,000 cattle were trailed through western Missouri, local farmers blocked their passage and forced herds to turn back because the Longhorns carried ticks that carried Texas fever. Texas cattle were immune to this disease; but the ticks that they left behind infected the local cattle. By 1855 farmers in western and central Missouri formed vigilance committees, stopped some of the herds, killed any Texas cattle that entered their counties, and a law, effective in December of that year, was passed, banning diseased cattle from being brought into or through the state. Therefore, drovers took their herds up through the eastern edge of Kansas; but there, too, they met opposition from farmers, who induced their territorial legislature to pass a protective law in 1859.
During the 1850s, emigration and freighting from the Missouri River westward also caused a rise in demand for oxen. In 1858, the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell utilized about 40,000 oxen. Longhorns were trained by the thousands for work oxen. Herds of longhorns also were driven to Chicago, and at least one herd was driven all the way to New York. The gold boom in California in the 1850s also created a demand for beef and provided people with the cash to pay for it. Thus, though most cattle were obtained locally or from Mexico, very long drives were attempted.
In the early years of the American Civil War, Texans drove cattle into the Confederate states for the use of the Confederate Army. In October, 1862 a Union naval patrol on the southern Mississippi River captured 1,500 head of Longhorns which had been destined for Confederate military posts in Louisiana. The permanent loss of the main cattle supply after the Union gained control of the Mississippi River in 1863 was a serious blow to the Confederate Army.
The war blocked access to eastern markets. During the Civil War, the Shawnee Trail was virtually unused. Texas cattle numbers grew significantly in that period, and after the war could not be sold for more than $2 a head in Texas. By 1866 an estimated 200,000 to 260,000 surplus cattle were available.
In 1865 at the end of the Civil War, Philip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago known as Armour and Company, and with the expansion of the meat packing industry, the demand for beef increased significantly. By 1866, cattle could be sold to northern markets for as much as $40 per head, making it potentially profitable for cattle, particularly from Texas, to be herded long distances to market.
The Trail AheadArticle Selections: The Cattle Drive Era, Chisholm Trail, & Cattle Towns| The Cattle Drive Era The first large-scale effort to drive cattle from Texas to the nearest railhead for shipment to Chicago occurred in 1866, when many Texas ranchers banded together to drive their cattle to the closest point that railroad tracks reached, which at that time was Sedalia, Missouri. However, farmers in eastern Kansas, still concerned that transient animals would trample crops and transmit cattle fever to local cattle, formed groups that threatened to beat or shoot cattlemen found on their lands. Therefore, the 1866 drive failed to reach the railroad and the cattle herds were sold for low prices. There were other drives northward without a definite destination and without much financial success. Cattle were also driven to the old but limited New...