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Texas History


Discussing
'original primary Age of the Cowboy'

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Most historians agree somewhat, the age of the cowboy began in 1866, the first full year of peace after the Civil War. The end came in about 1895, when the main trails of the trail drives were closed by barbed wire fences with the railroads taking over transporting the herds.

There is legitimate argument this is not entirely true because of the fact railroads do not exist everywhere there are herds of livestock. Agreed, railroads did the long-hauling of the north-bound herds, however every head of livestock had to be gathered and driven to the railroad loading pens. In fact in our modern world today, cattle still have to be gathered from the ranges, driven to the pens to be loaded on trucks then hauled to their destination. So, the cowboy is still alive and well today.

With these thoughts in mind a more correct statement should be: "The original, primary Age of the Cowboy began in 1866 and ended in 1895, but the cattle industry still requires cowboys to handle the livestock of today."

In discussing the origins of the trail drives, we find many versions. The most popular version states, "When the survivors of the Civil War returned to their homes they gathered their now numerous herds and began driving towards areas of dense human population to sell for beef."

The fallacy of this thinking is there was almost no communication in the outback frontiers of ranch country. Post-war national economics were almost nonexistent and few individuals had money of any description in hand with which to purchase beef at any price anywhere. How did the trail drivers know where to go, and how did they know those people had money to buy beef?

A more probable version, at least in early Texas was: "Dirt-poor war survivors returned home, many afoot, to see wild cattle and mustangs roaming their lands. Desperate for their almost destitute families, they trapped wild horses, broke them to use, hunted and captured wild cattle and began driving them through the surrounding unknown, unmapped Indian country with no definite destination in mind, in hopes they could find someone to buy their cattle at any price."

History leaves the impression that ranchers who owned the livestock contained in the trail herds made the drives to the north. Sure, a few made the trip, but most of the older ranch owners, just returned from the war, weary, recovering from wounds, tired of being away from families so long and a bit cautious whether the drives would be successful, hired others for the drives.

The result was most had teenage sons and employee's sons, desperate to leave dirt-poor circumstances and escape the drudgery of frontier life and see the outside world. There were a few experienced trail bosses but most of the "Age of the Cowboy" participants were really teenage boys raised on the ranches and in the settlements but craving change, travel and excitement.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
December 28, 2010 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.


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