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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

No journey too far for determined cattlemen

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
From the stockman of biblical times to the modern day rancher, he has always been out in front of civilization looking for fresh graze for his livestock. His trials were many, often more than his share as he challenged the vast prairies, unpredictable weather, one disease after another and the continually changing financial world.

One by one he conquered each new problem as it appeared. His continual exploration always found fresh graze but often presented problems of ownership of strays, brand laws and damage to the other man's domain. He kept the ranges in control yet allowed expansion and growth.

He also had to search for new markets, and this effort led him in four directions across the continent to find those in need of hides, tallow and fresh meat.

Fortunes were lost and made in the constant fight against disease and pests. Each adjustment was painful and harder to continue as most preferred the "old way" of doing business.

No challenge was greater than those occurring after the Civil War when overstocked Texas ranges were left without local markets for their livestock. The Trail Drive Era lasted about eight to 10 years as millions of cattle and horses were driven north to Kansas markets. The herds encountered every trouble known and a few unknown during these months-long treks northward.

The coming of the railroads and barbed wire made the trail drives obsolete thus eliminating many of the cattleman's problems.

However, even this modern innovation of transportation was not without its problems as the following story unfolds.

It seems the huge Swenson Ranch in Texas had loaded several railcars of cull cows to be sent to the Chicago markets. They sent a trusted employee named "Dock" to ride along and make sure the livestock were watered and fed along the way.

A few days later the ranch manager received a letter from Dock. It had been posted Nov. 30, 1906, from Caldwell, Kan. Details stated at 6 a.m. as Dock was stepping off the train to unload and water the stock, another train crashed head-on into the cattle train.

Dock and the crew saw it coming, jumped off and were not injured. Several cows were killed and many others injured. One car burst open with the livestock scattering into town.

Dock's letter was interrupted with each new report coming in. "Some Kansas cowboys have penned ten head across town and went after six more grazing in a cornfield down south." After a while, he continued writing. "Several clothes lines down in town and a bunch of women are mad as Hell." Later he added, "Sheriff just shot one cow going down the boardwalk on main street where they had two buggy run-a-ways and a lot of broken bridle reins."

Finally, Dock reported in his last lines, "Hope to get what's left loaded and on to the markets tomorrow. Make the railroad pay for this damn mess. Yours truly, Dock."

So, even after civilization arrived with all its modern conveniences, the poor old cowman still had a few troubles now and then.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" April 17, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
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