brought in income, coined phrases
by Delbert Trew
owe a round of applause to the old-time trail drivers who in a period
of years drove more than 5 million head of livestock to the northern
This income helped the state of Texas recover from the effects of
the Civil War. The following terms were coined during the Trail Drive
Era and many are still with us today.
For example, "hitch your wagon to a star" originated when each evening
after darkness, the trail boss pointed the tongue of the chuck wagon
toward the north star. In case of fog, rain, cloudy skies or a dust
storm, he could be sure to start on a true course north the next morning.
Today when we take a "cutoff" or a "shortcut" we are using a trail
term originating when the trail boss took a shorter route than usual
to save his herd walking a few extra miles.
The most famous cutoff in Great Plains history involved a shortcut
on the Santa Fe Trail. In order to bypass mountainous terrain, wagon
trains began using a southern trail along the Cimarron River in the
Many old-timers still call a horse herd a "cavvy." This term originated
from the placement of a temporary rope corral at a chuck wagon to
facilitate catching fresh mounts for the next shift. It was first
called a "caballada," a Spanish word for horse pen. Some ex-cavalry
soldiers called it a "cavalry yard" as used by the Army. This was
later shortened to cavvy.
Another less-familiar term is "holler-horn" (hollow-horn). Since the
cattle industry is much older than the veterinary industry, for many
years the many maladies of livestock went unidentified. Any bovine
health problem that wasn't obvious was called "a bad case of holler-horn."
Whether trail herds reached the markets in good condition or tired
and scrawny often depended on the experience of the trail boss. Although
weather and luck played a part, a good trail boss made the greatest
A well-formed trail herd on the move resembled a huge letter "J" with
the top bar removed. Body heat from walking animals was the biggest
problem. The long body of the J format was kept at about six to eight
animals abreast to dissipate the heat.
The "drag" or the curled part of the J format was always driven to
the left or right side of the line of cattle and faced into the prevailing
breeze. This protected the drags from the dust and heat of the herd
ahead of them on the trail.
When watering a herd at a creek, the leaders of the herd were always
watered downstream first, with the tail of the herd watering upstream
as they reached the site. This gave all animals fresh, un-muddied
When watering at a small spring or lake, the herd was held off to
the side and small bunches brought in to drink, keeping the water
as free from mud as possible. As you can see, there was more to trail
driving than you might think.