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

Trail drivers brought in income, coined phrases

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Texans 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 markets.

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 Oklahoma Panhandle.

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 difference.

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 drinking.

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.
Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
May 6, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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