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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Top dollar paid for
Texas cattle in 1870s

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
Way back in the early 1870s, there was a newspaper operating in Hallettsville called the Herald and Planter – it was printing a weekly edition and the editor was S. Lee Kyle. According to the Library of Congress, the Herald and Planter existed from 1872-1887.

It is interesting to note that in the 1870s
Texas was coming out of an economic disaster brought on by the Civil War. And what was the one major thing that saved Texas? The answer is wild longhorn cattle, and the men who gathered them up from out of the mesquite brush and cactus – they formed herds and drove them thousands of miles up cattle trails to railheads where they were shipped back East to be devoured by beef-hungry Americans.

Millions of dollars were brought back to
Texas by those daring men who braved the weather, bandits, rustlers, and Indians to get their herds to market.

And once again, a newspaper becomes an eyewitness to history as it documents the story of those cattle drives and markets in 1874. This report comes in the form of a letter out of Topeka, Kansas, and gives readers an idea of just how valuable cattle were in those days. The following article was published in the
Hallettsville Herald and Planter – it is has been slightly edited.
Cooper TX post office mural Before the Fencing of Delta County by Lloyd Goff, 1941
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, June 2007
Herald and Planter (Hallettsville), Oct. 15, 1874 – A letter from Topeka, Kansas, takes the view which follows of the Texas cattle trade for the present year.

The traffic commenced in the spring with a rather discouraging outlook, and many drawbacks have attended it during the summer; but despite of all difficulties it bids fair to turn out larger and more satisfactory than that of any former year.

There are yet 115,000 wintered
cattle in [Kansas] which will be shipped between now and the first of December. The number driven this year from Texas, the bulk of which will be shipped this season, is about 225,000. The shipments for the entire year 1874 may be safely put at figures in the neighborhood of 500,000, should nothing interfere with the business from this time on to the first of January, and the amount of money involved in the business for the year cannot fall short of $10,000,000, counting the cattle at the average price per head in Chicago, and not including young stock driven from Texas to be wintered.

In addition to the cattle driven into Kansas this year from
Texas, about 50,000 head have been driven to Colorado, and are being fitted for fall and early winter markets. Quite a large number will also be wintered in Colorado as well as in Kansas.

The St. Louis Globe notes the arrival in that city of two trains with
cattle from Flatonia, Texas, by the Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad. Flatonia is about 140 or 150 miles west of Houston, on the edge of Gonzales County.

The
cattle were shipped by prominent graziers [cattlemen] – half a dozen of them handled annually 50,000 head. They have been in the habit of sending droves to Kansas; also, selling for shipment to New Orleans. They have also sold for shipment to Cuba. But now the Globe says, they intend to select their best cattle and ship them to St. Louis. A few days ago they sent a lot on experiment.

Friday the second bunch came, and all were sold at most satisfactory prices. The owners were so well pleased with the St. Louis market that they will hereafter ship in large numbers. The Globe says, “That these extensive graziers have now settled upon a well defined purpose to ship here is a matter for congratulation.”


© Murray Montgomery
November 9, 2011 column
More Lone Star Diary

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