Friday, April 13, 2012

Cattle Drives

Cattle drives might be a thing of the past, but supposedly there are still three cows to every person in Montana. Some still practice cowboy skills. And for greenhorns like myself, there are learning opportunities if you know where to look. I will be honing my limited skills at a cow horse cutting clinic this weekend! 

B.B. Sheffield cattle roundup in coal creek badlands, Diamond W Ranch, Calabar, Montana, date unknown.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 981-624
Jesuit missionaries in the Bitterroot Valley and some of the early traders, including Johnny Grant in the Deer Lodge Valley, drove the first shorthorn cattle herds to Montana long before the gold rushes of the 1860s. James Liberty Fisk noted cattle grazing in the Prickly Pear Valley in 1863. But it was Nelson Story who drove the first herd of Texas longhorns into Montana in 1866 in a legendary drive fraught with danger. Story invested a good portion of his $30,000 fortune in gold dust on this venture. He purchased a thousand head of cattle at ten dollars a head and hired twenty-five of the most experienced, toughest cowboys. Armed with colt revolvers, these men were full of courage and grit driving the huge herd through dangerous territory in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. At Fort Laramie, Story armed his men with new Remington breech-loading rifles for protection along the dangerous Bozeman Trail. It was needed, too, as Sioux attacked the group, wounded several drovers, stole some cattle, and stampeded the herd. At dusk, drovers rode into the Sioux camp and, in a daring raid, recovered their stolen cattle.  Sioux again attacked several times more.  At Fort Reno, the army ordered Story to halt, promising that Indians would kill them all. But defying orders, Story and his men drove the cattle by night, and in December 1866, after nine months, they arrived in the Gallatin Valley. Livestock and open range ranching quickly became a huge industry, and skilled cowboys were essential. Roundups gathering the herds for spring branding and fall shipping were the pulse of the cowboy life. As the Northern Pacific steamed across America’s last frontier in 1883, overland cattle drives, once a necessity to move livestock to market, became a thing of the past. Barbed wire encroached and the open range and the vast herds of yesteryear disappeared. Cowboys and their way of life passed into legend.

No comments:

Post a Comment