Wyatt Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City, in 1876. Early that spring, this article was published in the NY Times about the then annual “Spring Cattle Drive.”
The livestock trade of the South West has become a matter of millions. The herd is king. Drovers and “cow-boys” go about with a masterly swagger, and are the most popular as well as the best in the class to be found. While the average herd runs from two to 3000 head, there are those that number from 25,000 to 75,000, and the owners of such, like the Abram of old, may be set down as decidedly “rich in cattle.” It is now getting to the time of year for the annual “drives” from Texas into Kansas and Colorado, preparatory to marketing beeves for the Eastern trade. From April until November the “trail” fairly swarms. The cattle have been “rounded up” as soon as the young grass begins to start, and assorted according to their brand. This is necessary because while feeding through the winter they roam at large, and the herd stray apart and get mixed. After the “round up” each drover takes his own to a separate “range” or pasture. Then the process of “cutting out” takes place. This is the selection of such ads are designed for the market. The next step is to get the “long-horns” upon the road or “trail.” When once upon the way they follow on without much trouble. The greatest danger is from “stampeding” during storms, or through the efforts of highwaymen, who often take this method to steal cattle. A herd of two or 3000 upon the trail often presents a fine site, champion along in Indian file, and stringing out for a distance of a mile or more over the prairie.
When the cattle are fairly upon the trail they are allowed to feed along leisurely upon the spring grasses. The distance remained in these drives is generally from 250 to 350 miles, and it takes from 30 to 40 days. When they reach the vicinity of a shipping point they are often heard it out several weeks until good prices prevail; then they are hurried forward to Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, and other points. Middlemen are always on hand, and herds frequently change hands en route, and more commonly at the shipping point. Then there are numberless commission agents who undertake to negotiate sales. The most of these are located at Kansas City, which figures largely in this trade. Her stockyards are a busy scene from June to December. In 1871. There were received 120,827 head of cattle; in 1872, 236,802; in 1873, 227,169; in 1874, 207,069, and in 1875, 169,391. While the number last year was less than the previous years, the cattle were better and brought a higher price. The total receipts of the past five years have been over one million head, a large share of which were reshaped or driven to Chicago, St. Louis, and points in the Mississippi Valley, for beef.
The annual drives from Texas to run from 350,000 to 500,000 head. All of these do not go into market, but worked their way across the plains into Colorado and Wyoming. This document in these territories give a good deal of care to breeding and improve the quality of cattle. The old Buffalo ranges have gradually been encroached upon, and stock drives and fattens so well at the herds now graze over a large portion of the plains, and the principal shipping points are in the very midst of what was not long ago designated as the Great American Desert. The numerous sprains and creeks are found to give sufficient water, and the buffalo grass throughout the entire year is sufficiently nutritious to keep the herds looking fat and sleek.
It is now 10 years since Texas cattle, or “the long-horns,” began to appear in large numbers on the northern markets. Since 1867 over 3 million head have been driven into Kansas, and ship to Chicago and St. Louis. Large numbers have also been herded in western Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. In looking over our future beef supply, good judges placed the number of cattle now in Texas at 3.5 million, with half as many more upon the western plains, distributed as follows: Nebraska, 375,000; western Kansas, 450,000; Colorado, 600,000; Wyoming, 200,000; New Mexico, 150,000.
The Western cattle trade has shown considerable change in the past two or three years. More care is taken in selecting Texas, beeves for the market, and the quality is much better. This was demanded by the constantly lower price, which Texas cattle were bringing, while Colorado beef, which has been going forward in considerable quantities, owing to its prime quality and excellent condition was not only commanding a higher price, but was, so far as the supply went, shutting out Texas cattle altogether. Shipping points are also changing, the trails and stations by legislation and otherwise, being gradually pushed further west. And here is an opportunity for seen the changes attendant upon this as upon any great industrial pursuit. There are some places on the plane to get famous all at once, and then, after an almost riotous prosperity for a year to suddenly go out of sight. This is especially true of the cattle shipping stations. Abilene flared into prominence in 1868 and became suddenly the busiest, noisiest, and best-known plays west of the Missouri. It was the depot of the great Texas cattle trade. Then a season or two later its glory was gone, and Brookville, Newton, Ellsworth, and Wichita, in turn, enjoy the excitement and thrift that attend this business. This season Dodge City and Ellis are the coming points. It is notable that the shipping points are year-by-year further west. This is because the grazing is better; there is less interference with the crops, and it is found that the trails are shorter. There is, too, some hostility between the farming and stock interests in Kansas. This is one of the chief reason why Abilene was so early abandoned. It is only 160 miles from Kansas City, enabling drovers to get into market with their trains within 12 or 15 hours after starting. And besides, owing to the short haul, the cattle arrived in good condition. These advantages are in a measure lost by loading further west. At the start the drovers would probably prefer striking the railroad as near their destined market as possible, but after some clashing with the farm interests and snubs by the state legislature may have come to make it best of everything. The law just passed narrows them down still more. It prohibits Texas cattle from entering any part of the state except the few counties in the Southwest, between March 1 in November 1, each year. It leaves open the counties comprising the Medicine Lodge grazing district and the Bluff Creek country, and, of course, the vast Buffalo ranges of the plains stretching to the Colorado border. By this law, Ellsworth, Newton, and other favorite shipping places lose the cattle trade. Wichita also would be counted out, as it is east of the deadline, but the enterprising citizens have guaranteed to keep a trail opened, 1 mile wide, from the deadline to the point through the entire season.
The drovers, as I learn, “take the bull by the horns,” to use their own parlance, and are quietly putting up with the new order of things and planning for the drive this season, which is now well on the way. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company will have the great bulk of the business this year, and are enlarging shipping yards and putting on more stock cars. They have also put the car load rate to Kansas City or actress in at $40 from Wichita and $45 from Dodge City, pledging themselves not to increase, but rather to lower, this rate, if necessary, “to conform to any rates offered by the other lines.” This, of course, refers to the Kansas Pacific, which heretofore has had pretty much all of the cattle trade. And it was only last fall that the new route, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe , secured an opening to Kansas City, and only a few weeks ago was completed through to Pueblo, Colorado. It runs through Kansas south of the Kansas Pacific line, and strikes the “trails” leading from Texas, about 100 miles nearer the source of supply.
The drive this season will be about 350,000 head. Some 50,000 head will be contract cattle for the government, to be driven to the Indians in Wyoming and Colorado, and to supply military posts. The remaining 300,000 will go east. They will begin to arrive soon. Several large herds are already on the way, and others are being rapidly gathered in. The largest herds Nallen route are as follows: Ellison & Dewees, 75,000 head; Powers, Mayberry & Co., 31,000; E.B. Millett, 15,000; Littlefield & Dilworth, 15,000; Kennedy, 10,000; Sheidley, 10,000; Caruthers & Taylor, 10,000. Upon arriving at the Arkansas a large share these will be crossed over to the country lying between Dodge City on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and Ellis on the Kansas Pacific, so that drovers may take advantage of the “cut” rates which these roads often indulge in when there is a good deal of stock to be carried. The trade is considered so desirable that the railroads did actively for it, going so far as to send agents into Texas early in the spring, circulating documents regarding the facilities for shipping, feeding, etc., and the best trails. These estimates of this year’s drive had been obtained from sources deemed most reliable. But there are some who have been connected with the trade for a long time to place the figure is much higher, and believe that this is to be the busiest season. This document have yet seen. They make up their estimates from letters received from Texas, and from other information brought by parties who have been down to the red river country. In the light of such facts as they have been gathered, they think that the shipments from Dodge city. This season alone will reach 300,000 head– some place it at 350,000. Wichita will get about 150,000 head; Great Bend, 70,000; Newton and other points, 40,000; making an all over half a million of cattle to go east by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Road alone, while from Ellis and other points on the Kansas and Pacific from 75,000 to 100,000 head will be shipped.
The routes, or trails, of course, are changing in season, they’d necessary by the removal of the shipping stations further west. At first the favorite trail was the one leading to Baxter Springs, and Chetopa, then the “old Shawnee,” as it was called, leaving the Red River and running eastward, crossing the Arkansas not far above Fort Gibson, and thence westward up the Arkansas. The best known and best traveled trail until the new one direct to Fort Dodge was opened was the Chisholm, been more direct, over a better country for feeding a good water, and shorter from the Red River to Kansas than the others. The distance by the shortest route from the Red River to the Kansas line is from 200 to 250 miles, and thence to the Arkansas River about 60 miles.
The herds began to arrive in June, and from that time to September swarmed forward until the prairies seem alive with them. They begin to go into market in August and continue until December. They will not be hurried forward this year. The grazing is good and feed cheap, and if prices are not firm. Thousands will be held back for another season. In this way, it helps out the farmers, consuming the enormous corn product, which in Kansas last year was larger than ever, a great surplus still been left over and offered as low as 12 to $.15 per bushel. There is a good deal of money in these “drives.” Is the removal of $4 million to $5 million from Texas to Kansas. And it is noteworthy how this property increases in value as it nears market. At Dodge City, Ellis, or Ellsworth. It has increased 25 percent; at Kansas City, it is more than one hundred percent. And when it goes into consumption, the cuts that brain from five to seven cents per pound at San Antonio or Galveston are worth 18 to 20 at Kansas City or St. Louis. The difference is even more marked than this. In the stock raising counties of Texas steaks are two to three cents per pound, while in Chicago they bring from 20 to 22.
With increasing railway facilities, and the extension of the Texas Pacific through the heart of the stock country between Fort Worth and El Paso, it may be expected that this great business will increase largely. But it is claimed by many that Texas is getting short of cattle, and that next year’s drive will not be near so large as this year’s. Many are giving more attention to the production of sheep. While this may be true, it is well to know the fact that the herds of Western Kansas and Colorado have been rapidly increase in the past two or three years, and the beef supply is no longer wholly from Texas. Last year over 100,000 head went into market from the old Buffalo ranges, and this year the number will still be greater. Heavy runs of cattle from Western Kansas, and the Indian territory were noticeable at Kansas City last fall.
In southern Colorado, particularly in the Arkansas Valley, the herds are multiplying rapidly. The care of cattle cost but little, they feed on the range through the winter, generally coming out in good condition, and often fat, in the spring. Along in April or May, they are rounded up, and through the summer driven to some secluded range to the feed, so as not to interfere with the crops. Disease seldom comes to the herds, and the quality of cattle is superior. They bring a better price than the beeves, fresh from Texas in the market. For this reason, heavy buyers gather up considerable herds in Texas during the winter, driving them to Colorado during the spring, and fatten them through the summer for the winter market. The region about Fort Lyon, and along the Arkansas between that point and Dodge City, is a favorable range. Probably 125,000 head of cattle are now feeding in this region. The report of the auditor of Colorado for 1875 shows the number of returned to be 375,215 valued at $5 million; but it is customary for cattlemen to drive during the time the assessment is made, thus dodging the assessor, and it is fair to presume that the actual number is fully 600,000, valued at from $8-$9 million. The stock sales last year at Denver reached $1.75 million.
Besides this, over 40,000 head in the shape of dressed beef went forward. This is a new feature of the trade. At Los Animas, the junction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Kansas Pacific, three large slaughterhouses have been established. During last winter, they kept from 70 to 90 men at work, and dressed from 700 to 800 beeves per day. They are packed into refrigerator cars, each holding from 40 to 50 beeves. Dodge City will, of course, see busy times this summer. It has are ready begun to brush up for business. The hotel men expect a harvest; and the gamblers, who always did in fast in this town, our mall complying and making ready. The shippers from buffalo hides and bones, and the professional guides to hunting parties are alone “down in the mouth,” regarding this encroachment of the “long horns” as bad for their business. The dingy town will be riotously lively for a few months now, but by another season it will have to subside probably in favor of Granada and Las Animas, and they in turn give in to some more desirable shipping points in this Western and westward-working cattle trade.