Rawhide TV Show and American Cattle Drives Texas Longhorns
Rawhide TV series
Rawhide was a television Western series of the 1950’s and 1960’s portraying cattle drives in the American west. It starred Eric Fleming as Gil Favor and Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates.The series had a total of 217 episodes done in black and white, and lasted seven and a half years.
I have been watching reruns of the show recently and find it very good. The lead actors were star quality, although Eastwood did not get recognition very soon and Fleming died in a boating accident when he was still rather young. It also had a long list of guest stars that have become well known.I also think the show had a lot of historical authenticity. It at least has an authentic feel to it. The stories were often situations that they ran across along the way. These were fictional and not historical. However, the cattle drive background seems pretty accurate.
The show is based on the cattle drives from San Antonio, Texas along the Sedalia Trail to Sedalia, Missouri, about 50 miles east of Kansas City. The herd is estimated to be worth around $50,000 to 60,000 at market. Two hundred owners are represented and the herd itself adds up to 3,000 head. Since there were no credit cards in those days the trail boss had considerable responsibility in carrying large amounts of cash for expenses. The drovers made about a dollar a day and food was furnished.
One of the things that struck me on the show was that to some extent the working relationships seemed almost military. That, of coarse, is only my impression. But in the real cowboy world there had to be discipline and the drovers were all interdependent. Many of the drovers were veterans of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. It was after the Civil War that the cattle drives became a serious business. The nature of the cattle drive made it necessary for everyone to do their job or they could lose control of the herd.
The American Cattle Drive
Cattle drives and cowboys are what most people think of when they think of the historical or fictional western United States. Although cattle drives did exist in Europe it did not prove profitable. America inherited the idea of cattle drives largely from Mexico, as it was traditional in Mexico, California and Texas, according to the website Alan’s Kitchen.com/cowboy/Frontier life. The Spanish established the ranching industry in the New World and began in the 1540’s to drive herds north.What are usually thought of as Texas are the Longhorn cattle, which descended from the Spanish ranch and mission herds. They had horn spreads as great as eight feet across. They got mixed with shorter horned Mexican cattle or cattle that originated in Britain, which had been brought by Anglo-American colonist from the East Coast.
As reflected in the Rawhide series the cattle drive averaged about 3,000 head, with a crew of ten or more cowboys and three horses per man. They worked in shifts 24 hours a day. Also shown in Rawhide they had a cook who drove a chuck wagon, ordinarily pulled by oxen. On the TV show they show it pulled by horses. There is also a wrangler to take care of the spare horses called a remuda.
The Spaniards in the New World started the ranching industry. They started to drive herds north from Mexico in the 1540’s according to Alan’s Kitchen.com.
Long distance cattle drives were traditional in Mexico, California and Texas, according to wikipedia. Sometime horses were driven in a similar way. In Australia sheep have been driven in much the same way.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries there were small Spanish settlements in Texas who got a lot of their income from horses and cattle driven to Louisiana. When Texas was still part of Mexico in 1836 there was a trail to New Orleans. Texans extended markets into Missouri. “Baxter Springs, Springfield, and St. Louis were Principal markets,” according to Allen’s Kitchen website.
The cattle drive in America, celebrated in myth and movies, got its big start after the Civil War. “In 1865, Phillip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago,” according to Allen’s Kitchen Website. ”About 260,000 head of cattle crossed the Red River from 1866. They lasted about 20 years until railroads and refrigeration in 1880 rendered the task unnecessary, according to the Texas Almanac.
The American cattle drive as portrayed in westerns such as Rawhide has a lot to do with Texas. It was Texans who turned trail driving into an occupation. In 1836, Texas broke away from Mexico. There was a trail for drives to New Orleans at that time and Texans extended it northward in the1840s. They started to drive herds into such Missouri towns as Sedalia, Baxter Springs, Springfield, and St. Louis as principal markets.
In the 1850’s freighting from the Missouri river west created a demand for oxen. Thousands of Longhorn cattle were trained to be used as oxen. Longhorn herds were also driven to Chicago.
In the 1850’s the California gold boom also created a demand for beef. Most were gotten locally of from Mexico but some long drives were tried. Australians drove cattle to ports for shipment to San Francisco. Lynnette Cipriani drove cattle from St. Louis to San Francisco along the California Trail and went back to Europe with large profits in1855.
Texans drove cattle into the Confederacy for use of the Army there. In 1863 the Union took control of the Mississippi River and stopped those drives, which was hard on the Confederacy to lose.
At the end of the war Phillip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago called Armour and Company.
Even before this, Illinois played a role. For cattle driven out of Texas it was a key site during the time before the Civil War, an intermediate stop and final destination. Cattle were taken there to fatten up on rich prairie grass or Midwestern corn. This served both for those that were driven to eastern cities or went to Chicago slaughterhouses.
As early as the 1840’s the Shawnee trail or Texas trail was important in Texas. However farmers started to block the passage of the cattle and the drovers were forced to turn them back because the cattle carried ticks, which spread Texas fever. Although the Texas cattle were immune the ticks infected the local cattle, according to wikipedia. In 1859 laws were passed in banning the diseased cattle from being brought through Missouri. Some drovers tried taking cattle around the eastern edge of Kansas but they also met resistance and new laws were passed.
The Shawnee Trail was pretty much unused during the Civil War. Texashad an overabundance of cattle after the war and little in the way of local markets. An estimated 200,000 to 260,000 cattle were gathered to drive overland in 1866. As a result the first large scale cattle drive from Texas to the nearest railhead to ship to Chicago followed. That railhead was at Sedalia, Missouri. The farmers in eastern Kansas being fearful of transient cattle trampling crops and the danger of Texas fever gathered together in groups that threatened to beat of shoot cattlemen. As a result the cattle did not get through and was sold for low prices.
The following year a cattle shipping facility was built near the railhead at Abilene, Kansas. It became a cattle center and loaded 36,000 head the first year. This route from Texas to Abilene became known as the Chisholm Trail, as Jesse Chisholm marked out the route. Although this was Indian territory (present day Oklahoma) there were not too many conflicts with the Indians. The cattlemen paid a toll of ten cents a head to the Indians to let the cattle through.
Texas had as much as five million cattle at the end of the war and no market for them. Several attempts to drive cattle were unsuccessful. The most successful market seemed to be in Kansas and the drives started heading north.
In 1867 Joseph G. McCoy opened a market in Abilene, Kansas. After that the trails westward were established and a boom in trail driving followed. The Goodnight-Loving trail opened up New Mexico and Colorado to Texas cattle. Tens of thousands cattle were driven to Arizona.
That was the start of the cattle drive era. From this followed the Cattle towns such as Dodge City and the popular folk the Cowboy.
There have been several movies about the cattle drives as well as the television series Rawhide, which impresses me as giving a pretty good image of the drover or cowboy and the cattle drive.
Sources for this article
Cattle Drives in the United States in Wikipedia.
Cattle Drives—Alan’s Kitchen
Rawhide (TV Series) Wikipedia.
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© 2011 Don A. Hoglund