historians agree somewhat, the age of the cowboy began in
1866, the first full year of peace after the Civil War. The end
came in about 1895, when the main trails of the trail drives were
closed by barbed wire fences with the railroads taking over transporting
There is legitimate argument this is not entirely true because of
the fact railroads do not exist everywhere there are herds of livestock.
Agreed, railroads did the long-hauling of the north-bound herds,
however every head of livestock had to be gathered and driven to
the railroad loading pens. In fact in our modern world today, cattle
still have to be gathered from the ranges, driven to the pens to
be loaded on trucks then hauled to their destination. So, the cowboy
is still alive and well today.
With these thoughts in mind a more correct statement should be:
"The original, primary Age of the Cowboy began in 1866 and ended
in 1895, but the cattle industry still requires cowboys to handle
the livestock of today."
discussing the origins of the trail drives, we find many
versions. The most popular version states, "When the survivors of
the Civil War returned to their homes they gathered their now numerous
herds and began driving towards areas of dense human population
to sell for beef."
The fallacy of this thinking is there was almost no communication
in the outback frontiers of ranch country. Post-war national economics
were almost nonexistent and few individuals had money of any description
in hand with which to purchase beef at any price anywhere. How did
the trail drivers know where to go, and how did they know those
people had money to buy beef?
A more probable version, at least in early Texas was: "Dirt-poor
war survivors returned home, many afoot, to see wild cattle and
mustangs roaming their lands. Desperate for their almost destitute
families, they trapped wild horses, broke them to use, hunted and
captured wild cattle and began driving them through the surrounding
unknown, unmapped Indian country with no definite destination in
mind, in hopes they could find someone to buy their cattle at any
History leaves the impression that ranchers who owned the livestock
contained in the trail herds made the drives to the north. Sure,
a few made the trip, but most of the older ranch owners, just returned
from the war, weary, recovering from wounds, tired of being away
from families so long and a bit cautious whether the drives would
be successful, hired others for the drives.
The result was most had teenage sons and employee's sons, desperate
to leave dirt-poor circumstances and escape the drudgery of frontier
life and see the outside world. There were a few experienced trail
bosses but most of the "Age of the Cowboy" participants were really
teenage boys raised on the ranches and in the settlements but craving
change, travel and excitement.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" December
28, 2010 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be
reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For books see DelbertTrew.com.
His column appears weekly.