Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West


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The arrival of horses was particularly significant, as equines had been extinct in the Americas since the end of the prehistoric ice age. However, horses quickly multiplied in America and became crucial to the success of the Spanish and later settlers from other nations.

The earliest horses were originally of Andalusian , Barb and Arabian ancestry, [22] but a number of uniquely American horse breeds developed in North and South America through selective breeding and by natural selection of animals that escaped to the wild. The Mustang and other colonial horse breeds are now called "wild," but in reality are feral horses —descendants of domesticated animals.

While most hacendados ranch owners were ethnically Spanish criollos , [23] many early vaqueros were Native Americans trained to work for the Spanish missions in caring for the mission herds. From this beginning, vaqueros of mestizo heritage drove cattle from New Mexico and later Texas to Mexico City. As English -speaking traders and settlers expanded westward , English and Spanish traditions, language and culture merged to some degree.

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Before the Mexican—American War in , New England merchants who traveled by ship to California encountered both hacendados and vaqueros , trading manufactured goods for the hides and tallow produced from vast cattle ranches. American traders along what later became known as the Santa Fe Trail had similar contacts with vaquero life. Starting with these early encounters, the lifestyle and language of the vaquero began a transformation which merged with English cultural traditions and produced what became known in American culture as the "cowboy".

The arrival of English-speaking settlers in Texas began in However, in slightly different ways, both areas contributed to the evolution of the iconic American cowboy. Particularly with the arrival of railroads and an increased demand for beef in the wake of the American Civil War , older traditions combined with the need to drive cattle from the ranches where they were raised to the nearest railheads , often hundreds of miles away. By the s, the expansion of the cattle industry resulted in a need for additional open range. Thus many ranchers expanded into the northwest, where there were still large tracts of unsettled grassland.

Texas cattle were herded north, into the Rocky Mountain west and the Dakotas. They caught the Mustangs that roamed the Great Plains and the San Joaquin Valley of California, and later in the Great Basin , from the 18th century to the early 20th century. Large numbers of cattle lived in a semi- feral , or semi-wild state on the open range and were left to graze, mostly untended, for much of the year. In many cases, different ranchers formed "associations" and grazed their cattle together on the same range.

In order to determine the ownership of individual animals, they were marked with a distinctive brand , applied with a hot iron, usually while the cattle were still young calves. In order to find young calves for branding, and to sort out mature animals intended for sale, ranchers would hold a roundup , usually in the spring. Individuals who separated cattle from the herd required the highest level of skill and rode specially trained " cutting " horses, trained to follow the movements of cattle, capable of stopping and turning faster than other horses. Occasionally it was also necessary to restrain older cattle for branding or other treatment.

A large number of horses were needed for a roundup. Each cowboy would require three to four fresh horses in the course of a day's work. It was common practice in the west for young foals to be born of tame mares , but allowed to grow up "wild" in a semi-feral state on the open range. Both types were rounded up, and the mature animals tamed, a process called horse breaking , or " bronco -busting," var. However, other cowboys became aware of the need to treat animals in a more humane fashion and modified their horse training methods, [39] often re-learning techniques used by the vaqueros, particularly those of the Californio tradition.

Informal competition arose between cowboys seeking to test their cattle and horse-handling skills against one another, and thus, from the necessary tasks of the working cowboy, the sport of rodeo developed. Prior to the midth century, most ranchers primarily raised cattle for their own needs and to sell surplus meat and hides locally. There was also a limited market for hides, horns, hooves, and tallow in assorted manufacturing processes.

American West - Cattle Ranching - The Open Range

With the expansion of the meat packing industry , the demand for beef increased significantly. The first large-scale effort to drive cattle from Texas to the nearest railhead for shipment to Chicago occurred in , when many Texas ranchers banded together to drive their cattle to the closest point that railroad tracks reached, which at that time was in Sedalia, Missouri. However, farmers in eastern Kansas, afraid that Longhorns would transmit cattle fever to local animals as well as trample crops, formed groups that threatened to beat or shoot cattlemen found on their lands.

Therefore, the drive failed to reach the railroad, and the cattle herds were sold for low prices. It ran through present-day Oklahoma , which then was Indian Territory. Later, other trails forked off to different railheads, including those at Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas.

Cattle drives had to strike a balance between speed and the weight of the cattle. While cattle could be driven as far as 25 miles in a single day, they would lose so much weight that they would be hard to sell when they reached the end of the trail.


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Usually they were taken shorter distances each day, allowed periods to rest and graze both at midday and at night. Such a pace meant that it would take as long as two months to travel from a home ranch to a railhead. The Chisholm trail, for example, was 1, miles long. On average, a single herd of cattle on a drive numbered about 3, head.

To herd the cattle, a crew of at least 10 cowboys was needed, with three horses per cowboy. Cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft. The crew also included a cook, who drove a chuck wagon , usually pulled by oxen , and a horse wrangler to take charge of the remuda , or herd of spare horses. The wrangler on a cattle drive was often a very young cowboy or one of lower social status, but the cook was a particularly well-respected member of the crew, as not only was he in charge of the food, he also was in charge of medical supplies and had a working knowledge of practical medicine.

Barbed wire , an innovation of the s, allowed cattle to be confined to designated areas to prevent overgrazing of the range. In Texas and surrounding areas, increased population required ranchers to fence off their individual lands. Hence, the age of the open range was gone and large cattle drives were over. Meanwhile, ranches multiplied all over the developing West, keeping cowboy employment high, if still low-paid, but also somewhat more settled. American cowboys were drawn from multiple sources. By the late s, following the American Civil War and the expansion of the cattle industry, former soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy came west, seeking work, as did large numbers of restless white men in general.

Today, some Native Americans in the western United States own cattle and small ranches, and many are still employed as cowboys, especially on ranches located near Indian reservations. The "Indian Cowboy" is also part of the rodeo circuit. Because cowboys ranked low in the social structure of the period, there are no firm figures on the actual proportion of various races.

One writer states that cowboys were " Regardless of ethnicity, most cowboys came from lower social classes and the pay was poor. The average cowboy earned approximately a dollar a day, plus food, and, when near the home ranch, a bed in the bunkhouse , usually a barracks -like building with a single open room. Over time, the cowboys of the American West developed a personal culture of their own, a blend of frontier and Victorian values that even retained vestiges of chivalry.

Such hazardous work in isolated conditions also bred a tradition of self-dependence and individualism , with great value put on personal honesty, exemplified in songs and poetry. However, some men were also drawn to the frontier because they were attracted to men. Though anti-sodomy laws were common in the Old West, they often were only selectively enforced.

The traditions of the working cowboy were further etched into the minds of the general public with the development of Wild West Shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which showcased and romanticized the life of both cowboys and Native Americans. In some cases, the cowboy and the violent gunslinger are often associated with one another. On the other hand, some actors who portrayed cowboys promoted positive values, such as the "cowboy code" of Gene Autry , that encouraged honorable behavior, respect and patriotism. DeArment draws a connection between the popularized Western code and the stereotypical rowdy cowboy image to that of the "subculture of violence" of drovers in Old West Texas, that was influenced itself by the Southern code duello.

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Likewise, cowboys in movies were often shown fighting with American Indians. However most armed conflicts occurred between Native people and cavalry units of the U. Relations between cowboys and Native Americans were varied but generally not particularly friendly. In the s, for example, the Comanche created problems in Western Texas. In reality, working ranch hands past and present had very little time for anything other than the constant, hard work involved in maintaining a ranch. The history of women in the west, and women who worked on cattle ranches in particular, is not as well documented as that of men.

However, institutions such as the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame have made significant efforts in recent years to gather and document the contributions of women. There are few records mentioning girls or women working to drive cattle up the cattle trails of the Old West. However women did considerable ranch work, and in some cases especially when the men went to war or on long cattle drives ran them. There is little doubt that women, particularly the wives and daughters of men who owned small ranches and could not afford to hire large numbers of outside laborers, worked side by side with men and thus needed to ride horses and be able to perform related tasks.

The largely undocumented contributions of women to the west were acknowledged in law; the western states led the United States in granting women the right to vote, beginning with Wyoming in While impractical for everyday work, the sidesaddle was a tool that gave women the ability to ride horses in "respectable" public settings instead of being left on foot or confined to horse-drawn vehicles. Following the Civil War , Charles Goodnight modified the traditional English sidesaddle, creating a western-styled design.

The traditional charras of Mexico preserve a similar tradition and ride sidesaddles today in charreada exhibitions on both sides of the border. It wasn't until the advent of Wild West Shows that "cowgirls" came into their own.

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These adult women were skilled performers, demonstrating riding, expert marksmanship, and trick roping that entertained audiences around the world. Women such as Annie Oakley became household names. By , skirts split for riding astride became popular, and allowed women to compete with the men without scandalizing Victorian Era audiences by wearing men's clothing or, worse yet, bloomers.

In the movies that followed from the early 20th century on, cowgirls expanded their roles in the popular culture and movie designers developed attractive clothing suitable for riding Western saddles. Independently of the entertainment industry, the growth of rodeo brought about the rodeo cowgirl. In the early Wild West shows and rodeos, women competed in all events, sometimes against other women, sometimes with the men. Cowgirls such as Fannie Sperry Steele rode the same "rough stock" and took the same risks as the men and all while wearing a heavy split skirt that was more encumbering than men's trousers and competed at major rodeos such as the Calgary Stampede and Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Rodeo competition for women changed in the s due to several factors.

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After , when Eastern promoters started staging indoor rodeos in places like Madison Square Garden, women were generally excluded from the men's events and many of the women's events were dropped. Also, the public had difficulties with seeing women seriously injured or killed, and in particular, the death of Bonnie McCarroll at the Pendleton Round-Up led to the elimination of women's bronc riding from rodeo competition. In today's rodeos, men and women compete equally together only in the event of team roping , though technically women now could enter other open events.

There also are all-women rodeos where women compete in bronc riding , bull riding and all other traditional rodeo events. However, in open rodeos, cowgirls primarily compete in the timed riding events such as barrel racing , and most professional rodeos do not offer as many women's events as men's events. Boys and girls are more apt to compete against one another in all events in high-school rodeos as well as O-Mok-See competition, where even boys can be seen in traditionally "women's" events such as barrel racing.

Outside of the rodeo world, women compete equally with men in nearly all other equestrian events, including the Olympics , and western riding events such as cutting , reining , and endurance riding. Today's working cowgirls generally use clothing, tools and equipment indistinguishable from that of men, other than in color and design, usually preferring a flashier look in competition. Sidesaddles are only seen in exhibitions and a limited number of specialty horse show classes. A modern working cowgirl wears jeans, close-fitting shirts, boots, hat, and when needed, chaps and gloves.

If working on the ranch, they perform the same chores as cowboys and dress to suit the situation. Geography, climate and cultural traditions caused differences to develop in cattle-handling methods and equipment from one part of the United States to another. The period between and marked a mingling of cultures when English and French-descended people began to settle west of the Mississippi River and encountered the Spanish-descended people who had settled in the parts of Mexico that later became Texas and California.

Less well-known but equally distinct traditions also developed in Hawaii and Florida. Today, the various regional cowboy traditions have merged to some extent, though a few regional differences in equipment and riding style still remain, and some individuals choose to deliberately preserve the more time-consuming but highly skilled techniques of the pure vaquero or "buckaroo" tradition.

The popular "horse whisperer" style of natural horsemanship was originally developed by practitioners who were predominantly from California and the Northwestern states, clearly combining the attitudes and philosophy of the California vaquero with the equipment and outward look of the Texas cowboy. The vaquero, the Spanish or Mexican cowboy who worked with young, untrained horses, arrived in the 18th century and flourished in California and bordering territories during the Spanish Colonial period. The California vaquero or buckaroo, unlike the Texas cowboy, was considered a highly skilled worker, who usually stayed on the same ranch where he was born or had grown up and raised his own family there.

In addition, the geography and climate of much of California was dramatically different from that of Texas, allowing more intensive grazing with less open range, plus cattle in California were marketed primarily at a regional level, without the need nor, until much later, even the logistical possibility to be driven hundreds of miles to railroad lines.

Thus, a horse- and livestock-handling culture remained in California and the Pacific Northwest that retained a stronger direct Spanish influence than that of Texas. The modern distinction between vaquero and buckaroo within American English may also reflect the parallel differences between the California and Texas traditions of western horsemanship.

Some cowboys of the California tradition were dubbed buckaroos by English-speaking settlers. The words "buckaroo" and vaquero are still used on occasion in the Great Basin , parts of California and, less often, in the Pacific Northwest. Elsewhere, the term "cowboy" is more common. The word buckaroo is generally believed to be an anglicized version of vaquero and shows phonological characteristics compatible with that origin. In the 18th century, the residents of Spanish Texas began to herd cattle on horseback to sell in Louisiana, both legally and illegally.

In , Stephen F. Austin led a group which became the first English-speaking Mexican citizens. Here the settlers were strongly influenced by the Mexican vaquero culture, borrowing vocabulary and attire from their counterparts, [85] but also retaining some of the livestock-handling traditions and culture of the Eastern United States and Great Britain. The Texas cowboy was typically a bachelor who hired on with different outfits from season to season. Following the American Civil War , vaquero culture combined with the cattle herding and drover traditions of the southeastern United States that evolved as settlers moved west.

Additional influences developed out of Texas as cattle trails were created to meet up with the railroad lines of Kansas and Nebraska , in addition to expanding ranching opportunities in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain Front , east of the Continental Divide. This led to modifications in the bridling and bitting traditions used by the vaquero. Historian Terry Jordan proposed in that some Texan traditions that developed—particularly after the Civil War—may trace to colonial South Carolina, as most settlers to Texas were from the southeastern United States.

The Florida "cowhunter" or " cracker cowboy" of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Texas and California traditions. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were bullwhips and dogs. Since the Florida cowhunter did not need a saddle horn for anchoring a lariat , many did not use Western saddles , instead using a McClellan saddle. While some individuals wore boots that reached above the knees for protection from snakes , others wore brogans.

They usually wore inexpensive wool or straw hats, and used ponchos for protection from rain. Cattle and horses were introduced into Florida in the 16th century. Augustine and markets in Cuba. Raids into Spanish Florida by the Province of Carolina and its Native American allies, which wiped out the native population of Florida, led to the collapse of the Spanish mission and ranching systems.

In the 18th century, Creek , Seminole , and other Indian people moved into the depopulated areas of Florida and started herding the cattle left from the Spanish ranches. In the 19th century, most tribes in the area were dispossessed of their land and cattle and pushed south or west by white settlers and the United States government. By the middle of the 19th century white ranchers were running large herds of cattle on the extensive open range of central and southern Florida.

The hides and meat from Florida cattle became such a critical supply item for the Confederacy during the American Civil War that a unit of Cow Cavalry was organized to round up and protect the herds from Union raiders. The Florida cowhunter or cracker cowboy tradition gradually assimilated to western cowboy tradition during the 20th century although the vaquero tradition has had little influence in Florida.

Texas tick fever and the screw-worm were introduced to Florida in the early 20th century by cattle entering from other states. These pests forced Florida cattlemen to separate individual animals from their herds at frequent intervals for treatment, which eventually led to the widespread use of lassos. Florida cowboys continue to use dogs and bullwhips for controlling cattle. The Hawaiian cowboy, the paniolo , is also a direct descendant of the vaquero of California and Mexico. Paniolo, like cowboys on the mainland of North America, learned their skills from Mexican vaqueros. Captain George Vancouver brought cattle and sheep in as a gift to Kamehameha I , monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

For 10 years, Kamehameha forbade killing of cattle, and imposed the death penalty on anyone who violated his edict. As a result, numbers multiplied astonishingly, and were wreaking havoc throughout the countryside. By the reign of Kamehameha III the number of wild cattle were becoming a problem, so in he sent an emissary to California, then still a part of Mexico.

He was impressed with the skill of the vaqueros, and invited three to Hawai'i to teach the Hawaiian people how to work cattle. The first horses arrived in Hawai'i in The Hawaiian style of ranching originally included capturing wild cattle by driving them into pits dug in the forest floor. Once tamed somewhat by hunger and thirst, they were hauled out up a steep ramp, and tied by their horns to the horns of a tame, older steer or ox that knew where the paddock with food and water was located.

Even today, traditional paniolo dress, as well as certain styles of Hawaiian formal attire, reflect the Spanish heritage of the vaquero. Montauk, New York , on Long Island makes a somewhat debatable claim of having the oldest cattle operation in what today is the United States, having run cattle in the area since European settlers purchased land from the Indian people of the area in Ranching in Canada has traditionally been dominated by one province, Alberta.

The most successful early settlers of the province were the ranchers, who found Alberta's foothills to be ideal for raising cattle.

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Most of Alberta's ranchers were English settlers, but cowboys such as John Ware —who brought the first cattle into the province in —were American. The nearby city of Calgary became the centre of the Canadian cattle industry, earning it the nickname "Cowtown". The cattle industry is still extremely important to Alberta, and cattle outnumber people in the province.

While cattle ranches defined by barbed wire fences replaced the open range just as they did in the US, the cowboy influence lives on. Canada's first rodeo, the Raymond Stampede , was established in In , the Calgary Stampede began, and today it is the world's richest cash rodeo. Each year, Calgary's northern rival Edmonton , Alberta stages the Canadian Finals Rodeo , and dozens of regional rodeos are held through the province. In Australia , where ranches are known as stations , cowboys are known as stockmen and ringers, jackaroos and jillaroos who also do stockwork are trainee overseers and property managers.

The adaptation of both of these traditions to local needs created a unique Australian tradition, which also was strongly influenced by Australian indigenous people , whose knowledge played a key role in the success of cattle ranching in Australia's climate. The idea of horse riders who guard herds of cattle, sheep or horses is common wherever wide, open land for grazing exists. In the French Camargue , riders called " gardians " herd cattle and horses. The herders in the region of Maremma , in Tuscany Italy are called butteri singular: buttero.

The Asturian pastoral population is referred to as Vaqueiros de alzada. On the ranch, the cowboy is responsible for feeding the livestock, branding and earmarking cattle horses also are branded on many ranches , plus tending to animal injuries and other needs. The working cowboy usually is in charge of a small group or "string" of horses and is required to routinely patrol the rangeland in all weather conditions checking for damaged fences, evidence of predation , water problems, and any other issue of concern.

They also move the livestock to different pasture locations, or herd them into corrals and onto trucks for transport. In addition, cowboys may do many other jobs, depending on the size of the "outfit" or ranch , the terrain , and the number of livestock. On a smaller ranch with fewer cowboys—often just family members, cowboys are generalists who perform many all-around tasks; they repair fences, maintain ranch equipment, and perform other odd jobs.

On a very large ranch a "big outfit" , with many employees, cowboys are able to specialize on tasks solely related to cattle and horses. Cowboys who train horses often specialize in this task only, and some may "Break" or train young horses for more than one ranch. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics collects no figures for cowboys, so the exact number of working cowboys is unknown.


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In addition to cowboys working on ranches, in stockyards, and as staff or competitors at rodeos , the category includes farmhands working with other types of livestock sheep , goats , hogs , chickens , etc. Of those 9, workers, 3, are listed in the subcategory of Spectator sports which includes rodeos, circuses , and theaters needing livestock handlers.

Most cowboy attire, sometimes termed Western wear , grew out of practical need and the environment in which the cowboy worked. Most items were adapted from the Mexican vaqueros , though sources from other cultures, including Native Americans and Mountain Men contributed. Many of these items show marked regional variations. Parameters such as hat brim width, or chap length and material were adjusted to accommodate the various environmental conditions encountered by working cowboys.

The traditional means of transport for the cowboy, even in the modern era, is by horseback. Horses can travel over terrain that vehicles cannot access. Horses, along with mules and burros , also serve as pack animals. The most important horse on the ranch is the everyday working ranch horse that can perform a wide variety of tasks; horses trained to specialize exclusively in one set of skills such as roping or cutting are very rarely used on ranches. Because the rider often needs to keep one hand free while working cattle, the horse must neck rein and have good cow sense —it must instinctively know how to anticipate and react to cattle.

A good stock horse is on the small side, generally under While a steer roping horse may need to be larger and weigh more in order to hold a heavy adult cow , bull or steer on a rope, a smaller, quick horse is needed for herding activities such as cutting or calf roping. Bison are faster than cattle, and riders must be comfortable galloping in relays over wide arcs on uneven ground to herd them into corrals, where they are monitored and sorted for culling. Between March and November, the ranch has "working weeks" with grass-fed cattle and bison, horsemanship clinics, and educational day rides in the bison pasture and in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Accommodations are in a restored 19th-century wooden bunkhouse or in the s-era house of this Nature Conservancy property's last private owners. Montana's J Bar L Ranch has seven working weeks between June and September , for no more than eight guests who stay in solar-powered cabins and century-old homesteads several miles apart. My favorite site was the three "Brundage" cabins on the Red Rock River, two miles by pickup from the barn where communal meals are taken.

The homesteads, which sleep 4 to 14, are also available as weekly rentals. Working weeks are timed by season: Calving takes place mostly in June, branding in August. The Hideout, the lodging operation at Wyoming's highly diversified Flitner Ranch , is one of the few ranches open year-round. Guests can round up cattle, go out on small-group scenic rides, and pack into the mountains for overnight stays in cabins. There are also some rodeo sports such as cowboy mounted shooting, but guests cannot rope livestock because of liability issues. Will be used in accordance with our User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

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Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West
Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West

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