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Cowboys of Old West


Cowboys of Old West: The great era of the Cowboys of the Old West was between 1865 and 1885.

Definition and Summary of the Cowboys of Old West
Summary and definition:
Summary: The great era of the Cowboys of the Old West was between 1865 and 1885 Cattle drives over the open range were common during this time but declined with the  increasing number of railroad lines and the advent of refrigerated rail carriages in the 1880s. The age of the cowboys coincided with the period in American history referred to as the Wild West.

The term "cowboy" was also used to describe a rustler, outlaw, bandit, desperado or horse thief and these are detailed in the Wild West article. Legitimate cattlemen were referred to as cattle herders, cowpunchers, or ranchers or the Cowboys of the Old West. 

Cowboys of the Old West for Kids: The Vaqueros
The Spanish had established the ranching industry in America with the Vaqueros, the horsemen and cattle herders of Mexico. The Spanish introduced longhorn cattle to the New World that were kept on an open range, looked after by cowboys called vaqueros. In 1836, Texas gained their independence from Mexico. The Mexicans were soon gone from Texas, but they left their cattle behind. Texans claimed the cattle and set up their own ranches. Many of the vaquero traditions were adopted by the North American Cowboys of the Old West.

Cowboys of the Old West for Kids: The Farmers and the Cowboys
Following the Civil War (1861-1865) cattle in Texas were worth only $3 - $4 per head, compared to between $30 to $40 per head in the North and East. The Texan cowboys began to  move herds of cattle long distances to market. The cowboys drove the cattle from Texas through Kansas to the Northern cities in the East. Trouble flared between the farmers of Kansas and the cowboys. The Kansas farmers fiercely objected to cattle and the cowboys crossing their lands which led to considerable violence. The vigilante groups, and cattle rustling caused problems for the drovers.

Cowboys of the Old West for Kids: Joseph G. McCoy
The cattle drives could realize high profits and by 1867, a cattle shipping facility owned by Joseph G. McCoy opened in Abilene, Kansas. Joseph G. McCoy arranged for cowboys to drive cattle from Texas to Abilene and they were then taken east by train. Between 1865-1885 the cowboys herded 10 million cattle from Texas to railheads in Kansas for shipments to stockyards in Chicago and the east. Joseph G. McCoy was an honest man and  promised a good price for the cattle delivered by the cowboys to Abilene. His reputation for honesty and reliability gave rise to the expression 'the real McCoy' used by the Cowboys of the Old West. The following facts tell the story of the cowboys of the Old West and the cattle drives.

Cowboys of the Old West for Kids: Cowboy Clothes
The legends of the Cowboys of the Old West are known the world over and the iconic images of the cowboys were made memorable by the Cowboy clothes they wore - for history, facts and information refer to Cowboy Clothes of the 1800s.

Facts about the Cowboys of the Old West
Interesting Cowboys of the Old West Facts are detailed below. The history of the Cowboys of the Old West is told in a fast, fun sequence consisting of a series of interesting, short facts providing a simple method of relating the
history of the Cowboys of the Old West for kids, schools and homework projects.

The open-range cattle business started in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, and California and spread throughout the Great Plains region with the demise of the buffalo.

Cattle-shipping boom towns such as Abilene, Caldwell, Wichita, Ellsworth, and Dodge City emerged bringing both prosperity and violence  to the Old West.

Cattle drive: A cattle-drive involved the movement of a herd from ranches and grazing lands by the Cowboys of the Old West to the railroad lines for shipment to meat-packing plants in the east.

The Cowboy: A man who worked the cattle business in the Old West was called a cowboy. It was a dangerous life and legends about these men are part of American history. They faced dangers from the weather such as storms, lightning and drought, stampedes, rattlesnakes, rustlers and outlaws.,

Black Cowboys: At least 20% of the drovers were black.

Open Range: There were no fences in the Old West, cattle roamed free across the "open range", moved between grazing lands. Cattle were branded as a means of own identification.

Longhorns: The long-horned cattle were common in southwestern United States - see picture above depicting a longhorn

Branding: The Vaqueros branded their animals with their family coat-of-arms. The American cowboys created their own brand

The Brand: A brand was a permanent mark of identification made by using a hot iron to make an imprint on to the animal's skin. The unique letters and symbols of a brand mark were usually about 4 inches high.

The Round-Up: A Round-up was when steers were brought together to start a cattle drive or for branding. Calves followed their mothers around and were branded during the yearly round-up. The calves were pulled off balance to the ground by the 'flankers' who then branded the animal

Does branding hurt? No the process is not painful as the hides are thick, and the animals are unharmed. The noise made by the animal is because they are scared of this unusual activity - not because they are  hurt

Mavericks: Unbranded cattle were known as "mavericks" and became the property of anyone able to capture and brand the unmarked animal.

The Brand Book: Cowboys of the Old West would carry personal Brand Book as part of his trail equipment. A Brand Book contained images of brands of local herds and their owners and reports of stolen cattle.

Rustlers: The worst crime in cattle-country was to steal animals - these thieves were called rustlers. Rustlers often changed brands in an attempt to transfer ownership of herds. The penalty for getting caught as a rustler would be hanging.

Lariat and Lasso: A Lariat was a braided rope used by the Cowboys of the Old West. A lasso was a lariat rope tied with a special knot so that the lariat could be tightened when thrown over the head of a steer. A Half-Hitch knot was often used to tie a lariat to his saddle horn. A clove hitch knot was used to tie a lariat or rope to a post.

Stampede: A Stampede was extremely dangerous. A stampede was a wild and uncontrollable run by a herd of cattle that had been badly spooked.

Chuck Wagon: The Chuck Wagon was the cooking and supply wagon used by cooks (called cookies) during roundups and cattle drives. The word 'Chuck' was the slang word for food. Typical food included salted meats, bacon, beef steak, stews, beans, and sourdough biscuits. Jerky was the name for strips of dried meat that could be stored for long periods.

The Chisholm Trail: The 520 mile Chisholm Trail was the most important route for cattle-drives heading north from the Texas, across Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to the railhead at Abilene

Trail Boss: The leader of the drives, the second in command was the 'Cookie'. A trail Boss was paid $100 - $125 a month. The Cookie was paid about $60 per month.

A cowhand was paid out about $125 per month at the end of a month long trail drive

A 12-man crew of cowhands could manage a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 steers.

Greenhorns: Life was hard and dangerous for the cowboy. On a typical drive, two-thirds of all the cowhands were new to the job, and most would quit after just one drive. A newcomer to the life was called a greenhorn or a tenderfoot.

Bronco: A Bronco was the name for a wild horse. A Bronco buster was a cowboy who had special skill in taming wild horses. A Rodeo showed off skills in bronco busting and rope work that began in the 1870s.

Horses: Spare horses were always taken on the long drives.

Bedroll: A bedroll was the cowboy's bed and suitcase. A bedroll made up of blankets and a coat wrapped up in canvas, fastened with hooks.

A herd of 1,000 head of steers might stretch out 1 - 2 miles on the trail. The drovers worked in pairs, one on either side of the line of animals.

A cattle drive would cover around 10 - 15 miles per day and a drive to western Kansas would take between 50 - 100 days, depending on delays encountered.

Refrigerated railroad car: In the early 1870s, Gustavus Swift hired an engineer to develop a refrigerated railroad car. In 1877 Swift shipped the first refrigerated load of fresh meat.

Barbed wire: Barbed wire was invented by J F Glidden in 1874 and allowed cattle to be confined to designated areas to prevent over-grazing of the range. Barbed wire meant that large areas could be fenced cheaply to enclose cattle. Steers no longer roamed the open range and fewer cowboys were needed. The long drive became a thing of the past and the days of the cowboy were numbered

Barbed wire meant that large areas could be fenced cheaply to enclose cattle. Steers no longer roamed the open range and fewer cowboys were needed. The long drive became a thing of the past and the days of the cowboy were numbered
US American History

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