The American Civil War and Reconstruction Era Mid Nineteenth Century American History Reading and Study Group

Chapter 3: Birth of the Cattle Town  :: Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “the Southern drover and the Northern buyer would meet upon an equal footing, and both be undisturbed by mobs or swindling thieves.”
  • “It occurs to me that you haven’t any cattle to ship, and never did have any, and I, sir, have no evidence that you ever will have any, and I think you are talking about rates of freight for speculative purposes, therefore, you get out of this office, and let me not be troubled with any more of your style!”
  • “regard the opening of that cattle trail into and across western Kansas of as much value to the state as is the Missouri River,””
  • “In 1871, the year McCoy became mayor, he moved these houses to the edge of town, creating an area that came to be known as McCoy’s Addition or, more colorfully, the Devil’s Half-Acre.”
  • “The pay usually came in the form of five- or twenty-dollar gold pieces. His salary: $25 to $40 a month, but double that if the cowboy owned and used his own horses. Still, the pay was not impressive. A foreman, by contrast, might earn $125 per month. With money jangling in his pocket, the cowboy then rode into a newborn town built largely as a playground with him in mind, designed to deftly and swiftly separate him from those hard-earned wages. Given his age, his limited education, and his pent-up appetite for alcohol, pleasure, and recreation, that is precisely what would happen.”
  • “Several cattle trails leading to different cattle towns were soon established. The one running from Red River Station in Texas to the cattle yards of Abilene would be named after a man of Scottish- Cherokee heritage, Jesse Chisholm, who only a few years earlier had used a portion of the route to profitably trade with the Plains Indians. The Western Trail reached up to notorious Dodge City, and the Goodnight- Loving Trail stretched up to Cheyenne. The Shawnee Trail, the only great cattle trail that predated the Civil War, led to Kansas City and St. Louis.”

Thought Questions

  • Describe the evolution of the “open-range cattle era, from its earliest days to its violent end”
  • Compare and Contrast: The life of the farmer in the west and the life of those in the Cattle Kingdom
  • Explain and Expand: “Fortunately, the railroads were by now reaching farther into the Great Plains, adding as many as two to five miles of track each day. The cattlemen realized they could avoid conflict with the Jayhawkers by targeting railheads much farther west.”
  • What was the significance of “It occurs to me that you haven’t any cattle to ship, and never did have any, and I, sir, have no evidence that you ever will have any, and I think you are talking about rates of freight for speculative purposes, therefore, you get out of this office, and let me not be troubled with any more of your style!”
  • Describe a rise of Chicago as the cattle hub of the West
  • Explain and Expand: “The spot that McCoy picked for his depot, a Kansas hamlet and stage station named Abilene”
  • React and Respond: “regard the opening of that cattle trail into and across western Kansas of as much value to the state as is the Missouri River”
  • Explain and Expand: “Joseph G. McCoy had just created the first cattle town. Much like the iconic American cowboy, the cattle town, almost as soon it emerged, became a myth-spinner.”
  • Explain and Expand: “In 1871, the year McCoy became mayor, he moved these houses to the edge of town, creating an area that came to be known as McCoy’s Addition or, more colorfully, the Devil’s Half-Acre.”
  • Who was Samuel J. Crawford

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

 

The American Civil War and Reconstruction Era Mid Nineteenth Century American History Reading and Study Group

Chapter 2: Cash for Cattle :: Cattle Kingdom by Christopher Knowlton

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “It has been raining for three days . . . Hard rain and wind and lots of trouble . . . Ran my horse into a ditch & got my knee badly sprained . . . Still dark & gloomy. River up. Everything looks blue to me . . . Big thunderstorm last night. Stampede, lost 100 beeves . . . found 50. All [the men] tired. Everything discouraging . . . Swam the river with a rope & then hauled the wagon over. Lost most of our kitchen furniture such as camp kettles, coffee pots, cups, plates, canteens . . . It does nothing but rain . . . the cattle all left us [in the night] & in the morning not one beef to be seen. Hunt beeves all day . . . All the hands discouraged . . . Nothing to eat . . . Everything gloomy. Four of our best hands left us . . . Rain poured down for two hours.”
  • “The mounted men, always excellent riders and on good horses, dash after the recusant, and wheel and turn—A dozen mounted drovers, their great, slouch’d, broad-brim’d hats, very picturesque—another dozen on foot—everybody cover’d with dust—long goads in their hands—An immense drove of perhaps 2000 cattle—the shouting, hooting, movement, &c.”
  • ““Ask any old-time range man of the south country to name the quickest animal he has ever known,” wrote J. Frank Dobie in his book The Longhorns. “He won’t say a cutting horse, a polo pony, a wild cat, a striking rattlesnake. He doesn’t know the duck hawk. He will say a Longhorn bull. Some other bulls are quick; many breeds fight, even the Polled Angus. But none of them can bawl, bellow, mutter and rage like the bulls of Spanish breed and none can move with such swiftness.””
  • “Gloomy times as ever I saw . . . This day has been spent in crossing the West Trinity [River] . . . I swam it 5 times. Upset our wagon in the river & lost many of our cooking utensils again . . . Lost my knife today . . . Cold morning. Wind blowing & hands all shivering . . . There was one of our party drowned today (Mr. Carr) & several narrow escapes & I among the number . . . Men all tired and want to leave. I am in Indian country and am annoyed by them. Believe they scare the cattle to get paid to collect them . . . Many men in trouble. Horses all gave out & men refused to do anything . . . Hard rain & a windstorm. Beeves ran & I had to be on horseback all night. Awful night. Wet all night . . . Almost starved not having had a bite to eat for 60 hours . . . Oh! What a night—thunder, lightning & rain . . . Am almost dead for [lack of] sleep . . . I am not homesick but heartsick . . . Beautiful clear night & this morning I went on guard so cold that my teeth chattered . . . Cooked dinner under a tree on the A K. River bank with two ladies . . . 15 Indians came to help us herd & tried to take some beeves. I would not let them. Had a big muss. One drew his knife & I my revolver. Made them leave but fear they have gone for others. They are Seminoles.”
  • “In all, some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys. Recalled Teddy Blue, “From that time on the big drives were made every year, and the cowboy was born.””

Thought Questions

  • In what ways did the end of the Civil War and the plantation system impact the development of the Cattle Kingdom?
  • Describe living circumstances and the physical environment of Texas at the conclusion of the Civil War
  • Compare and Contrast: The impact of the lowering of the standard of living in the South and the raising of the standard of living in the North
  • What factors influenced the development of cattle trails?
  • Describe the role horses played in the development of the cattle drive
  • Describe the Texas Longhorn cattle and the challenges associated with monetizing them
  • Describe the types of Texas cowboy and Compare and Contrast with the Mexican Vaquero
  • Who was Teddy Blue?
  • Compare and Contrast: The Cattle Frontier and the Farming Frontier
  • In what ways did The Cattle Frontier and the Farming Frontier conflict and compliment each other?
  • Explain and Expand: “At the peak of the cattle boom some forty thousand cowboys worked on the open range, a majority of them white southerners, many of them former Confederate cavalrymen.”
  • React and Respond: “The job—outdoor work with physical challenge—held an unmistakable appeal for young men. Meals were included, as was genuine camaraderie: the cowboys were paid to collaborate. Liquor, gambling, and in some cases cussing were strictly forbidden, but the job didn’t require an education or a place to live.”

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Week 2 :: Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton Chapter 1: The Demise of the Bison

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Railroad management encouraged this type of recreational hunting, hoping to eliminate the herds that often blocked their lines and occasionally derailed a locomotive. A carnival-like atmosphere arose when a train encountered a bison herd. Passengers were directed to shoot at the beasts from the train windows. Animals that were shot were left behind to die, their carcasses rotting along the tracks. The telegraph companies too were eager to see the bison go because the animals took turns scratching themselves against the telegraph poles. Bison could rub a pole out of the ground in a matter of hours, disrupting a vital lifeline of communication.”
  • “The buffalo are strange animals; sometimes they are so stupid and infatuated that a man may walk up to them in full sight on the open prairie, and even shoot several of their number before the rest will think it necessary to retreat.” 
  • “In the second and far more exhilarating technique, known as “running,” hunters on horseback, riding at full gallop, charged the bison herd and singled out fleeing animals to shoot at close range.” 
  • “The last great contributor to the bison’s destruction was the unwritten policy of the frontier military to deprive the Plains Indians of their most critical foodstuff—bison beef—thus ensuring their eventual dependence on the U.S. government for food rations.”
  • “All this slaughter was a put-up job on the part of the government, to control the Indians by getting rid of their food supply. And in a way it couldn’t be helped. But just the same it was a low-down dirty way of doing the business, and the cowpunchers as a rule had some sympathy with the Indians.” 
  • “It arrived at the conclusion of the Civil War with the complete devastation of the Confederate economy. Chief among the impoverished states—the one with perhaps the worst economic prospects during postwar Reconstruction—was Texas. And it was here in the desperate southern ranch lands in the spring of 1866 that the era of the Cattle Kingdom was born.”

Thought Questions

  • Describe the visit of Grand Duke Nicolas (to become Tsar Nicolas II) to the great plains?
  • What was “the Great American Desert” and how did it evolve as a part of American History?
  • What was the relationship between the environment and the bison? 
  • What was the relationship between Native Americans and the bison?
  • Describe the settler intentions and motivations in the destruction of the bison?
  • Explain and Expand: “The white man’s perception of the plains and prairie lands finally began to change with the rapid economic developments of the decades just prior to the Civil War: the collapse of the fur trade, the discovery of gold, the arrival of the railroad, and the westward flow of immigrants along the Oregon, Santa Fe, and Mormon trails.”
  • Describe the changes that resulted when cattle replaced the bison?
  • What role did railroad extension play in the destruction of Native Americans in the Plains?
  • Who was Francis Parkman Jr and why are his writings significant?
  • Describe the process of “hunting” buffalo?
  • What were “Hunting syndicates” and Describe the division of labor in “hunting syndicates”
  • Who was “Buffalo Bill” Cody? 
  • Why did the Plains Indians become “dependent” on the American military for survival? 
  • Who was E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott? 
  • What role did Phillip Sheridan and the United States Army play in the genocide of the Plains Indians? 
  • Explain and Expand: “Hornaday blamed the near extinction of the bison on five causes: human greed, inexcusable government neglect, the hunters’ preference for hides of the female bison over that of the bulls, “the phenomenal stupidity of the animals themselves and their indifference to man,” and, perhaps most fatal, the arrival of breech-loading rifles together with other advances in firearms, such as fixed ammunition.” 
  • Compare and Contrast the environmental conditions on the plains in 1800 and 1900 
  • What was the Lacey Act of 1894? 
  • How did the Civil War and Reconstruction impact the Plains and the Plains Indians? 

Primary Sources

Articles and References

Further Reading

 

Week 1 :: Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton Introduction: Cattle Kingdom

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “In our country, which is even now getting crowded, it is merely a question of time as to when a winter will come that will understock the ranges by the summary process of killing off about half of all the cattle through-out the North-west.”
  • “Think of riding all day in a blinding snowstorm, the temperature fifty and sixty below zero, and no dinner. You’d get one bunch of cattle up a hill and another one would be coming down behind you, and it was all so slow, plunging after them through the deep snow that way; you’d have to fight every step of the road . . . It was the same all over Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado, western Nebraska, and western Kansas.”

Through Questions

  • What does the author state their intentions are for the book?
  • Where is the geographic region known as the “badlands”? 
  • What political and economic factors were impacting the cattle industry in the 1880s?
  • Describe the “Open Range” cattle system

Primary Sources

Further Reading

Western American Literature