Monday, January 12, 2009

Trail Driving in Texas

I've been immersed in research for my western historical and I've been reading terrific books about Texas Trail Drivers. The Trail Drivers of Texas has over 100 different trail drivers (It's over a 1000 pages long) reminiscences and I haven't been able to put it down. Some impressions

  • Based on the pictures they sent in of themselves (some of when they were young and some in their later years) many of those Texas cowboys were tall, dark and a very handsome bunch. Some of their pics make my heart flutter even now; pictures of JJ Roberts and John J Little among them. The picture here shows George Saunders on far left, sitting, who later became president of the Trail Drivers Association and who, it was said, was very fond of pretty ladies and fine clothes.

  • Many of them, despite their years in the saddle sleeping on cold ground, fording rivers, getting shot at, lived to fairly ripe old ages and were in pretty good health in their later years (seventies) which I just find amazing. Maybe its all that beef that they ate? Sort of a forced Atkins diet. Many of them didn't see flour (it was like $24 a barrel) until the late 1860s and even then it was pretty dear.

  • A few were shot either on the trail, in Dodge City or Abilene--and those towns were apparently as rough as the legend says. As you read along, a few cowboys may reference an incident in passing but then another person who was there gives you the full skinny and you realize how wild it really was. A cowboy could go to town after bringing in a herd and never come back, having gotten shot and laying dead in some dance hall.

  • The Indians were friendlier on the trail (exception being the Comanche) than you might have believed. If you gave them a steer or two, they pretty much left you alone. The cowboys, were, after all, grazing thousands of head of cattle on their land in Indian Territory and the Indians felt it only fair they get something for it, it appears. Those who wouldn't give up a steer or share a meal with them, however, paid a price, often more than just stampeded cattle.

  • If you got your own herd together, you could make some real money in the cattle business. Many of the big cattlemen at the time (Saunders, Slaughter, Little, Fant) give the business details of the cost and profit they made from a drive. Very impressive even today.

  • The cowmen went through financial panics much like we face today. 1873 and 1893 were particularly bad years economically. (My own great grandfather got burned in the '93 crash) But they picked themselves up, kept working hard and they made it through the lean years. Good inspiration during these trying times.
I could go on but I've got to get back to writing. In a strange way, I don't want this book to end, though, as I feel I've come to know these people. That's the rub with research--I get so into it I can hardly pull myself away.


CherylStJohn said...

Great stuff. I've been researching early breweries and Bavarian food. LOL

Lauri said...

Hi Anne,

Great post! I was searching Texas trails and your blog popped up in my search! I'm working on my third Quinter brother story set in Dodge, and needed some trail info. :)

Happy writing!