Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Get along little doggies.

Last month, we talked about cattle drives in general. It was no easy feat to drive  2000 to 3000 cows up from Texas to the rail heads and beyond. Unlike what we see on television, cattle do not bunch up. They string out one behind the other. With that said, the length of a 1000 head herd could stretch for more than two miles. Walking along, the trip to Kansas could take 25 to 100 days.

The trail wasn't easy. There were swollen rivers, droughts, Native Americans who took offense at the cattle moving through their lands. The average miles covered were between 10 to 15 miles each day. With the length of the cattle drive, cowboys or drovers, needed a language all their own. So they developed hand signals that has been adapted from the Plain Indians.

Drovers brought their own unique skills and grades of talent to the drive. The best drovers were placed as "pointers".  A pointer worked at the head of the herd. Less talented drovers were assigned positions at the flank, swing positions and the dreaded drag - riders at the back of the herd. Poor guys they ate the dirt churned by the hooves of the cattle moving before them. This is where we bless the cowboy's bandana. It could  be pulled up over the nose to filter the dust and dirt at the heels of the herd.

 For those of you writing western romance, keep in mind these terms when describing trail drives

A drover. The term was used between 1870 and 1880. It references a working cowboy who trails the herd

Lead Riders. Cowboys who ride on either side of the lead steers and push them in the right direction. The herd will follow. Sometimes, lead steers were used over and over because they were easy to direct.

Point Rider. Cowboy at the front of the herd behind the trail boss. They were the leads to which the cowboys push the steers to follow. 

Flank Riders. Cowboys positioned on either side of the herd. Their job is to keep the herd bunched and tight, no strays. 

Drag. Cowboys who are stationed at the rear of the herd. Their job is to keep the cattle moving, especially the young cattle that may fall behind.

Night Hawk. Cowboys who rode from dusk to dawn keeping the cattle calm and settled. One eye on the cattle, one eye out for trouble. 

Range or Trail Boss.  Manager of the cow herd on the trail. A law unto himself. 

Until next time, Happy Trails, 

Nan O'Berry

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