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The Cattle Industry
Transcript of The Cattle Industry
Let's set the scene...
* Whilst the Homesteaders were busy settling in on the Plains, in the southern dry state of Texas there was another group emerging. The cowboys.
* In the 1850's the tough beasts that were the Texas Longhorns were roaming the grasslands and being farmed and sold by Texan cattle ranchers to the local Texan people.
* After the Civil War (1861-1865) the herds grew to huge sizes and the ranchers realised they would need new markets.
* People in the north were going crazy for beef (the beef bonanza) due to the end of the Civil War and the ranchers realised they need to drive their cattle there to sell them. Thus the cattle drive was born.
* The very first to drive their cattle of Texas was Charles Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving. In 1866 the pair drove their Longhorns 1000km north from Texas to sell at a military fort in New Mexico. Their trail became known as the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail and eventually extended all the way up to Colorado.
* Others began to carve out their own trails eventually meeting up with the railroads which were being built by the US Gov. (notably the Pacific railroad and the Union Pacific railroad). This allowed cattle to be sent all around the country. These railroads ended up in Chicago where there was a huge cow market.
* Eventually individuals like Joseph McCoy set up cow towns. These were towns which lay on the routes of the railroads and in McCoy's town (Abilene) he would buy the cattle at the end of the route and arrange for them to be shipped to slaughter in the East. He was essentially a middle man, but earnt a lot of money.
* In order to move the cows, ranchers enlisted the help of specialist men who were skilled enough and well equipped to drive the cattle to their destinations...cowboys.
* Cowboys were usually fit, young men who were skilled horseriders and who wore appropriate clothing (e.g. hat to keep the sun out of your eyes)
* Cowboys had a number of dangerous jobs that they had to carry out and had to have their wits about them at all times to prevent:
* Stampedes - cows aren't the brightest and can be spooked easily. They would sometimes run away uncontrollably and the cowboys needed to steer them back on course. To keep cows calm, men would often sing to them!
* Cattle Rustlers - thieves who would try to steal the cattle
* The Weather and the Plains - storms, rain, fog, rivers, hills all became dangerous territory which could result in losing cattle for a variety of reasons.
* Dirt, Disease and Boredom - the life of a cowboy is not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. The real cowboys were often black ex-slave families who would have to spend days or weeks with cows for companies braving the insects, pests and weather that the Plains would throw at them.
* Life as a cowboy was poorly paid and some jobs were hardly glamorous including branding, round up (in the summer) and line riding (mainly in the winter)
So what happened?
* The cattle industry had a number of different effects on the American West:
1) The trails - the trails connected the southern states like Texas and Arizona to the Plains and helped bring America together.
2) The railroads - the building of the railroads the connection from trails to railroads meant not only could meat be transported from one side to the other, but so could people. This meant that more people could now leave the East and settle into the Plains.
3) Cow Towns - similar to Mining Towns, these towns quickly grew into larget towns full of prospering settlers with money to spend on a good time and not only did they become large settlements, but they also became havens for crime and problems with Law and Order.
* However, by the 1870's some cattle barons (ranchers in charge of huge ranches and herds) began to move onto the Plains...
The Move onto the Plains
* There are a number of reasons why cattle ranchers took to the Plains:
1) Homesteaders had begun to build homesteads along the cattle trails making it more difficult to drive the herd.
2) John Iliff had pioneered moving cattle ranching to the northern Plains and had proved that cattle could survive. Illff made a lot of money by selling beef to railroad builders and Sioux reservations.
3) By now the Plains Indians had been pushed onto reservations by the Government (specific territory that they must stay within) making it easier for the ranchers to settle into the Plains where the grass is good and hunters had begun to exterminate buffalo.
4) The Transcontinental railroads passing through the Plains meant that ranchers who settled there could ship their cattle off easier.
5) Texas Longhorns suffered from a disease spread by ticks which meant they couldn't be crossbred with other superior cattle. The cold winters in the Plain killed off this tick meaning that cattle ranchers could become very wealthy off of a better quality cow.
* And so the ranchers settled into the 'Open Range'. It was termed the Open Range due to the vast amount of unfenced land that the cattle ranchers could use. All they needed was an experienced pair of hands (the cowboys) to work.
* Whilst the Open Range was a nice concept which worked to begin with, the continuing boom in cattle ranching meant it was soon to end.
The End of the Open Range
* By 1883 so many cattle were grazing on the plains that the grass could no grow properly - overgrazing
* During the summer of 1883 a drought left the grass to go dry and many cattle going hungry and underfed.
* This led to a fall in beef prices as consumers didn't want to eat beef from weak and underfed cows.
* Winter 1886-87 killed off many of these weak cows. Many ranchers lost their herds and went out of business.
* In response ranchers used barbed wire fencing to fence off their land and make their herd more manageable. This worked, but it meant fewer ranches were 'open range'. These smaller ranches needed less cowboys - the open range was over.