The following essay on trail driving appeared as the introduction to Richard H. Dillon’s edited journal of Cyrus C. Loveland, published under title California Trail Herd: The 1850 Missouri-to-California Journal of Cyrus C. Loveland (Los Gatos: Talisman Press, 1961). We reprint Mr. Dillon’s essay here because it remains an important reinterpretation of traditional lore concerning the Texas cattle industry. We thank Mr. Dillon for his kind permission to reprint his fine essay. A copy of the printed Loveland journal will appear in a forthcoming part of our Ranching Catalogue.
THE CALIFORNIA TRAIL
By Richard H. Dillon
There is a general belief that trail driving of cattle over long distances to market had its start in Texas of post-Civil War days, when Tejanos were long on longhorns and short on cash, except for the worthless Confederate article. Like so many well-entrenched, traditional assumptions, this one is unwarranted.
J. Evetts Haley, in editing one of the extremely rare accounts of the cattle drives to California which preceded the Texas-to-Kansas experiment by a decade and a half, slapped the blame for this misunderstanding squarely on the writings of Emerson Hough. In a foreword to his transcript of James G. Bell’s “Log of the Texas-California Trail, 1854”, which appeared in 1932 in volumes 35 and 36 of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Haley reminded his readers of the drives of the late 1840s and the 1850s from Texas to New Orleans, Natchez, Natchitoches, Shreveport, St. Louis, Sedalia, and even Ohio and Chicago. He might also have mentioned the Ohio Valley drives of 1805-1855 which Paul C. Henlein studied in The Cattle Kingdom in the Ohio Valley. Frederick Law Olmsted in 1856 described the Texas-to-New Orleans cattle trade: “The herdsman’s sales are of steers which are sent to market at four years old. The beef is considered better at five years but the profit to the herdsman is less. In early summer, after the cattle are in good condition with the spring pasture, drovers make their appearance for the purchase. A contract is made by which, at a price agreed upon, the herdsman shall deliver a certain number of beeves, in marketable order, at a point where it will be convenient to add them to the drove for New Orleans. The range is then scoured and the requisite number obtained, including all steers found that have escaped the previous years.”
Olmsted met a “driver” who hired twelve extra hands just to get his drove of prairie cattle across the Neches River but he still lost nineteen head, bogged down in the river bottom. He explained, “If these wild prairie cattle are left behind or become separated from the drove, they can never be driven. There is danger that they will drive the drivers.”
When Olmsted asked, “What became of the cattle you left?”, the man replied, “God knows. They got off into the swamp, I suppose, after awhile. There’s lots of beef cattle that stray off so from a drove and are never recovered. As nobody owns these cattle but the driver and they are all branded, so nobody else will claim them, and he never comes after them, I suppose they live out their natural life of beef-cattle.”
According to E. E. Dale, the historian of the Southwest’s range cattle industry, it was found by trial and error that a herd of 2,500 cattle was of the best size for trailing. With more cattle than this, the herds tended to become hard to manage no matter how many cowpokes were available. With fewer head, it was just about as hard to manage a herd as with the 2,500 head. A drove or herd of this size formed a column about a mile long from “point” to “drag”. It required a dozen cowmen with four to six horses apiece, and the herd could cover about twelve to fifteen miles per day or from three hundred to five hundred miles a month. According to some sources of the 1880s, it cost $500 a month to drive such a herd across country; according to others, it ran to $1.00 a head no matter what the length of the passage. By 1886, trail herding of cattle approached something of a science as compared to Cyrus Loveland’s day of amateur cowboys. In one month of 1886 some fifty-seven herds crossed the Arkansas River. They ranged in size from seventy head to 3,300. But, of the entire fifty-seven herds only five were composed of less than 1,000 head of stock.
Dr. Herbert E. Bolton found that cattle were driven from Texas missions and ranches to New Orleans as early as the later 18th century but that the first western drives of any consequence came with Texan independence. In 1837–38, cowboys rounded up wild cattle between the Nueces and the Rio Grande to drive them in herds, ranging from three hundred head to a thousand head, to various towns of Texas. By 1842, droves were being conducted overland to Shreveport, Louisiana, for transshipment by flatboats down the Red River and Mississippi River to the growing cattle market of New Orleans.
With the annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845 and the emigration of Americans into the new Lone Star State, the cattle industry there began to expand. By 1860 there were more cattle in Texas than in any other state of the Union. The cattle industry began to boom in ante-bellum Texas, and the profits of the business were given wide publicity. More and more drives were made to New Orleans, and herds were also sent to the Crescent City by ship from now-forgotten ports like Indianola, on Lavaca Bay, or from Galveston. One trail led from south and west Texas to Liberty, on the Trinity River, then to the Neches at Beaumont, then across the Sabine into Louisiana where, after swimming, fording, or ferrying the Calcasieu and Mississippi Rivers, the cattle reached New Orleans. Another trail, from eastern and central Texas crossed the Sabine to Shreveport, to Natchitoches or Alexandria, and then downriver (by boat) to New Orleans.
Soon, however, the supply exceeded the Louisiana demand. It was with hopes of better prices that Texans turned their attention to the far-distant market of Gold Rush California. The herds of ’49 and ’50 were few. But by 1853 and 1854 quite a number were on the trail, and the returned Texas Argonauts brought word home of high prices for cattle in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. The meat supply there could not keep up with the supply of miners pouring in. Texans soon found that their cattle, bought for five to fifteen dollars a head at home brought sixty to one hundred and fifty dollars each in the San Francisco of 1854.
More and more herds headed westward on the trail blazed in 1849 by W. H. C. Whiting and W. F. Smith. It began at San Antonio, struck west to Franklin and El Paso and then headed for the Gila River and the Colorado by the Apache-battered towns of Santa Cruz, Tubac, and Tucson. Crossing the Colorado Desert into California, herds were trailed to Warner’s Ranch and then to Los Angeles or San Diego. From these southern California cities, the cattle were trailed north to the population centers–San Francisco and Sacramento. The Sacramento State Journal in 1854 reported that 9,000 cattle were imported that year over this Gila Trail. But that figure seems much too modest. According to Ralph Bieber, another cattle trade historian, the Western Texan of June 1, 1854, reported that at that very moment “between seven and eight thousand head of cattle and stock of all kinds” were en route to what the San Antonio paper called, “the Modern Ophir”. By the mid-1850s not only were herds being trailed from Texas to California but from Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory. Cattle were also being driven from the upper Brazos to Missouri to supply trains of California-bound emigrants. The trail led through Dallas, crossed the Red River at Preston in Grayson County, and then led northeast to Boggy Depot and Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, thence to the west or south border of Missouri.
The long drive from Texas to California was but the first of the great cattle drives. It was followed by drives from Texas to Westport, Independence, or Kansas City. In addition to stock cattle, oxen, horses, and mules were all herded to Missouri. According to the Galveston Civilian, about 9,000 head of stock (Texan) was sold in Kansas City in 1857 and K. C., by the outbreak of the Civil War, had supplanted New Orleans as the great stock market. By the end of the ’50s, the drives were extended from Kansas City to Chicago. The Western Journal of Commerce reported 11,000 head in drives there during 1858 alone. After 1852, St. Louis became an important market, too.
These Texas trail herds were not all perambulating T–bones. The cattle were grass fed, driven hundreds of miles, shorted on water, and according to the St. Louis lntelligencer (October 30, 1854), “They never eat an ear of corn in their lives... Texas cattle are about the nearest to wild animals of any now driven to market. We have seen some buffaloes that were more civilized.” Some Texas beef was downright unpalatable, if not inedible. The Daily Missouri Republican observed on July 20, 1851, of a Texas drove that it was “not fit to eat; they will do to bait traps to catch wolfs in.”
In 1855 the first major outbreak of Texas fever occurred in Missouri. Howard, Cooper, Henry, Cedar, St. Clair and Benton counties were soon swept by it. Missouri farmers took the law into their own hands and declared war on Texas cattle. Late that same year the Missouri legislature passed a law which barred infected animals from the state. The law was not effective, and there was a severe epidemic in 1858, which spread to Kansas. The cowmen ignored the law, and bloody battles were brewing between cattlemen and farmers when the Civil War broke out and broke off the Texas cattle trade. Drives to California from Texas also stopped, of course, and embattled Missouri was apparently in no position to feed California during the Civil War. The Golden State once again became its own producer-supplier of beef and by 1862 had 3,000,000 head roaming the valleys and hills between San Diego and the Oregon line.
J. Evetts Haley rightly lamented the lack of historical studies of the cattle trade to California, stating, “of all the American trails followed by men who rode in the dust of cattle, no other is so little-known.
If you run down all of the eighty-one references under the heading “California” in the major bibliography of the cattle trade, Ramon Adams’ The Rampaging Herd (University of Oklahoma, 1959), you will come up with little besides disappointment, if you seek material on drives to the Coast. About the only bona fide account of such a trek is the aforementioned Log of James G. Bell. There are a few other works which supply information but the paucity of it is shocking.
In California itself, more is known about the minor business of driving California cattle out of the state to other areas. This is especially true of the drive of 1837 to Oregon, thanks to the Grabhorn Press publication of The Diary of Philip Leget Edwards in 1932. Ewing Young bought eight hundred cattle at $3.00 a head from the San Francisco and San Jose missions, and he, Edwards, and nine other Oregonians drove the herd north. By the time they reached the San Joaquin River they had lost eighty animals. Seventeen more drowned in the San Joaquin. It was a tough drive, and Edwards in his diary lamented, “The last month, what it has been! Little sleep, much fatigue, hardly time to eat, mosquitoes, cattle breaking like so many evil spirits, and scattering to the four winds, men ill natured and quarrelling. Another month like the last God avert! Who can describe it?”
But Young and Edwards and their drovers got the dwindling herd safely across the Sacramento River near its source, through the Siskiyous and, in October 1837, to the Willamette River settlements. Some six hundred and thirty-two cattle had survived the nine-month march from Yerba Buena. They brought $7.67 each in Oregon. Edwards wrote, “Few of our party, perhaps none, would have ventured on the enterprise could they have foreseen all its difficulties.”
The story of the great drives north out of Texas to Kansas railheads has often been told, either in such solid works as Wayne Gard’s The Chisholm Trail or in western pulp magazines ad nauseum. The Chisholm Trail is now part and parcel of the complicated pattern of lore, history, legend, and bunk which, when rolled up together, becomes our Western tradition. Californians who have never set foot on Texas soil can rattle off like a litany the names of the entrepreneurs of the cattle traffic of post-Civil War times– Jesse Chisholm, Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, Joe McCoy, John Chisum, ad infinitum.
However, in all probability, not a one can tell you a name, date, or incident of California trail herding days. Asked to name one book on the subject, it is a shoo-in certainty that all will grasp at Robert Glass Cleland’s fine survey with the poetic title, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills. But the late Robert Cleland would be the first to insist that his book has little or nothing to do with the traffic in beef cattle to California. No, his work is really a study of only Southern California’s “cow counties” during the two decades of 1850-1870. The major market for Texas steers of the immediate pre-Civil War period was not New Orleans or Sedalia, but California with its hordes of meat-hungry miners. The long drives out of Texas had begun in 1842, when 1,000 head were trailed to Missouri. In 1846, Edward Piper walked a herd of a thousand cattle to Ohio. But the really long and dangerous drive was to California; from either Missouri or Texas, the trail crossed mountains, deserts and hostile Indian country. Texas tradition has it that T. J. Trimmier of Washington County in the Lone Star State led the way in the California trade by taking a herd of five hundred cattle to the new state-to-be in 1848 to sell them at $100 a head. By the time he was headed back to Texas, he found herd after herd following his trail westward.
It is known for sure that a very large concentration of cattle, horses and mules left Fredericksburg, Texas, in the spring of 1849. The McInerny brothers are reputed to have spent six full months trail herding steers to California’s gold mines in ’49. In August 10, 1853, the Daily Alta California received communications from the Los Angeles Star to the effect that a company of thirty-five families from the Red River country of Texas, driving 1,000 cattle to California, were passed by the muleback party of Captains O’Brien and Bennett. According to the captains, there was talk in the cattle train of trading their steers for mules since it was feared that there would not be enough feed along the road for that many cattle. In the same year of 1853 the notorious ex-sea captain turned rancher, Robert H. (Bully) Waterman of Solano County, California, bought a Texas herd which had been trailed to the contra costa of San Francisco Bay. James Campbell of San Antonio took a herd from Eagle Pass to Warner’s Ranch in Southern California that same year.
The San Diego Herald in late October 1853 reported, on the authority of a traveler named Caruthers, that 1,200 head of Texas cattle were then on the road between the Colorado River and San Diego, some of them already at Warner’s Ranch. Judge Hays informed the paper that twelve Texan immigrants were killed and mutilated by Apaches in the Guadalupe Mountains when they tried to recover cattle stolen from them by the Indians.
But 1854 saw the high point of the trade. James Campbell made another drive to the coast that year. On his heels came more than half a dozen really big droves belonging to Major Michael Erskine of Seguin, the Fairchilds, Buck and Bryant, Franklin, Dunlap and Houston, and John James of San Antonio. James G. Bell was a cowboy, or drover, as the cowmen were more commonly called in this earlier period of trail herding, for John James. His log, as edited by J. Evetts Haley, is our best source on the Texas-to-California drives. Besides Indians, lack of water and forage, bad (alkali) water and unbridged rivers on the trail, we learn from Bell that another threat to the herds were the poisonous weeds found along the west end of the long route of march. These poisonous plants killed more of James’s stock than did any of the many other hazards of the trail. The Apaches did not bother James, though they hit the herd just ahead of his, killed a drover and stole twenty steers.
Although the Bell account tells the story of the Texas-to-California trail herds well, and the recent volume of the Champoeg Press by David Shirks fills us in on the minor drives from Texas to Idaho (of the 1870s), we have had, unfortunately, no comparable Missouri-to-California journal in print to document the more northerly trail of the cattle herds to California, until the publication of this diary of Cyrus Loveland.
It is strange, indeed, that there should be so little information on this California-bound commerce which, briefly, assumed the proportions of big business, despite deserts and Indians which in some cases (like that of the Fairchilds) combined to wipe out entire droves. The Colorado Tribune (of Texas) on July 21, 1854, reported: “The speculation of driving beef cattle from our state to California still continues and doubtless a regular trade will be made of it for some years to come.”
The Western Texan on the 12th of February 1854 stated that five parties in San Antonio were making up herds to drive west to California via El Paso. In March, on the Los Angeles cattle market, American oxen brought $140 to $175; American cows and calves $30 to $100; California cows (“gentle”) $40, and rodeo cattle $28 to $30. Small wonder the Texans were eager to eat dust for four or five months behind a thousand recalcitrant longhorns.
Cattle began to come from old Mexico as well as Texas. John Raines in 1854 drove five hundred head from Sonora to Warner’s Rancho. The California demand soon inflated prices in Mexico. Cattle cost $15-$16 in Mexico in 1854, a rise in price of a full 100%.
From Arkansas came herds, too. The Van Buren, Arkansas, lntelligencer reported on May 8, 1854: “Large parties of California cattle drovers have been leaving our vicinity during the past week, while several large herds are still being collected for the same destination, to leave during the week. We suppose from a rough calculation that over three thousand head of cattle will be driven from the counties of Crawford, Sebastian and Scott by the time the last drove leaves this season. We learn that large droves are also being sent from other frontier counties and the Cherokee Nation. Captain Denckla, at Port Gibson, will leave on the 12th inst. with about 1,800 head.”
One of the fullest descriptions of the country the Southwest drives had to cover appeared in a letter to the editor of the Southern Californian which was published in that journal and, later, on August 16, 1854, reprinted in the Daily Alta California of San Francisco. The letter was written by a Texan drover named Kirkpatrick.
“I started from San Antonio, Texas, on the 1st of April 1854 in company with a party of stock drovers from that section of the State. (I may say here, incidentally, that the report of high prices in the market of California for beef cattle, which reached Texas in the early part of the present year, has given rise to an active speculation in Texas stock, and, consequently, the road is now full of beef cattle from Texas, destined for this market, from 15 to 20,000 is the lowest estimate I have heard of the number. At present prices here, there will be great losses sustained by drovers.
“From San Antonio to El Paso the road is an excellent one the main portion of the way leading over a high, dry and gravelly table land, constituting, perhaps, the best natural road in the world. For 250 miles grass and water of a fine quality abound. But for the last 400 miles of the route, grass becomes scarce and water is not to be found in sufficient quantities for the stock drover. This territory is at present infested by perhaps the most bold, daring and dangerous of all the Indian tribes–the Mescalero Apaches.
“The train with which I travelled was surrounded by them and stopped upon the road, and we had every prospect of a bloody battle, but finally the difficulty was compromised by our consenting to trade them tobacco for skins. A cattle drover from Texas, who had preceded us, was not so fortunate. I refer to Mr. Hedges of San Antonio, whose party was waylaid in a bad canon known as the Eagle Springs, being taken by surprise, had two of his men killed and 176 of his cattle driven off by the Indians. Frequent difficulties have taken place with emigrant parties, as I have since learned, and the Apaches were pretty severely handled by some of them.
“From El Paso the road is for the greater part an excellent wagon way, similar in structure and quality to that already described. Some difficult passes in the mountains contribute the exceptions to this remark. We met with no serious obstruction from Indians but our stock suffered severely from want of water and grass. The general character of the country is that of an elevated plain, high, dry and sterile. The Santa Cruz Valley of Sonora is the Oasis of this Sahara–a beautiful, fertile and lovely valley, but narrow and enclosed by lofty and sterile mountains. Here are several Mexican villages and a few ranches. The villages are Santa Cruz, at the eastern extremity of the valley, Tubac and Tucson. These Mexicans live in extreme and perpetual dread of the Apaches, their deadly enemies. Depredations and murders are continually perpetrated upon them by the Indians. They are much elated by the news of the purchase of Sonora (i. e, the Gadsden Purchase) by the United States. We reached the Gila at the Pimo Villages.”
“Spica,” the San Francisco Daily Herald’s Los Angeles correspondent reported on November 10, 1854, that 5,000 beeves had crossed the Colorado in a month, mostly from Texas, and 2,000 more were expected daily. When John James and James Bell hit the Colorado River in 1854 with their herd, they were told at Ft. Yuma that 10,000 head had already crossed. And still James’s steers brought $25-$30 in the Los Angeles market. According to the appendix of the 1880 Census, concerning California after the Gold Rush, “A demand for cattle then arose. At first these were inferior in size and appearance to the best California cattle but after 1852, good cattle came in rapidly from the States.” After 1860, cattle were trailed into California not only from Texas, Missouri–like Loveland’s herd–and Illinois, but from Oregon, reversing Philip Leget Edwards and Ewing Young’s trek of 1837. But most came from Texas. By 1871 probably 75,000 head had been trail herded from the Lone Star State to the Golden State.
The exciting times were the mid-’50s. The San Francisco Herald reported on September 5, 1854, that five cattle trains–hose of Edwards and Piron, Matson and Company, Tellus and Company, and two others, unnamed, were waiting at Tucson for the rains. (The Alta reported these cattle companies as Pyron and Edwards, Tully, Sweet & Co., and Maddison and Company.) They were unable to proceed to California because of the lack of water. The paper stated that the five companies had blazed a new route to Tucson, cutting off one hundred miles from the old trail. But they had suffered greatly and had lost a large number of cattle. Just eleven days later, news arrived from El Paso that Captain Smith had reached San Antonio with a herd of cattle he had driven east from El Paso. He had made a record, twenty-one day trip over the route in spite of the scarcity of both water and grass. Never before had both necessities been so scarce. He reported that this situation “caused a great deal of suffering and loss among parties going through with cattle to California.”
Fairchild and McClure reached El Paso after losing two hundred head from lack of water. Dunlap’s herd was shrunken by the loss of seven hundred head thanks to the lack of water at Eagle Springs, Van Horn’s Wells, and Deadman’s Hole. But Grayson’s Brazos herd had suffered a loss of only twelve steers out of five hundred when he reached the Rio Grande, although the trail he followed was literally “strewn with carcasses.” The same newspaper account reported that Franklin and Dean at Wild Rose Canyon had not lost a steer nor had John James at Limpia Springs, but McRae and Rankin, at Devil’s River, had already lost one hundred and twenty-five head.
S. Kaufman, of the firm of H. Mayer & Company, engaged in the Santa Fe-Chihuahua trade, told reporters from the Los Angeles Star that Apaches on the San Pedro River had killed Whitney, a partner in the cattle firm of Maddison & Company (sometimes identified as Matson & Company) and his major domo, Edwards, and wounded one of his drovers. The three men were bringing a herd of cattle on the Gila Trail. The herd kept on and escaped the Apaches, reaching the safety of the Colorado River which it crossed via the new Pilot Knob Ferry.
On Christmas Day 1854 the Alta reprinted a report from the State Journal on the immigration of cattle into California. The last herd of the year crossed the Sierra on October 8, 1854. Earlier in the year the Journal had published a tally which it now repeated-via Noble’s Pass, 24,000 head of cattle; by Beckwith’s Pass, 10,000; via the Gila Trail, 9,000. To these totals the State Journal added an additional 17,000 head which had entered up to October 8 and came up with a grand total of 60,000 cattle trail-herded to California during the year.
On October 8, 1858, the Herald stated–that between 8,000 and 10,000 head of cattle were on the road–”mostly of good quality, all doing well. The bulk of them will have crossed the desert in about six weeks time.” Almost a year later, on September 9, 1859, the same paper reported a single herd totaling 1,000 head (Keener’s train) crossing the Colorado River on one day.
Frederick Law Olmsted in 1856 saw herds of cattle being gathered near San Antonio for the drive to California. He examined one herd closely and found it amounted to four hundred animals escorted by twenty-five cowboys, mounted on mules. Each man was armed with a rifle and a Colt revolver. These drovers knew how to use their weapons. When Indians on the Limpia River in 1854 stole three oxen from Michael Erskine’s herd, ten of the cowmen attacked the encampment of forty to fifty Indians, killed five of them, recovered their stock and captured the Indians’ ponies.
Only a few of the drovers Olmsted saw were drawing wages. They were, in the main, men who had been over the route before and who could act as guides. The others were all young fellows intent on “seeing the Elephant.” They were working their way to California in return for grub and amount. The herd was accompanied by two large wagons and a cart with food, cooking utensils, bedding, and ammunition.
Olmsted wrote in his book, A Journey Through Texas: “The driving of cattle to California from Texas, as long as the market prices permit, is likely to be of increasing importance as the hazard of much loss is small and the profits often large. Four men for a hundred head, where the herd is a large one, is considered a sufficient number.” The men might be four or six months on the road and if the California market should be overstocked temporarily, the cattle could be held in pasture to fatten and to improve their value as prices rose. During the high point of the boom they cost $14 each around San Antonio and brought up to $100 in California. (But, of course, the “hazard of loss” was not always as small as Olmsted thought. In 1854, ninety Mescalero Apaches seized two hundred head from W. H. Oliver’s Colorado River of Texas herd when it was near Eagle Springs.) Olmsted continued, on the type of cattle being trail-herded: ”No pains were here taken to improve the breed. Some cows had been brought to this region from the States but did not do well. Their calves, however, became acclimated and were the common prairie stock.”
According to John C. Reid of Alabama, who tramped through Texas in 1857: “The outfit for stocking a ranche (stock farm) with a few hundred herd of animals is trifling... An ample supply of grown cows may be obtained near, by judicious selection, at not exceeding $5 a head.” He also reported that Mexican vaqueros or cowboys cost only $175 a year, exclusive of board, and “the saline properties of the grass dispense with the necessity of buying salt.” So, if we can believe Reid, after seven years a rancher on an outlay of only $2,000 could count on a clear profit of $23,564.
A pioneer of the business of driving cattle both to California and within California, a man worthy of the attention of historians and biographers, was Colonel O. W. Wheeler of Connecticut. He came to California in 1851 in ill health, but California’s magic climate (naturally) made a new man of him. He was still not strong enough for the arduous, wet, and cold work of placer mining after New England consumption complicated by Panamanian fever, however, so he went into the cattle trade. At first he would go into the Nevada desert and round up abandoned stock or buy (for a song) jaded cattle in the possession of California-bound emigrants. This supposedly worn-out stock responded beautifully to a few weeks rest in the grassy valleys of the Sierra Nevada and returned a neat profit to the Colonel. After dabbling in freighting, merchandising, and sheep raising, he drove stock up to Sacramento from Los Angeles, buying in one swoop an entire ranch with its 3,000 cattle. He also opened a wholesale meat market in San Francisco.
In 1861, after a trip home to Connecticut, he brought a herd of a thousand horses safely from the Northwest to California through Indian country. In 1867, Colonel Wheeler, noting the long-lasting effects of the great 1864 California drought, determined to alleviate the scarcity of cattle by driving a herd in from Texas. With two partners, Wilson and Hicks, he rounded up 2,400 head, one hundred and fifty cow ponies and fifty-four cowboys. He armed the men with the most modern weapons available. As Joseph McCoy said, “No more complete outfit or better herd of stock ever left Texas.” But 1867 was a year of rains, and floods and trails turned into gumbo. The Indians were on the warpath and, worse, so was Asiatic cholera. The disease killed some of Wheeler’s cowboys and frightened his partners so much that when the herd reached Abilene, they determined to sell it there. Wheeler urged them to continue on to California as planned, or to winter in Kansas and then go on, but he was overruled. The stock was sold and shipped to Chicago.
On his own, Wheeler bought 1,500 head in Kansas, wintered the stock in the southeast corner of the state, fattened it up there in the spring, and in the summer drove the herd through the angry mobs of farmers, fearful of Texas fever, through Missouri to Quincy, Illinois. He bought more Texas cattle cheap (their owners feared they bore the Texas or Spanish fever) in Abilene, contracted for 5,000 more to be trail herded to Nevada where he would meet them, and was soon doing business all over the Midwest and West. In 1870 he sold 12,000 head, in 1871 it was 7,000. He became one of the major figures of the cattle business in mid-continent and all of his success grew out of his plans to drive cattle to California. Another great cattleman of the Midwest who got his start by driving (and later, shipping) cattle to California was Dennis Sheedy. He ended up the possessor of, in Joseph McCoy’s words, “a goodly fortune.”
Cleland’s study of the cattle frontier in California hardly touches the trade in cattle from “the States.” He was concerned with the indigenous industry that grew out of the great herds of mission and rancho days. The first cattlemen there were of the military, the soldados de cuero of Governor Pedro Fages. These leather-jackets were encouraged to hold grazing grants–sitios de ganado mayor–a league square. From these huge 4,400-acre sites sprang California’s great ranchos.
The 1830s and 1840s in California can be viewed through the eyes of Richard H. Dana and Alfred Robinson. These were the decades of the “California bank note,” as the California cow hide was called. Eventually the tides of gringo gold hunters would roll over Southern California as well as Northern California, washing away land titles and diseños and the very ranchos and rancheros themselves. But for a good decade after James Marshall discovered color in the millrace at Coloma, Southern California continued to be the “beef basket” for the mines and the metropoli of Sacramento and San Francisco. Dr. William M’Collum, for example, encountered a small herd of forty or fifty cattle on the Stanislaus River as early as 1849 being driven by a Kentuckian and a Spanish-California vaquero to the mines.
Hugo Reid suggested to Abel Steams that he could net $20,000 on a thousand head of steers worth, perhaps, $4,000 before the Gold Rush. Reid thought in terms of chartering coastal schooners to carry carne seca (jerky), tallow, and hides from San Pedro either to Monterey or San Francisco Bay. The ranchers, however, preferred the traditional and more feasible cattle drive and they began the northward treks which would continue every year until the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Among the drivers were Cave Coutts, W. B. Coutts, John McPike, Jose Antonio Argüello and others. (Cave Coutts also drove cattle south from Los Angeles–1,000 head in July 1853, for example, to San Diego County).They sold to Henry Miller, of Miller and Lux, or to anyone with ready cash. In 1852, William Heath Davis, the kanaka-californio, brought a herd of steers, milk cows, and oxen to San Leandro–1550 head in all, bought originally from Don Eulogio de Celís and Don Emigdio Vega. The San Francisco Herald of November 19, 1854, in commenting on a drive of 1,600 head, the largest of the season, said that “In former years such bands were not uncommon to be driven from here and, in fact, were of frequent occurrence.” Robert Glass Cleland compared this traffic favorably with that of the famed Bozeman Trail to Montana and the Abilene Trail to Kansas. But, he declared, “despite its importance and adventurous character, the subject has been almost ignored in both the historical and romantic literature of the state, and information on it, whether statistical or descriptive, is disappointingly meager.” As Evetts Haley indicated, this same sort of historical ignorance applies to the overland drives to California from both the Midwest (mainly Missouri) and the Southwest.
Although it must have seemed like a case of hauling coals to Newcastle to drive beef cattle to California, home of ranches the size of European duchies, sharp Texan and Pewk traders did so, sniffing the wind for the prices which prevailed on the West Coast. For about ten years you could count on up to $75 for a steer and $20-$25 for a calf in the San Francisco Bay area. Even though Los Angeles County alone was supplying 25,000-30,000 head of cattle during the boom, the supply could not keep up with the demand, and thousands of head were brought overland from Missouri as well as from Texas to the Sacramento Valley. The Los Angeles Star estimated on September 18, 1852, that 90,000 head of cattle, not counting oxen, had passed Fort Kearney, Nebraska, during the spring and summer of that year, en route to California. Governor John Bigler, in his Annual Message to the California Legislature on January 1, 1855, reported that 62,000 head had entered the state during the year over the major emigrant roads alone–13,000 via the Carson Route, 9,000 by way of the Gila, 15,000 over Sonora Pass, and 24,000 via Beckwith’s Pass.
According to the 1880 Census, there were 815,000 cattle in California as of that year, valued at $12.49 per head. (Many of these bovines had either Missouri or Texas family trees.) This figure was quite a bit less than that of the height of California cattle production, which occurred in 1862 when importation was virtually cut off and there was a renaissance of the cattle ranch in California. In that year the number of cattle in California reached 3,000,000 head. But the terrible drought of 1864 destroyed herds and whole ranches. In the ’70s, though California had its own shortages, herds were trailed out to markets in neighboring states. A man named Schaffer, later a big cattle rancher on the Saline River in Kansas, got his start driving beeves from northern California to Idaho and Nevada for four years. Consumption continued to exceed production in California in the ’70s, even with railroad shipments from the Midwest and Southwest, so that it was once again profitable to drive cattle to California.
In 1860, the market had appeared glutted and the day of the trail herd to California over. Such was not the case. It was pretty effectively stopped in 1861 when, on April 19, President Abraham Lincoln, at the same time that he declared a blockade of the coasts of the Confederacy, forbade all commercial intercourse (including cattle drives, of course) with the seceding states. But, once the war was over–when the great drives to Abilene, Ellsworth, and Dodge City began–the California trade enjoyed a revival. Jim Hill and Tom Toland brought in a herd via the Colorado and Gila Rivers in 1869. And in 1870, with the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads already linked for a year, Captain Jack Cureton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, and his sons, John C., J. W., and W. E. Cureton, drove 1,100 head of cattle to California. They took the Conchos River to Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos, followed the Pecos River up to the Hondo and then crossed New Mexico and Arizona to California. There the prices were not high enough to suit them so they wintered their stock and then trailed them over the Sierra in the spring to Reno where Henry Miller, the great cattle baron of California bought them. The Curetons had paid $10 a head in Texas; they got $30 ahead from Miller in Nevada.
The Indian threats to such herds as Captain Jack Cureton’s or the 1,500-head herd that Joseph S. Clark and thirteen other men led to California from Texas in 1870 (wintering en route on the Mimbres River in New Mexico), caused the Government to dispatch troops of the 6th Cavalry from Fort Richardson to provide escorts for trail herds. But the day of the long, overland cattle drive was over–as far as California was concerned. The iron horses of the C. P. and U. P. Railroads had seen to that. It remained profitable to drive cattle to California for shorter distances for some time, and beeves were trail herded from Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah to California as late as the 1880s.
By 1880 the type of cattle in California had changed. The introduction of blooded bulls after 1852 improved the stock so that by the time of the 10th Census, native stock were uncommon except in San Diego County at the extreme southern end of the state, adjoining Mexico. The action of James Waters in November 1877 is, perhaps, typical. At that time he brought eighteen thoroughbred shorthorns to Los Angeles by rail. All were herd book animals of the white-rose, daisy, and multiflora families. But the improvement of California’s rangy longhorns had been begun much earlier by the introduction of Durham stock. Surely one of the first invasions of this better-grade stock was that of the Crow cattle drive of 1850 from Missouri, so well described by Cyrus Loveland.
Durhams were soon in great demand. In 1870, five bulls were bought in Omaha and shipped by train to Ogden, then driven north to Montana, to improve the breed in that territory. In 1871, a prize Durham brought $1,885 at an auction in Helena. Texas ranchers also sought Durhams to improve their range herds. Joseph McCoy wrote: “It is astonishing, as well as highly encouraging, to note the marked improvement in color, form and weight arising from a cross of Texan cows with Durham bulls, although the latter may be common grades, only.”
In the 1880s, of course, the white-faced Herefords, so familiar on western cattle ranches today, began to displace the Durhams for breeding. But in their heyday, the Durhams were highly regarded. Joseph McCoy said of them: “The Durham, or shorthorned cattle, raised and fed so extensively and profitably throughout the Northwest and West, are in almost every respect more valuable and profitable stock to breed and handle than any other throughout the entire West. The Durham blood is sought by breeders, and of late years, shrewd, enterprising Texan ranchmen have been sending young graded Durham bulls to their ranches for the purpose of improving their stocks in blood and quality. They plainly see that Texas must improve her cattle in blood and quality if she would longer compete successfully and profitably in the beef markets of the Union. It is beginning to dawn upon the understanding of the Lone Star ranchmen that his only hope, as well as imperative duty toward himself, lies in improving the blood of his stock, even at the expense of numbers. While it is a well-established fact that Texan cattle can be fatted upon corn, yet it is not so easily or successfully done as with the Durham; although it is quite as well established that Texan cattle will fatten better on grass than the native or short-horn. Now, inasmuch as cornfed and cornfatted beef invariably brings better prices than the grassfatted, it becomes a matter worthy of note to the producer to secure such grades of cattle as will make the most valuable beef.”
The paucity of information on the northern cattle trail to California lends the Cyrus Loveland diary in the California State Library great historical value. It is a unique (so far) account of this colorful and once important trade, now forgotten. No writer of history in his right mind claims “firsts.” (They belong in the province of salesmen and politicians.) But it is safe to say that the Loveland account documents one of the first cattle drives to California from Missouri. It is not the first cattle drive by a long shot. After all, both Portola and De Anza drove stock with their expeditions. Ewing Young and Philip Leget Edwards drove cattle out of California, to Oregon, thirteen years before Loveland and the Crow boys pointed their herd Californiawards. There were undoubtedly earlier drives on the Texas-Gila route, but of them we know little or nothing.
Thanks to the shortage of documentation, the story of the Missouri-California cattle trail has never been told. The publication of this document is a contribution toward closing that gap in the rich fabric of our western history. California’s bandits, miners, ’49ers, railroaders, and thespians have all had more than their due. Their historic bones have been disinterred and re-disinterred by historians–lay and academic. But hardly has there been a nod given to the man who epitomizes the West, the cowboy. Texas has all but canonized him, but California has hardly allowed his name on the playbill of history. The recent works of Jo Mora and Arnold J. Rojas have helped, but where are the trail-herding Anglos of the great beef bonanza? They are still buried, apparently, in fallow sources, unturned diaries and in the lines of unread newspapers of their day.
Cyrus Clark Loveland, born–like baseball in Cooperstown, Otsego County, New York, became a member of that praetorian guard of roughnecks which Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson scraped together as the First Regiment of New York Volunteers in 1846. The old windjammers Susan Drew, Loo Choo, and Thomas H. Perkins which conveyed the men to San Francisco proved to be breeding grounds for some of ’Frisco’s most famous criminals. Sam Roberts, chief of the Hounds, or Regulators, who terrorized the city until Sam Brannan put them out of action, was one. Another was Jack Powers, Alta California’s greatest Anglo bandit and one who ranked right up there with Murieta and Vasquez.
Not all of Stevenson’s Regiment were cutthroats, to be sure, and Loveland was one of the law-abiding majority. In later years he used to reminisce that it was six months from the day the Loo Choo left New York with him and Company K (August 26, 1846) that she reached San Francisco. According to Guy Giffen, historian of Stevenson’s Regiment, the date (March 26, 1847) is correct, which would indicate that Loveland either had a good memory or a journal which extended back beyond this one, herein published, of 1850.
Cyrus’s son, Fremont B. Loveland, had an old Testament signed by his father “on board Ship Loo Choo, 1846” and the old man’s trunk from the voyage was in his hands until it was damaged and had to be destroyed. Fremont Loveland also had for years a copper coin that his father had picked up as a souvenir of Rio de Janeiro, where the Loo Choo put in November 1846.
Company K, in which Cyrus enlisted after having been an apprentice to Boss Tweed in New York, did duty in San Francisco until August 15, 1848, when those who had not deserted were mustered out. From ’Frisco, Loveland and two comrades went up to the “diggings” where they spent seven months and took out $18,000. Loveland came down with what he took to be scurvy and bought himself two pounds of potatoes at $5.00 the pound. These he ate raw. The heavy dosage of raw spuds did the trick as an anti-scorbutic and he recovered his health and returned to New York via Panama. From there he went to Pike County, where he joined the Crows in the cattle drive described in the following narrative.
Loveland settled at Lawrence, four miles west of Santa Clara in “the San Jose Pueblo Valley”, as he termed the Santa Clara Valley. He married a widow, Mrs. Catherine (Davis) Barney, a farmer’s daughter who had, herself, come across the plains managing a team of six horses. He registered as voter 981 in the first complete Great Register (on August 7, 1866) of Santa Clara County.
Cyrus Loveland was living in Santa Clara County as late as 1883, but he spent some of his later years in traveling in Europe. He is said to have kissed the Blarney Stone and to have “had some merit as a poet.” Either claim can be made by few ex-cowboys. He was a farmer-house painter by occupation in his later years, after he decided to hang up his drover’s spurs. Loveland was a loyal Republican in politics but he never held political office during his lifetime, which came to an end in New York City on December 17, 1885. He was buried in Green Wood Cemetery.
Cyrus Loveland left six children: Fremont B., Austin Clark, Lillian Elizabeth, Naomi Josephine, and Lucy Lincoln Loveland were born between 1853 and 1863. Austin Clark Loveland was quite a well-known California pioneer in his own right. He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School but did not hang up his shingle. Instead he became a farmer and apiarist in Pala Township, San Diego County. In 1892 he was elected Justice of the Peace of the township. He died November 3, 1931.
Walter Crow was a true ’49er who decided to locate in the rich San Joaquin Valley rather than in the foothills of the Sierra. He returned to Missouri in 1850, determined to drive five hundred head of Durham cattle overland to a beef-hungry California before settling down. He began his drive with his four sons and a band of cowboys which included Cyrus C. Loveland. Crow and his sons established a ranch on Orestimba Creek and it was for him and his family that the old town of Crows Landing, in the San Joaquin River bottom south of Patterson, is named.
Old Walter brought his sons Ben, Martin, Alfred, and James with him in 1850. In 1865 again, one of the Crow clan, James Thomas Crow of Curryville, Missouri, brought a 42-wagon train overland to Oakdale, California, where he arrived in September. He then went to Crow’s Landing to set himself up in the stock raising business too. He was the son of Walter and Susan Crow and was born in Mercer County, Kentucky, in 1825. He would be the Jim Crow given the wrong middle initial by Loveland–James “A.” Crow, instead of James T. Crow. He had returned from the drive that Loveland describes to settle in Pike County, but like most of the Crow flock, he decided to pull up his stakes and go to California. He did so as the day of their overland cattle drives to California were ending. James’s son, John Bradford Crow, born in Missouri in 1855, took over the ranch after him. The patriarch of the family, Walter Crow, brought to California what was said by tradition to be the first Winchester rifle seen in those parts. With it he killed many of the (then) ubiquitous grizzlies. It was this gun which is said to have been used to kill his grandson, Walter J. Crow. Crow is blamed for most of the bloodshed at Mussel Slough in 1880, where four settlers were killed and two wounded. Unable to get his Winchester out of his wagon, Crow made do with two shotguns but, out of ammunition, he had to flee on foot through the fields from the scene of the battle. He was shot down, from ambush, with his own rifle, probably by either James B. Flewelling, hiding in a tree, or possibly by Chris Evans of Sontagand-Evans fame.
Old Walter Crow picked a rough year in which to start the first of a series of family cattle drives. According to the 1882 History of Boone County: “The spring of 1850 was unusually inclement and backward, greatly to the regret of the California emigrants. There was a heavy fall of snow in Boone County on Sunday, April 14, which remained on the ground until the next day, when it vanished.” But the stakes were high, as another drover, Charles Coil, noted. In 1851 he brought three hundred and fifty choice cows to the lush tule bottoms of Yolo County’s Cache Creek. He sold them for $75-$200 a head. As late as 1855 milch cows were bringing $100 ahead in California. Small wonder then that a host of men would follow Crow’s example. But little is known of them, of men like the Illinois of 1853–Charles Fenner Gill, Elias Wells and Francis Marion Willis; of 185– George H. Amos, Henry T. Sadorus, Daniel Eaton, and Solomon Gage; or of Captain William S. Frost of Lee County, Illinois, who made his drive in 1859; or Major Howard Egan who, in 1855, drove 1,500 shorthorns from Utah to California.
Thanks to Loveland’s detailed account, we have a picture which would probably fit all of the various overland drives, whether from Missouri, Texas, Illinois, or even Utah. Since Walter Crow’s drive was one of the first, it set the model for those which followed, although change did set in as the years passed. Thus, Captain D. C. Rumsey, for whom Rumsey, Yolo County, was named, reported that when he drove stock west in 1852–only two years after the Crow-Loveland effort–the owner of strayed stock had to take an option on his animals. That is, if he wanted them back, he had to pay $10 a head for them to those who found them. This contrasts markedly with the technique of the Crow boys as described by Loveland in his narrative. When they sought to reclaim their lost stock, they just loosened their Colts in their holsters and gave a hitch to their gunbelts to make their point.
Richard H. Dillon
Mill Valley, California
|Ranching Catalogue Part 2 Contents||Home||Contact Us|
Please let us know if you encounter any typographical or other errors in the text. Write the Webmaster.