History of Wyoming - Chapter XXII
Origin of the Cattle Business—The Great Grass Ranges—The Call of the Wild—Early Cattle Growing Methods—Possession Nine Points—Improved Conditions—Old Texas Trail—Sheep and Wool Industry—Early Conditions—Range Disputes—Better Conditions—Forest Grazing—Wool Production—Horse Raising in Wyoming ... 363
    The live stock industry of Wyoming, which for a long time was its only general industry, has a history varied and romantic, with occasional episodes of the tragic and spectacular. After the nomadic, roaming adventurers–the explorers, hunters, trappers and fur traders–came the first permanent settlers, who were stockmen. These brave, enterprising frontiersmen began to settle and make homes in Wyoming long before the Indians were driven out or made peaceable. They endured all the privations and dangers of the wilderness. The forts established along the old trails gave them a little protection and at the same time afforded them a market for the beef and horses which the Government required.
    The origin of the cattle business, although many writers have asserted that the discovery of the remarkable value of Wyoming's grass ranges was the cause, was made as follows:
    "Early in December, 1864, a Government trader with a wagon train of supplies drawn by oxen, was on its way to Camp Douglas, Utah, but on being overtaken on the Laramie Plains by an unusually severe snow storm, was compelled to go into winter quarters. He turned his cattle loose, having no place to protect or feed them, expecting they would perish by exposure and starvation. They remained about the camp, and as the snow was blown away found abundant forage in the cured buffalo grass. When spring opened, instead of losing any, he found them in better condition than when they were turned out to die."
    Similar experiences came to many of the caravans following the old Oregon and California trails. Footsore and weak oxen, unable to travel any farther, were turned out to become the prey of wolves and mountain lions, their owners never expecting to see them again, but on return trips they were found fat and healthy. Their tameness and natural instinct led them to graze along the trails and watering points which every trail must have, and in this way they were easily found.
    Very soon Wyoming became known as the finest grass range territory in the United States, and as fast as protection could be given to permanent settlers, the industry grew to large proportions. The industry soon began to appeal to the capitalists of the East as an especially remunerative investment. It also made a romantic and adventurous appeal to the scions of nobility and rich men's sons in Europe, having the "call of the wild" in their veins, and dreaming of life on the plains and mountains, under the open sky, riding, hunting, fishing and camping out. At that time immense herds of antelope roamed the plains, thousands of elk in large bands roamed in the mountains, and deer were plentiful in the foothills. Even the buffalo had not been driven out.
    Wyoming has a fascination for red-blooded men. The pure mountain air, the brilliant sunshine, cloudless skies and scenic attractions of hill, valley and mountain, were part of the assets of the business in the eyes of foreign investors. They were sentimental assets that counted as money. From 1870 to 1885 the cattle industry grew by leaps and bounds. The old cattlemen sold out their holdings at a big profit, and in many cases reorganized as companies with largely increased capital. The cattle business became a fad*ndash;a fashion. Rich men's sons, college and university graduates, foreign investors in France, England and Scotland put their money in the business. The Wyoming Stockgrowers' Association, the first association of the kind ever formed, represented a capitalization of over one hundred million dollars when Wyoming was still a wilderness. Wyoming was then Cheyenne and Cheyenne was Wyoming. According to live stock capitalization then, Cheyenne was the richest city in' the world on a per capita basis.
    Picture Wyoming as an immense and high plateau, broken by foothills and lofty mountain ranges, with a network of rivers and small streams spreading out over the state, interspersed with intervening stretches of level or rolling grass lands. Picture the territory as practically without settlement, a wilderness of free Government lands open to the world and entirely unappropriated. It was "any man's land," and so the cattlemen took possession. None of the great cattle companies then took the trouble to homestead or file on land under the Government laws. A company organized to go into the range business would start in by first selecting a range. The manager and perhaps one or two of the owners would ride over the county and examine its grazing facilities, water supply, timber or hill protection, etc. They would select the range they wanted and then find the best place on it for the "home ranch" or headquarters of "their range." They then established definite, natural boundaries of the range, naming its north, south, east and west lines. As soon as they got their cattle moved and their brands purchased and recorded, they would issue a public announcement in the advertising columns of a well-circulated newspaper as follows: First, a cut of a steer and a horse with the brand of the company plainly printed on the animal; then the name of the company and a list of brands they owned; and then followed by the notice, reading about this way: "The I. X. L. Cattle Company; home ranch on Poison Spider. Our range extends from Muddy Creek, north to Elk Buttes, east to Slam Bang Mountain and west to Stag River."
    This domain was taken possession of and all parties were thus warned not to trespass on the same, under penalty of disobeying an unwritten law. The early cattlemen all respected these defined ranges, because each cattle owner or company held their own tenure under the same custom and rules of possession. In most cases there was not even a filing or application for the ground upon which they built their cabins, corrals, etc. Although this system smacks of medieval times, for many years it held sway without any objection or interference. It was a wild, unsettled country that no one cared to use, and the cattle pastured thereon, fattened and shipped to market, was so much added to the resources of the settlers and the state. It was a new country, a free-for-all room for everybody, for about twenty years, when the range began to be overstocked and settlers began to come in, take up homesteads and build wire fences. Then little troubles started, and when the sheepmen began to introduce their flocks, big troubles and murderous feuds resulted. A wire fence was then an abomination to the range cattlemen. It prevented the herds from drifting in storms and finding a natural shelter in the timber and brush or hillsides.
    Formerly inferior grades of wild Texas or Mexican cattle were turned out on the ranges to face the storms and rigors of winter, frozen streams, short grass and almost an entire lack of human care and attendance. There were practically no cultivated farms, no forage crops, very little hay and few improvements in the way of sheds and corrals, or barns for shelter. Cattle were turned out at the mercy of the elements and those that were shipped to market were simply grass fed. Most of the companies and owners of herds managing the business on the old, barbaric method "went broke" in the end, as they deserved, but they learned their lesson. They bet on the capacity of a steer to rustle for himself and make money for them while they were living luxuriously in clubhouses or traveling in Europe, and they lost.
    Now all is changed. The old system is only a memory. Today Wyoming is dotted with improved farms, both dry and irrigated. All the enterprising stockmen own fine improved ranches with sheds, fences, corrals, and barns, as well as fine residences. No one can now travel very far in Wyoming without seeing barns, haystacks, fields of alfalfa, oats and corn, and he will note the sleek, well-fed stock grazing as quietly and contentedly as in New England pastures. The stockman has not only found out that it pays to keep his cattle well housed and well fed, but also that better breeding is a great money making proposition. There has been a wonderful improvement in the high grade character of our cattle and in the new values thus obtained. The Texas longhorn and Dogie is no longer roaming the ranges. A glimpse of the growth and development of the cattle business of the state may be had in the following table, showing the number of cattle assessed and valuation by decades from 1886 to 1916:
Number Valuation
1886 898,121 $14,651,125
1896 297,240 3,732,558
1906 508,075 7,233,427
1916 735,217 26,241,059
Note—As the assessment is at least forty per cent below the actual number and value of the cattle, an allowance must be made to that exent, but the relative proportions of the different years will remain the same. The actual number will reach 1,120,000, having a real value of over $50,000,000.
    It will be seen from this table that the cattle industry of the state is making great strides, notwithstanding the gradual disappearance of the public range and the influx of dry farming settlers. It is in fact becoming more firmly established and the rapid increase of the number of cattle raised and marketed from the state can be confidently predicted as keeping pace with the increased number of farm and grazing homesteads.
    In referring to old-time range conditions as a matter of history, an interesting and characteristic feature was the "Old Texas Trail." We quote from a valuable contribution on that subject by United States Senator John B. Kendrick, in the State Leader of December 10, 1916:
    "The 'Texas Trail' was the highway over which a tide of cattle was moved from Southwestern and Western Texas to the northwestern states, including Indian Territory, Kansas, Western Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming Territory, North and South Dakota and Montana. The surplus of these cattle had been accumulating for many years, being the increase of herds during the period just preceding and including the period of the Civil war. Many of the cattle were even unbranded at the time the movement began."
    "The millions of cattle ranging in Southern and Western Texas at the close of the Civil war were all of the Spanish breed and originated from the cattle taken to Mexico by the Spaniards in the Sixteenth Century. The movement began in the early '60s, including first a few droves of cattle that found market in the Indian Territory and Eastern Kansas, increasing in volume with each passing year until it reached its flood tide in 1884, when it was estimated that 800,000 cattle were moved over the trail."
    After giving an account of his adventures on a trip over the trail, he says: "On my first trip we never saw, as I remember it, a single habitation of man from a point in Texas, fifty miles south of Red River, until we reached Dodge City, Kan., fifty miles north of the Kansas and Indian Territory line, at the crossing of the Cimarron River, a distance of 400 miles. When we reached the river there was nothing in sight but a bed of sand over which one could walk without even dampening the soles of his boots; within half an hour after this enormous herd of cattle had 'struck' the river bed there was a flow of at least six inches of water running over the sand, as a result of the tramping by the cattle, and in this way our herd was watered without difficulty.
    "Another interesting thing I might mention is that I do not remember coming in contact with or seeing a wire fence between Fort Worth, Texas, and the head of the Running Water in Wyoming. The most hardened and unobservant cowboy could not help but be impressed with the beautiful and ever varying scenery on the way. The element of danger that was a part of almost every day's experience did not detract from the fascination of the trip, you may be sureā€”the danger from Indians and the holding of a large herd of cattle in a night so dark that no ray or glimmer of light was to be seen, and when the most insignificant incident or the slightest accident–a stumbling horse, a flash of lightning, the smell of a wild animal–might cause a stampede that would last for hours. After such a night of hardship and terror the men would be exhausted and utterly discouraged with their lot, but a good night's rest would cause them to look upon life in the same cheerful way again."
    What at one time was the great highway traversed by great herds of cattle in charge of capable men and accompanied by thousands of horses, has been abandoned and lives now, if at all, only as a part of the history and development of the Great West.
    The future of Wyoming's cattle industry is assured. The enactment of the 640-acre grazing homestead bill will undoubtedly add two or three hundred per cent to the number and market production of all classes of live stock. That not only assures the utilization of every acre of the public domain, but, together with dry farming and irrigation, means ample provision for home feeding, fattening and maintaining the best breeds, thus providing against losses and giving greater profits than the industry has ever had.
    As a sheep and wool growing state, Wyoming leads all the other states of the Union. At different times Montana has contested this position, but now holds second place, with New Mexico a good third. The first sheep were introduced in Wyoming by Durbin brothers of Cheyenne in 1870. That year they trailed 800 sheep from New Mexico through Colorado to the vicinity of Cheyenne, mainly for slaughter, some for grazing. In 1871 they brought in 1,500 more. A few others began to bring in small bunches until in 1878 there were 9,000 head in the state. These were practically wiped out by the great snow storm of March, 1878.
    Notwithstanding this disaster, others began to engage in the business, and the flocks increased gradually. In 1886 there were over five hundred thousand head. Taking the official assessments, which accounted for about two-thirds of the actual numbers, the growth of the industry may be indicated by decades as follows: In 1896 there were 1,962,095 head; in 1906 there were 4,312,030 head; and in 1916 there were 4,437,445 head. The official figures for 1917 are not available, but owing to the great stimulus given to the industry by the high prices of mutton and wool and the world war demands, the number of sheep in Wyoming today is undoubtedly greater than ever before.
    Although the sheep industry as a whole was immensely profitable, it has had many ups and down from its inception in this state. Under the primitive conditions of its early introduction it was a gamble. The sheep grower hired a htrder who took the flock out on a free range (usually about two thousand in a bunch), and with one or two sheep dogs, and a tent or canvas protected bedding, lived with the sheep and wandered around with them from day to day, seeking new grass and bedding grounds. He packed his grub, cooked his meals and carried a rifle to kill game and keep off wolves. It was a purely nomadic life. There was no shelter except such as nature gave in the timber, under the cliffs or under the cottonwood groves along the mountain streams. It was like the days of Abraham. The obstacles they had to contend with were the general opposition of the cattle growers and cowboys, inclement weather in the lambing or shearing seasons, predatory animals and range disputes.
    As the ranges began to be fully stocked and occupied, serious conflicts between the cowmen and sheepmen occurred. The cattlemen were usually the aggressors, as they claimed a prior right to the range, by early occupation and the prevailing, unwritten law of possession. Sheep were killed, wagons burned, herders driven off and frequently killed. Depredations of this character became quite common. Deadlines were drawn and tjje sheep men notified not to cross them. These troubles, however, lasted but-.a few years. The law was invoked and finally enforced and the sheep grower was fully protected in his rights. In some cases prominent and wealthy cattlemen were sent to the penitentiary. These occurrences were phases of frontier life that grew out of the unsettled conditions of a new state, with such a sparse population that there might not be a dwelling existing within fifty or a hundred miles away from the scenes of disorder.
    Today the new and improved methods of handling sheep have wrought a great transformation in the business and given it a permanence and security it never had before. All the leading sheep companies now have established ranches with extensive corrals, sheds and sheep-feeding stations. When inclement, cold and stormy seasons prevail the sheep are fed hay, alfalfa, corn or oil cake, etc. Every intelligent sheep grower lays in a stock of feed to tide his flocks over the winter in case of heavy storms, and those who do not raise sufficient fodder on their own ranches go into the market and purchase their supplies before winter sets in. Every sheep raising section has its sheep shearing pens, dipping pens and lambing sheds. Great attention is also paid to breeding the best grades of sheep, and the quality of the flocks is being constantly improved by scientific selection.
    Another thing that has added very much to the civilized life of the sheep herder is the universal employment of the modern sheep wagon, with its fine equipment of spring bed, stove and kitchen outfit, which makes a comfortable home in the hills, on the desert or plains. The herder is amply supplied with good food and often camps by mountain streams where he catches trout or shoots sage grouse and rabbits to add appetizing dishes to his larder.
    The sheep industry has been aided by the system inaugurated by the United States department of agriculture, authorizing the grazing of live stock on the forest reserves of the state. Permits are issued and a charge made for the .season of from 5 to 7 cents per head for this privilege, and the last report made for the year 1916 shows that 562,650 head of sheep were grazed that year on the reserves, as shown by the department records:

ForestCattle and HorsesSheep and Goats
Big Horn36,450 106,500
Black Hills 6,000
Bonneville 10,300 10,000
Bridger 17,100 62,750
Hayden 7,400 206,000
Medicine Bow 9.800 62,000
Shoshone 12,300 71.300
Washakie 12.350 44.100
Totals 111.700 562,650
    The following table shows the wool production by pounds in the state for ten years to 1915, together with its value:

Number of Sheep Wool Production Value
1906 4,531,000 32,849,000 $7,253,225
1907 4,4S4,931 33,637,000 7,211,773
1908 4,651,628 37,213,024 6,004,084
1909 4,878,125 40,000,624 8,576,133
1910 4,650,000 36,037,500 6,342,600
1911 4,142,000 34,000,000 5,304,000
1912 3,500,000 28,000,000 5,550,000
1913 3,600,000 29,880,000 4,075,632
1914 3,560,000 28,476,000 5,168,394
1915 3,630,000 29,040,000 6,824,400
    This table is made from the official estimates compiled by the Wyoming Wool Growers' Association. The reports for the years 1916 and 1917 will show not only an increase in sheep and wool production, but will show a tremendous advance in prices of wool and mutton, amounting in some cases to 300 per cent in 1917-18, so that the value of Wyoming's wool for the year 1918 may be estimated at $20,000,000.
    Lamb fattening has become an important branch of the industry within the last ten years. As the sheep have multiplied and the free range diminished through settlement and segregation, flockmasters have been keenly alive to the importance of improving the quality of the wool and the necessity of early maturity in mutton; hence the lambs are going to market in an ever-increasing flood, while winter feeding of lambs is rapidly becoming an important branch of the sheep industry. Lambs are fed on alfalfa hay, together with grain of some sort, or peas, and in one hundred days of winter feeding are made to weigh eighty to ninety pounds. Mutton so produced is considered by epicures the best in the market.


    It has been proven beyond question that horses raised on the foothills and mountains, in the pure, light air of an elevation of from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, have better lungs, stronger and better developed bone and muscle, and tougher hoofs, than horses from any other country. This is borne out by the fact that not only the United States Government during the Spanish-American war and since, but the English Government, for service in South Africa, purchased as many thousand head of horses in Wyoming as could be obtained.
    Since the world war began, agents of the French and English governments have combed the state for horses fitted for artillery, cavalry or ambulance service, and military experts have universally regarded Wyoming-raised horses superior in endurance, muscle and tenacity to those of any other section, and as being especially adapted to the hard and strenuous work required in army campaigns.
    When the range cattle industry started in Wyoming on the Texas plan, every large cattle company employed from fifteen to twenty cowboys, and every cowboy had to be provided with a string of from six to ten ponies. At first these ponies were brought in from Texas and Mexico and were usually designated "Mexican" or "Indian" ponies. They were fleet, tough and wiry, and only required grass as a feed.
    Soon the cattlemen began to raise their own ponies and a pony herd with every cattle outfit was an absolute necessity. After a while it was found that Wyoming was just as well adapted to raising high grade horses as range ponies and the industry has become an important one in the state and has developed to large proportions.
    Taking the annual assessment as a liasis, this state in 1900 had 127,500 head of horses and 1,200 mules. In 1016 the number of horses was 250,000 and the number of mules was 5,200. In 1900 the horses were assessed at $16.75 per head, in 1916 at $54.79 per head, showing a remarkable increase in the grade and value of the stock now raised, compared with the cow ponies of twenty years ago. Since 1900 the aggregate value of Wyoming horses has increased nearly ten times. No horse in the world can compete with the Wyoming horse in endurance of all kinds of hardship to which horse flesh is subjected by man. This is a broad statement, but we make it without fear of refutation; every horseman and horse in the state stands ready to back it up. All kinds of stock do well in this state, health conditions being a great factor in raising swine, chickens, turkeys, etc.
    Embracing about ninety-eight thousand square miles of territory, nearly every acre of which is clothed in a mantle of the most nutritious grasses and sage brush browse, Wyoming presents a territory for grazing purposes 40 per cent larger than is found in all the eastern states combined. Add to this vast food supply the most delightful climate in the world, with cool summers and dry, mild winter, and it is but little wonder that Wyoming has been called the "Stockman's Paradise," and that it has become an important factor in supplying beef, mutton, and wool to the eastern and western markets.