Last updated: March 6, 2020
The Lusk Herald
October 21, 1992
Western magazine article details 1910 cattle drives through county
by Dee Huls, Herald General Manager
The experiences of living during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when huge cattle drives came up from the south through what is now Niobrara County, were recently discovered, detailed in a 1969 edition of "Westerner Magazine."
Art Mahnke of Lusk spotted the article in the September-October issue of the magazine. The story was written by Homer Crisman, who visited with Carl and Jessie Baughn.
Jessie and Carl's families had homesteaded in Wyoming. Jessie's family settled in an area south of where Manville sprouted and she recalled the hardships of living in the area where the cattle drives were numerous, enroute to markets in Montana.
Jessie recalled "the trail drives, passing almost endlessly during the early summer days.
"She recalled the many times when she had watched the dust clouds to the south materialize into a herd of 'longhorns.' Her parents had warned her and the other children that they must never play outside so long as the cattle were passing," Crisman wrote.
"The cattle, they explained, were accustomed to the men on horseback, but, when a person appeared on foot, he was always in danger of being injured or possibly killed by the more-or-less wild cattle.
"Being born along an old cattle trail that ran north from Texas, it is easy for me to remember the fenceless land and the plowed furrow that was the boundary of our homestead," Crisman said. "It is not difficult, either, to recall the problems of the cowboys as they endeavored to keep their herds out of our grain fields," Crisman wrote.
"Many times it was an impossible task as watering spots were difficult to reach and eventually friction occurred between outfits' and 'nesters'.
In the article, Crisman credited the Baughns with providing the detailed accounting of living close to the old cattle trails. Before she married Carl, Jessie's family lived in a tar-paper shack for a number of years "while proving up." Crisman said this "was common on the prairies in the early 1900s.
"The structures usually were made of 2 x 4 timbers, possibly supporting some kind of siding lumber and a roof. The sides and the roof were covered with black roofing tarpaper. Thus the name, 'tar-paper shack', the author wrote.
"There was a door and a window with the door facing the south or the east. A more elaborate dwelling might boast another window, and as the family got larger, and if finances justified, there might be added an extra room or 'lean-to'. Outside of the house a corral was constructed to accommodate the reliable horse and the milk-cow, often with a crude sort of 'wind-break' for their protection during severe weather.
"The herd, consisting of some two thousand cattle strung out as far as the eye could see, horns striking together, was a sight never to be forgotten," Crisman wrote.
"When they approached the homestead, the children watched through a crack of the door. From the time the cattle put in their first appearance, Jessie would note the arrangement of the cowboys and what appeared to be their duties.
"First there were the 'pointers,' the two cowboys near the head of the long string of cattle. When they seemed headed for the cabin, the 'pointers' would go into action, each apparently knowing exactly what the other was to do.
"In this instance the herd was to be turned to the left, and she noticed the one on the right took his position nearer the head of the herd, gradually 'pushing' them to the left with no particular effort of confusion.
"When they had moved far enough to the left to pass the improvements, the pointers would reverse their positions and the herd would again be directed onto the trail," Crisman wrote.
"The whole maneuver called for the cooperation of the other cowboys, the next in line being the 'swing' and the 'flank' riders. Their duties seemed to be that of keeping the cattle in line and moving, because as soon as they left the trail, there was opportunity for grazing. Those wanting to graze would have to wait until all of the herd was 'thrown' off the trail for meal time for the outfit, or when they made camp for the night.
"She learned that one of the most important persons in the outfit was the 'cook,' and sometimes he would come by and leave them a few cookies. The 'big boss' of an outfit discovered the 'boys' were much more willing and better workers if they were all well fed," Crisman wrote. "Gradually the 'chuck wagon' had been improved until it carried a larger amount of provisions, though it required four horses for the hauling.
"The next in line of importance was the cowboy known as the 'wrangler.' It was his duty to see that the most important part of the cowboy's equipment, his horses, were kept properly cared for and immediately available," the author noted.
It was true that the cowboy would rather be without any other part of his equipment than to not have his horse. Each of the men would usually have five or six horses, and would change his mount several times a day, probably at mealtime, or as he found it necessary for the good of the animal.
"Altogether this required considerable attention on the part of the 'wrangler', Crisman wrote.
"Last, but not least, in the thinking of the cowboys were the 'drags.' It became the duty of these fellows to follow at the 'tail-end' of the herd and bring up what we call 'the drop-outs,' or the 'drags.' In every herd there were cattle which could not stand the pressure of constant walking the trail.
"Feet would become sore or in some manner they would be injured and drop behind the main herd. The work of the 'drags' was the most undesirable job in the outfit. Usually this duty fell to the less experienced hands or to the younger fellows who wanted to 'get on' with an outfit.
"Most, if not all, of the better hands would 'ask for their pay' if they found themselves assigned to 'drag' duty," Crisman wrote. "The fellows who drew the side of the herd away from the prevailing wind direction 'ate a lot of dust' during a day, but the poor 'drags' seemed to be in the dust all day, regardless of the direction of the wind."
(Ed. note: Jessie Baughn's recollections of the turn-of-the-century cattle drives will be continued in an upcoming issue of the Lusk Herald.)
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