Today’s San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo parade featured 125 longhorn cattle. It celebrated a tradition of moving large herds of this special breed from Texas to markets in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana where the post-Civil War demand for meat to feed a hungry nation brought higher prices.
The trek was both arduous and dangerous, and required special skills to both protect and control the cattle along the way. This new methodology gave birth to the cowboy; men who were willing to forgo sleep to keep the cattle moving, faced threats from Mother Nature, Indians, and cattle rustlers, and endured long stretches of isolation with few comforts and infrequent interaction with anyone other than their fellow trail riders.
The cowboys worked sun-up to sun-down throughout a cattle drive, doing so in shifts to allow both rest and time to eat. The herds were especially vulnerable at night and had to be guarded lest any occurrence like lightning and thunder, animal predators, sudden movement or strange sounds caused them to stampede. To keep them calm during the hours of darkness cowboys took to singing. Not every man had to have a “soothing voice,” but all had to know how to sit a horse, handle a rope, set a brand to the hide without burning the animals flesh, saw off horns when they got too long and posed a danger to other livestock, administer medicine when infection or disease threatened the herd, and shoot with a rifle or revolver to fight off Indians and rustlers. – excerpt from Palo Duro.
The cowboy legacy lives on in rodeos, movies, television, books, and at active cattle ranches across the West. While there are only a few longhorn cattle remaining (a symbol of a bygone era,) for its part Texas remains the largest cattle raising state in the nation, still providing beef for both domestic and international consumption.