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Theodore Roosevelt
and the Dakota Badlands
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A Typical Cattle Drive

It may be of interest to recount at this point some of the salient facts about a typical cattle drive from Texas to the northern ranges in the 1880's, a development that brought Montana and the Dakotas into prominence as a cattle range land. In 1884 Ben Bird, who was to become a contemporary of Roosevelt's in the Badlands, started from what is now Lubbock, Tex., and drove cattle to Doan's Stone, a trail store at the crossing of the Red River on the Fort Griffin-Fort Dodge cattle trail. Eight or nine herds were delayed there by high water. While they waited, inspectors of the Texas Stock Growers' Association cut the trail herds—that is, they checked the brands and removed the strays so that cattle which did not rightfully belong to the trail herd would not leave Texas. When the Red River was low enough, the herd swam across.

The herd grazed northward, crossing the South and North Canadian and Arkansas Rivers. The trail then made a quarter circle west and north to avoid the settlers who were spreading west from Dodge City. The towns of Trail City, Kit Carson, and Julesburg were on the route through Colorado. At old Stoneville (Alzada), Mont., the trail divided. If the herd was driven toward Miles City it crossed the Little Missouri River there or farther north near Camp Crook. Four thousand head of Long X cattle came this way in 1884 and passed near Mingusville (Wibaux), Mont., en route to ranch headquarters (just above the present North Unit of the park). Cattle destined for ranches east of the Little Missouri were separated from the trail herd at Stoneville and followed the divide east of the river.

On the long drive north from Texas the cattle were placed on a bed ground at night. Two riders circled the herd in opposite directions so that they met twice on the way around. The herd was taken off the bed ground at daylight and grazed 2 on 3 miles along the trail before the night men were relieved for breakfast. The relief men kept the herd moving slowly along. Three thousand cattle would string out in an irregular column for a mile to a mile and a half. About 11 a. m. the lead cattle were driven off the trail and grazed until the rest of the herd caught up. About 1 p. m. the herd was started on the trail again. Generally the cattle driven to the northern ranges were 1- or 2-year-olds.

Although methods of handling cattle were quite similar on northern and southern ranges the different purposes of the stockmen in the two sections brought about a recognizable difference. In Texas, greater emphasis was placed on breeding to produce a sizable calf crop which might eventually be sold in the north. On the northern ranges the object was to fatten the raw-boned cattle for the market as soon as possible.

Usually in driving the herd north the trail drivers preferred to avoid the settlements. When the herd arrived at its destination the cowboys might let go more than usual. Normally they were hard working men and a very important cog in a highly specialized industry. In 1884 Theodore Roosevelt stated:

The cowboys are a much misrepresented set of people. It is a popular impression that when one goes among them he must be prepared to shoot. But this is a false idea. I have taken part with them in the rounding up, have eaten, slept, hunted and herded cattle with them, and have never had any difficulty. If you choose to enter rum shops with them or go on drinking sprees with them it is as easy to get into a difficulty out there as it would be in New York, or anywhere else. But if a man minds his own business and at the same time shows that he is fully prepared to assert his rights—if he is neither a bully nor a coward and keeps out of places in which he has no business to be—he will get along as well as in Fifth Avenue. I have found them a most brave, and hospitable set of men. There is no use in trying to be overbearing with them for they won't stand the least assumption of superiority, yet there are many places in our cities where I should feel less safe than I would among the wildest cowboys of the West.

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