Monday, March 10, 2014

True Stories of Texas Trail Drives

By Vickie McDonough

It’s estimate that 25,000 to 35,000 men trailed six to ten million head of cattle and a million horses from Texas, through Indian Territory to Kansas between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century. Though the long, dusty trips included drudgery and hardship, the drive also promised danger and excitement. It was often the most unforgettable experience for many young men and created memories to last a lifetime. Stories of crossing raging rivers, stampedes, fighting Indians and rustlers were shared for the rest of their days. While many drives were successful and resulted in making ranchers wealthy men, many were not. I thought it might be interesting to hear some tales from actual drovers.

Texas longhorn
Jeff Connelly of Lockhart, Texas, says he was paid $1.50 per day and board was furnished for herding cattle in 1881 & ’82. He said that on one drive, they were looking for a place near Okmulgee (now in OK) to camp and stumbled upon a man hanging dead in a tree. A sign posted on the tree read: Death to anyone who cuts him down. Needless to say, Jeff and his friends left the man and went on to camp somewhere else.

 In talking about the days before chuck wagons traveled with a herd, Luther A. Lawhon states: There was an unwritten law, recognized by the good women of the towns as well as of the country, that whenever a party of cowboys rode up and asked to have bread baked, it mattered not the time of day, the request was to be cheerfully complied with. Not from fear of insult in case of refusal—for each and every cowboy was the champion defender of womanhood, and would have scorned to have uttered a disrespectful word in her presence—but from an accommodating spirit and a kindness of heart, which was universally characteristic in those frontier days.

Map of Famous Cattle Trails through Indian Territory

J.D. Jackson, a tenderfoot from Kentucky, decided to try his hand at driving cattle. The cowboys had fun teasing him and told him stories of Indian attacks until he wouldn’t leave camp alone after dark. One night, Den Knight awakened J.D. and said he needed his help to move the horses closer to camp so Indians wouldn’t get them. What J.D. didn’t know was that a dozen of the other cowboys were waiting in the bushes. They’d tied bunches of grass on their head and had gotten sohol stalks for lances. Just as J.D. and Den got off their horses and prepared to untie the staked horses, the “Indians” attacked. The boys came charging up on their horses, yelling and shooting and making all kinds of wild noises. Knight fell over and pretended to be fatally shot and told J.D. to make his escape. No one expected the tenderfoot to make it back to his horse before the jig was up, but J.D. did. By 10 o’clock the next morning, he’d ridden sixty miles to Marfa. He arrived exhausted and told the townsfolk the Indians had attacked their party, and he was the only one to escape. When J.D. found out it was all a joke, he decided the West wasn’t for him and returned to Kentucky.
Ben Drake tells of a drive he went on in 1879. As they neared Indian Territory, he was captured by Indians and carried off to their camp, where he remained for three months. He ate terrapin and dog meat cooked together and was glad to have it. He said that eventually an old chief went to Texarkana and got a U.S. marshal who came and collected him and returned him to Austin.

L.D. Taylor tells about driving the chuck wagon about a mile behind the herd when four Indians approached and asked for “tarbucket.” He grabbed the tar bucket and gave it to them but they shook their heads and put their hands in his pockets and took all of his tobacco. He said they gave a grunt and took off with the tobacco and tar bucket. In camp that night, his brother asked why he permitted the Indians to take the tar, but L.D. replied, “I was glad they did not take my scalp.”

Part of The Good Ole Days, a poem by Luther A. Lawhon.

The old-time cowboy had ‘is faults, ‘tis true, as has been said.
He’d look upon the licker when the licker, men, wuz red;
His language weren’t allers spoke accordin’ to the rule;
Ner wuz it sech as ye’d expect to hear at Sunday school.
But when he went to meetin’, men, he didn’t yawn or doze,
Or set there takin’ notice of the congregation’s clothes.
He listened to the preacher with respect, an’ all o’ that,
An’ he never failed to ante when they passed aroun’ the hat!

Excerpts taken from The Trail Drivers of Texas by University of Texas Press, Austin. This is a great book for anyone interested in Texas history or cattle drives.

Just released! South Carolina Brides. Visit historic South Carolina where secrets disrupt the lives of three women. A cousin’s quest takes a drastic turn when she falls for the man she thought she despised. A young woman’s sheltered world crumbles after she finds a badly beaten stranger on a nearby plantation. And a sister’s heart is torn when the neighbor who killed her brother in a duel returns home a changed man. Between betrayal and lies, is there room for love?

 Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen and others living in the western 1800s. Vickie is the award-winning author of 29 published books and novellas. Her books include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and End of the Trail, which was the OWFI 2013 Best Fiction Novel winner. Whispers on the Prairie, which released last July, was chosen by Romantic Times as one of their Recommended Inspirational Books for July.

Vickie is a wife of thirty-eight years, mother of four grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and grandma to a feisty seven-year-old girl. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:


  1. I loved the poem and the colorful words, what a little amount of money for all that hard work on a cattle drive. thanks for sharing this post today. I think those men were probably just as colorful as the words of the poem and would have liked to meet and talk to some.
    your book looks great, I like historicals and would like reading this one.
    Paula O(

    1. I'm with you, Paula. Lots of work for a puny amount of money, but I can see the allure for men--being outside, working among a group of friends, always being on the move. Not so much what most women are looking for. :)

  2. Very cool, love history !
    Linda Finn

  3. I love this post, Vickie! Such fascinating stories from the hard-working cowboys of the cattle drives! Congratulations on the release of South Carolina Brides!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Britney! I enjoyed reading the different cowboy tales while researching this story.

  4. Vickie, Really great post. driving the cattle was not as easy as we sometimes picture in reading our novels. Had to admire what they all went through.
    Thank you for mentioning the book The Trail Drivers Of Texas , I will have to try to find it. Love the history.
    Congratulations on your new book. I am sure it will be excellent like your others

    1. Thanks so much, Jackie. I imagine cowboys driving cattle would face lots of challenges. Just thinking about all that dirt makes me feel the need to sneeze.

  5. Such interesting stories! Thanks for sharing. I so enjoy reading your books!

    Heidi Reads...

  6. Great post, Vickie! Thank you for sharing. Long, rugged cattle drives had to be such hard work. Congratulations on that great book of yours.

    mauback55at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Melanie! Just think about riding cattle all day and then having to sleep on the hard ground all night. I'd miss my bed.

  7. Being a cowboy in Indian Territory took some courage, stamina, and plain guts. Not for me! I'd love to win and read South Carolina Brides. sharon, ca wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com