Class Notes

We tend to follow the myth that surrounds the cowboy as a loner and western ranchers as rugged individuals. While there is certainly some truth to that, the cow drives of legend were actually started by eastern entrepreneurs who saw a simple problem of supply and demand, terms we don’t tend to associate with cow drives. Joseph McCoy who started the first drives was an entrepreneur, no different than other men of his age like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. He recognized that people in the east had developed a taste for beef but did not have many beef cows. While at the same time there were wild cattle in Texas but no market to sale them to. He came up with the solution that if he could convince Kansas towns to build holding pens then Texas cowboys could drive up cattle and ship them on the new railways back east. Most Kansas towns did not agree with his vision, until Abilene. They built the pens, the cowboys brought the cattle, the trains shipped them back east and everyone made money and the cattle drive was born. The dives did not last long, only about 10 years. It became easier to build railways south to towns like Fort Worth. This is a case of the myth being better than the truth, who doesn’t love a good John Wayne cattle drive movie.

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