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The roundup

Monday, February 20, 2012

From the McCook Tribune Summer 1883

The whole country, north, south and west of McCook is one vase cattle range, occupied by cattlemen. Except for the cattlemen, this region is unsettled. They came before the public land in this part of the country was surveyed. After the land was surveyed and subject to entry, some filed claims on the best land, building houses and corrals. Many thousands of acres were fraudulently entered by cattlemen and their employees, making entries without proof. Patents have been issued for land embraced by these entries. Cattlemen believe that this country is only suitable for grazing. Their herds pasture upon government land, and of course, pay nothing.

The most likely, and only feasible, location for a ranch is a grove of cottonwood trees on the bank of some stream. Here the rancher builds a log house or a soddy, then a stable of similar material, and as soon as he can, a pole corral. The rancher selects a stream for his ranch site because he must have water in greater abundance than he can secure from a well. The usual method of drawing water from a well with two wooden buckets, one on each end of a rope running through a pulley, in sufficient quantity to satisfy the needs of many thirsty cattle, is out of the question.

Then the rancher must have trees with which to build, and those trees grow only along the streams. Even if his buildings are of sod he needs wood for fuel. Occasionally he can find an outcropping of rock, suitable for building purposes, and when he does, he makes good use of it, as witness the Stone Ranch up the Driftwood in Hitchcock County.

Not a fence has been built yet in this vast range country, except along the railroad, and it must be said that the construction of this fence has been opposed by the cattleman, even though his cattle are often killed by trains.

The native cattle are not of good quality. They have been driven into the country from the south, principally from Texas. They are small and have immense spreading horns. The horns on many of the beasts measure as much as eight or nine feet from tip to tip, while the cattle themselves, when fully grown do not weigh five hundred pounds. Within the last two or three years, thousands of cattle of good quality have been shipped into the country from the eastern states and driven into the grazing regions north and west of McCook.

These cattle will do well in the summer, but they have been accustomed to being fed and sheltered in the winter, and it remains to be seen whether the imported cattle will be able to survive the blizzards. The native, or Texas cattle, are as wild as deer. They rustle for themselves the year round. Their only feed is the prairie grasses. Their only shelter is the canyons.

The cattle of different owners mingle, as there are no fences. At times in storms they drift many miles. The owner seldom sees his cattle after branding, except at round-up time. Most of the cattle in this region have been brought here from Texas. To prevent drifting of the cattle north from Texas, a fence 200 miles long has been constructed from Indian Territory across the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico.

There are two roundups a year, one in the spring, usually in May or June, the other in September. The roundup is a communal affair. Ranches are scattered at rather widely separated distances all over the territory north, south and west of McCook.

Every man's cattle bear his brand -- usually a figure or a design easily distinguishable from every other brand. The cattlemen have an association, the officers of which determine the time of and the rules for the conduct of the roundup. To the roundup they contribute in money and in men, in proportion to the size of their herds. A foreman is selected. This man has despotic authority while the roundup is in progress. The riders are under the foreman's direction. He designates the rendezvous each night. He assigns every man his task. He determines the territory that shall be covered each day. He arbitrates the numerous disputes that arise.

A chuck wagon, in the charge of a cook and his assistants, accompanies each outfit. Between daylight and dark it travels the distance from one camp to the next -- usually a matter of not more than 10 miles. The fare served to the roundup hands is plain, but wholesome. It consists of bread, baked in a Dutch oven, beans, potatoes, bacon and coffee -- the latter sweetened or not, depending on the individual drinker's choice, but without milk or cream.

The purpose of the fall roundup is to cut out the cattle to be shipped to market. In the spring roundup the calves are branded. A calf is given the markings of the cow with which it is found.

The roundup is not unattended with dangers and hardships. The ponies used are tough little broncos. Some of them are never tamed, but must be re-broken every time they are saddled. Fractured bones are frequently suffered, and once in a while a broken neck as well. Yet, there is a fascination about the life that attracts men to it.

In September, the weather is uniformly pleasant. The days are filled with sunshine. The mirage blurs the distance with its steely haze. At evening, a few clouds sometimes hang near the western horizon. At first grey, they turn to rose, then to red, then to crimson, and finally, as the sun sinks below the rim of the earth, they seem to burst into flames, and, as night creeps up from the east, they disappear, as though they had been consumed.

The night camp may be a hill top where a breeze, very welcome after a scorching day, comes laden with the scent of sage. Or the camp may be on some stream's bank in a little grove of trees made musical by the moving of the wind. The blazing fire is ringed with utter darkness, and reduces the visible world to the dimensions of a prison cell. The stupendous majesty of the ever changing scene is influenced in ways the minds of those who take part in the great spectacle of the west never knew existed.

Thus, the romance of the roundup as seen (or imagined) by the McCook Tribune 1883.

Source: "The History of McCook", the unpublished manuscript by H.P. Waite from the pages of The McCook Tribune, on view at the Museum of the High Plains, McCook.

The Roundup, A Young Man's Game 1883

Texas Longhorn

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In about 1964-65 my Grandfather escorted by the then owner, Ted Metz of the Stone Ranch took me on a tour of the Ranch. Inplanted in the rocks at atop the Stone Rock ridges were huge sea turtles. I stood on the backs of these giant turtles stone remains from thousands of not millions of years prior.

Also Mr. Sehnert, in regards to your recent story about the shooting on the Driftwood Creek and Bill Stock finding the gun that now is in the Hitchcock Co. Museum--Bill handed me that gun to look at in about 1978 and told me the story exactly as you report.

It would be great if you could write about the very early farmers near Culbertson who deverted water from the Frenchman in to the then Culbertson Canal and or Crews Canals.

You do an excellent job reminding us of our heritage and past--thank you.

-- Posted by Kid Kokamo on Thu, Feb 23, 2012, at 1:17 PM

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By