Wyoming Livestock Industry – 1897
Wyoming’s livestock industry, as portrayed in the 1897 publication “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society,” is the topic of this week’s column. Robert C. Morris writes:
The people of Wyoming having been made secure form the depredations of wild Indians, the development of the Territory in the direction of stock raising was very rapid. The railroad running through the southern border of Wyoming, afforded quick transportation of cattle to the east. It had been demonstrated that herds of Texas cattle driven into Wyoming not only lived through the winter but showed a hardiness and increase of weight in the spring greater than would have been looked for if they had remained in the ranges from which they were taken. As the knowledge of the advantages possessed by Wyoming for conducting the business, such as exemption from cattle diseases, security from hostile Indians, the certainty of grass at all seasons of the year and the low rates to market, became known, capital was largely attracted for investment. Previous to 1882, for several years, the price of beef advanced steadily in the eastern markers, and as a consequence, the business of that year was characterized by numerous sales of herds on the range at prices never before known in Wyoming. The men who had ventured in the business were richly rewarded for their enterprise.
Changes in the methods of conducting the business have gradually taken place. The first herds driven into the Territory were composed almost entirely of young steers, and the profit in grazing them accrued simply from the increase in flesh. Later a large proportion of cows were brought in with the increasing herds, and calves were raised on the range. Next the introduction of bulls of high grade prompted owners, desirous of preventing them from roaming with cows other than those in their own herd, to erect fences, usually of barbed wire, on that part of the range near the location of their ranches.
Finally stockmen have taken up land under the United States land laws, fenced it in and are raising cattle precisely on the plan adopted east of the Missouri River, excepting that instead of feeding their cattle corn they are fed hay. Large numbers of Wyoming cattle are now annually feed corn in Nebraska before they are sent to market. The greater part of the cattle, however, are still raised on what is termed the range system. Under it a herd of bulls, steers, cows and calves are permitted by their owner to roam at will over the plains.
The portion of the United States now extensively devoted to grazing, and commonly known as the range and ranch cattle area, is estimated by the government reports to embrace 1,365,000 square miles and over 40 percent of the total area of the United States, exclusive of Alaska. The country situated between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast and elevated more than 3,000 feet above the level of the sea, is known as the great dry area of the interior and corresponds with the range and cattle area above described. By virtue of its characteristics of soil, rainfall, elevation and natural food supply, this comparatively dry area is especially adapted to pastoral pursuits. The mean annual rainfall of this area is, however, much greater than was supposed before scientific record was kept of the total amount of precipitation. The term “range and ranch cattle” applies to cattle that, from the time they are dropped, seek their own food, water and shelter, as did the buffalo and antelope and which are subject only to the restraints of being gathered for branding or shipment for beef.
The discovery of the capabilities of Wyoming for grazing purpose is said to have been accidental and is thus described: … but then that’s something for us to chew on next time.