Earlier I mentioned the sources of the cattle that made their way to British Columbia and the Canadian Prairies or the North West Territories as they where called at the time. Also mentioned earlier, was that during the first fifteen years the beef business was growing inAlong the west coast of
the NWT didn’t have
cattle because the Prairies were full of British
Columbia though in
the north these herds were already diminishing rapidly. Buffalo
In the beginning there was a great difference between the horses found in the two areas. Down in
To avoid breeding his cattle with close relatives the
With a few years of ranching the desired characteristics of the breeds of cattle are strengthened and enhanced. The
Along with the blood of the Spanish cattle
There are professions throughout history in which participants have not learned and practiced their professions solely for – and in some cases in spite of – the expected monetary remuneration. The buckaroo west of the mountains and the cowboy out on the prairies are prime examples as are a few contemporary professions. They all do it for the contribution they can make to society, to support an honorable or moral lifestyle, to maintain a measure of pride and/or to make a flashy or memorable mark as they go through life.
The buckaroos took pride in their equipment and their ability to use it productively. From the vaquero they inherited the long (sometimes 60 feet) braided catch rope or lariat. In
The equipment on the horse’s head was also unique in many respects and served to make the buckaroo stand out. The younger horses would be controlled or directed with a rawhide “bosal” around the nose and with the appropriate headstall creating a hackamore. Mounts of more than six years might still wear a hackamore or have any of several dozen styles of bit in their mouth. Whatever bit was chosen it would probably be very fancy if the buckaroo could afford it. They trained their mounts differently than the cowboys over the mountains, generally started them earlier and expected more of them.
The buckaroo needed his equipment to operate as he had been taught. He had a single cinch saddle to save weight so used a long rope and a big, leather wrapped horn so he could wrap the rope around the horn (take a “dally”) and play it out until he could trip the steer he had caught or another rider could put a loop on it. Had he ‘tied fast’ to the horn he was likely to break his rope or have the saddle pulled from his mount.
The equipment also served an important part in expressing the pride he felt in his profession and the image he presented. The ability to cast a loop a long way and actually catch something was a source of pride. Catching a steer as heavy as your mount and downing him without breaking any equipment was a large part of who the vaquero was. This also extended to the wide sombrero, fancy spurs, silver mountings on tack and personnel dress as well as the fancy leather work. Some of this was just for show but most of it also had a practical use.
The drovers who brought cattle up from
One thing that
Up in the Industrial North manufacturing was growing as was the population. A railroad that had been started and halted due to the war was continuing on toward the west coast. All these people up there needed meat and
There was thought to be tens of thousands of cattle out there in the brush. When they eventually began rounding them up and trailing them north there proved to be far more than expected. There was more than enough product but there just wasn’t enough equipment.
The first problem was horses to drive the cattle. There were thousands of them as well, some in the bush but most on the plains since a horse’s defense from predators is speed. Most of them were fairly small animals, eight hundred to a thousand pounds and some even smaller. They were very fast and tougher than most animals twice their size. Once captured and broken well enough to carry a man they were known as “cow ponies” or “cayuses” and proved to be the best mount for working the Longhorn.
The next problem was the tack to be mounted on the wild horse if enough could be caught and trained well enough to make a drive. There were saddles around but many of them in poor repair. Offsetting that was the large supplies of available leather from hides that had not managed a sale during the War. A large supply of metal items such as used horse shoes also existed and could be turned into cinch rings, bits, and re-enforcement for weak saddle trees.
Following more than a year of training for both men and horses large herds where headed north to the rails. They drove to camps at the end of rail that grew overnight into towns and as the construction moved on disappeared completely. Some of those towns hung on and as the years passed grew into cities. Places like
When the east and the stock yards in
Of course, these cattle on northern ranges needed a few men to treat them when injured or carrying parasites or to move them to better range when grass or water is in short supply. Caring for the herd on a specific range requires far fewer men than it takes to drive it but some of those Texas men stayed with the cattle, perhaps to have steady work, perhaps to avoid a problem in the south, or perhaps because they simply enjoyed the coutnry.
In the late 1870s there developed a need for beef in the land north of the 49th parallel which, up until the late ‘60s had been British. Now it was a new country called
Starting in 1881 that land to the north needed far more than a few hundred steers and a few milk cows. The Canadian railroad was across the prairies and their federal government began issuing large tracts of land to companies from
In the early years it was easy to see the difference. For twenty years starting in 1860 the buckaroo west of the Rocky Mountains was likely to be mounted on a single rigged saddle cinched to a 1200 or 1500 pound horse, controlled with a hackamore, have tapaderos on his stirrups, two or three inch rowels on his fancy spurs and a sash around his middle that held his pistol. The “rieta” on his saddle might be of manila but it could be of hand braided leather or actually be a whip. His “chaparejos” or chaps may have been of ¾ length (mid-calf) and his boot tops reaching to just beneath the knee. All his gear, from hat to boots to bridle would be as fancy as he could afford.
Over on the east slope the cowboy’s equipment and appearance was more utilitarian. In the late ‘70s and in real numbers starting in 1880 the cowboy on the east side of the
All these men were strong on individualism so there might be items that did not follow the general pattern. Perhaps the buckaroo did not have the money to dress as fancy as he would like or perhaps he traded his pistol and sash for fancy spurs. There where many native buckaroos (particularly of the Chilcotin and Similkameen peoples) and they often sent a great deal of their pay to family members and didn’t have enough to get too fancy in their dress. Over on the east slope a cowboy might spend all his pay on fancy dress and tack thus standing out from his contemporaries who spent their money on gambling, liquor (which was very expensive since the Mounties made the country dry), land and building their own ranches.
Similar exceptions occurred in the animals. The horses that the Mounted Police brought with them had been chosen as the best suited for cavalry and artillery duty. A better choice would have been the “cayuses” favored by the Métis but some of the military horses survived and resulted in some larger horses in the Territories.
As years passed the drovers on each side of the mountains drifted together and their differences disappeared.
It started with the need for larger cattle. Those buying beef in the east wanted more fat on the animals for better flavor. Since beef was (and is) sold by the pound those raising cattle wanted more money per animal and for the animal to put that weight on as fast as possible. It was also discovered that though the Longhorn was tough and could handle winter weather and periods of drought the larger animals with some Shorthorn in their ancestry handled it well enough but recovered faster.
Thousands of cattle where trailed in from both
Larger cattle meant a need for larger horses. As time and distance separated the buckaroo from the vaquero and brush country demanded a small loop and close work there were fewer who knew how to use the long braided rope and dally. Nineteen times out of twenty the stiff fiber lariat was tied to the horn of a double rigged saddle. The tough, quick little cow pony could still be found but more often than not the horse used to herd cattle or ride a fence line was between a thousand and fifteen hundred pounds.
Over the years the preferences for tack and dress have blended until differences are difficult to detect. Riders on both sides of the mountains might prefer smooth, slick fork saddles with relatively high cantles. Likewise fancy spurs with big rowels and hat-bands with silver conchos will be seen on working dress in the Pincher Creek area of
Research:The information presented in the articles concerning the cattle business in
“The West Beyond the West: a history of
“Frontier Days in
“Frontier Cowboys and the Great Divide” - - - Ken Mather
“Buckaroos and Mud Pups” --- Ken Mather
“Cariboo-Chilcotin” --- Irene Stangoe
From interviews and conversations with old-time cattlemen, horsemen and a blacksmith from