The Chisholm Trail was beginning of cowboy
n By Ol’ jim cathey
On The Back Porch
The era of the cowboy began in the mid-1800s when cattle were plentiful in Texas and the demand for beef in the north and east exploded. Many of the drives started in south Texas and followed the Chisholm trail.
This trail meandered through central Texas crossing Salado Creek near the site of present day Salado.
This article will be the beginning of a series of articles about the Chisholm Trail.
May 7 and 8, 2021, I will be reciting cowboy poetry at the Salado Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering. There will be several artists and entertainers there for the weekend. For more information, go to the website www.saladocowboypoetry.com
The era following the War of Northern Aggression found Texas in a unique situation. The cattle on the neglected farms and ranches had multiplied and were plentiful, though worthless as a cash producer. But the demand for beef in the north and east became a factor toward making the beef industry a profitable enterprise.
Cattle were gathered and branded, and the bulls made into steers to be driven to northern railheads and sold. Springtime found these ranchers gathering the branded, free ranging cows so they could sort, brand, and work the offspring. You see, on free range, cattle were left to graze and roam. With winter storms they would tend to drift seeking cover.
When the spring grass began to be plentiful, several ranches would join forces to round-up these scattered herds. This was the beginning of the reign of the cowboy, so ranch hands would gather large numbers of free roaming cattle and sort out the brands and brand and work the calf crop.
A top hand good with a rope and adept at reading brands would rope the calves and drag them to the branding fires, call out the brand that was on the mama cow, shake loose his rope when the branders had got hold of the calf and return to rope another.
As the calf was worked and branded, they would be herded to a place in the pasture where that ranchers ‘s brand was held and eventually pushed toward their range where the calves would be left with their mothers until time to wean.
The steers would be kept on another pasture of the ranch to grow and then be shipped on one of the many cattle drives, these steers were normally 3 to 4 years old when they became part of the drive of 2 to 3 thousand head drove to northern railheads where a steer worth only a few dollars would sell for around $30.00 dollars. These drives began in the mid-1800s until barbwire and railroads brought a halt.
Today’s poem is one that I first heard as a song by western singers, notably Red Steagall. Since the author was unknown and it was in public domain, I decided to add four verses to it and use it as a poem for competition at the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo in Kanab, Utah.
The year was 2012 and I won the Silver Buckle and the All-Around Championship award using this poem and some others as I competed with cowboy poets from across the nation as well as Mexico, Canada, and Australia. My young bride Stella and I became good friends with people that we would never have known had we not ventured into this arena.
I’d Like to Be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring
In a lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellers swappin’ yarns to pass the time away.
They spoke of all the things they’d done and places they had seen,
Some of them praised Chicago town and others New Orleans.
Each cowpoke in the group had tales of round-ups from long ago the mornin’ mist, the chill in the air, an’ sometimes the snow They talked about them “blue northers” an’ the sudden winds they spun An’ the wickedness of the sandstorms that can blot out the sun.
They talked of fightin’ broncs on a frosty starlit break o’day an’ herdin’ cow critters in chokin’ dust as ol’ blue lead the way. They told about the ranches where “top hands’ would come and go with reputations that were ageless as legends will oft times show.
In a corner in an old armchair sat a man whose hair was grey;
He had listened to them longingly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he’d like to be, and his tired old voice did ring,
“Son, I’d like to be in Texas when they roundup in the spring.”
Oh, I can see the cattle grazin’ oe’r the hills of early morn,
I can see the campfire smokin’ at the breakin’ of the dawn,
I hear the broncos neighing, I hear the cowboys sing.
Oh, I’d like to be in Texas when they roundup in the spring.
They all sat still and listened to every word he had to say,
They knew that old feller sittin’ there had been a tophand in his day.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains;
He then slowly removed his hat and quietly he began.
I’ve seen ‘em stampede o’er the hills till you think they’d never stop,
And I’ve seen them run for miles and miles until their leaders drop;
Lightnin’ fair danced acrost their horns an’ give an eerie glow An’ every puncher had a fear an’ a hope that soon they’d slow.
An’ slow they would, when fright was gone, then turn an’ mill about, though scattered acrost the plain, an’ the boys would whoop an’ shout to check on their pard, then roust them strays to bunch ‘em up again, as they headed ‘em down the trail in stiflin’ heat ‘er cold an’ drivin’ rain.
But it weren’t always bad times, though I’d say it was more’n enough Why I recollect many a-time when life was full, not so very tough. I was foreman on a cow ranch then, why that’s the calling of a king.
an’ I’d shore like to be in Texas when they roundup in the spring.
There’s a grave in sunny Texas where Josie Bridwell sleeps,
And a grove of leafy cottonwoods that constant vigil keeps.
In my heart there’s recollection of them carefree bygone days
When we rode the range together like two skipping kids at play.
Her gentle voice would call me in watches of the night,
And I hear her laughter freshening the dew of early light.
A fever took my sweetheart on the day that we was wed
And left her cold and lifeless in that grave there on the Red.
Yeah, I can see the cattle grazin’ oe’r the hills of early morn,
an’ I can see the campfire smokin’ at the breakin’ of the dawn,
Oh, I hear the coyotes yellin’, an’ I hear the night guard’s sing.
So Lord, please take me back to Texas when they roundup in the spring. Public Domain Author unknown, though several of the verses are my own. ‘Ol Jim Cathey
My Ol’ Daddy always said “A bad day in Texas is still better than a good day anywhere else!”
Thank you for our western heritage and the friendships that have been forged.
Pray for our nation!
God bless each of you and God Bless Texas!