Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cattle Drives in 19th Century America

Cattle drives -- moving herds of cattle from one location to another on foot -- were especially important in the American west between 1866 and 1886. Around 20 million cattle were herded from Texas to stockyards in Chicago and other eastern cities. Long-distance cattle driving was traditional in Mexico, California, and Texas, and horse herds were sometimes also driven. The term "drive" does not refer to carrying, as in driving a vehicle, but to forcing the cattle to move forward.

Cattle drives had to strike a delicate balance: the cattle needed to move as quickly as possible, but not so quickly as to cause them to lose weight. Fat, healthy cattle brought the best prices at market. The ideal speed was somewhere between 10 to 15 miles in one day, with rest periods for grazing at midday and at night. This meant that a drive could take several months to complete on a long trail. One of the most famous trails, the Chisholm Trail, was 1,000 miles long, stretching from Texas to Abilene, Kansas.

The more cattle you could move, the more money you made when you sold them at the end of the drive. A typical drive consisted of 1,000 to 3,000 cattle. With this many cattle, it was highly profitable for a town to encourage a drive to pass through, or even make it their destination once the railroads began expanding. So-called cattle towns experienced a boom between 1866 and 1890, as railroads reached them and the towns made themselves available for gathering and shipping cattle. The most famous towns were railheads, where the herds were shipped off to Chicago stockyards.

Abilene, Kansas was one of the first, and most famous, cattle towns. Other Kansas towns included Wichita and Dodge City. There were certainly other famous cattle towns, however: Las Vegas, New Mexico; Greeley, Colorado; Medora, North Dakota; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Ogallala, Nebraska; Miles City, Montana; and Prescott, Arizona are but a few of them. Texas was a frequent starting point for many drives, and Amarillo, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls were all important cattle towns.

A drive couldn't exist without the cowboy, of course. A crew of at ten to fifteen men was needed for a sizeable herd. Each man needed from five to ten horses (ridden in shifts so that no one horse became exhausted), so a drive also included a small herd of horses, called a remuda. The cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle around the clock, herding them in the right direction during the day and making sure they were safe at night. Theft was a big danger, as was a stampede, when cattle became frightened and dashed away at top speed in any direction.

A typical drive would consist of the trail boss, who might be the owner of the cattle, the crew of cowboys, a horse wrangler to handle the remuda, and the cook, who drove the chuck wagon. This wagon carried not only food for the crew, but also the medical supplies and bedrolls. The cook was especially well-respected by the crew for his knowledge of food and practical medicine. Payment depended on your previous experience and the job you worked. A trail boss could earn $90 a month on a drive, while a good cook could bring in $60 a month. Cowboys typically earned between $30 and $40 a month, and the horse wrangler, usually the youngest member of the crew, usually earned only around $25 a month.

Once the herd was moving, everyone had an assigned spot. A good trail boss would rotate the positions of his crew so that no one cowboy had to ride in the most unpleasant spots all the time. First out of the camp would be the chuck wagon. This would travel in front of the herd, and usually be out of sight before long. A scout traveled ahead of the herd as well, seeking out the best routes and serving as go-between for the chuck wagon and the trail boss. The main herd followed the trail boss and the point riders to his right and left. Swing riders were positioned to either side of the herd, and were responsible for keeping the cattle bunched together, chasing down stragglers and driving them back into the herd.  To the back of the herd, in roughly the same positions as point, were the flank riders. Their job was to push the herd along, making sure they kept to the desired speed. The worst job of all was drag, which was directly behind the herd, pushing them forward and watching for stragglers. Drag riders were covered with dust and less-desirable products of the cattle, kicked up by thousands of hooves.

Here are some words of wisdom from cattle rancher Oscar Thompson to his son Webster before his first drive:

11.     First of all, obey your boss -- he's paying you for your service.
22.     When you camp at night, always point your wagon tongue toward the North Star.
33.     Explain to your men in a quiet voice what they are to do.
44.     Never say "no" to your employer.
55.     Be ready to go at all times.
66.     Don't say "You boys do this," but "Come on, boys, follow me."
77.     Put your best two men on point.
88.     Water your cattle and fill them up before night.
99.     Explain to your cook that he must be ready with meals at all times.
110.  Watch your horses -- don't let the men abuse them.
111.  Keep your harness and camp equipment clean and up out of the sand.
112.  Don't fight your men unless they jump you; but if they or anyone else jumps you, give them the best you have.
113.  Don't ever misrepresent anything to your employer; tell it just like it happened.
114.  Don't get rattled. No matter what happens, keep your head clear.
115.  Don't lose confidence in yourself.
116.  Look after the comfort of your men, and they will follow you to hell.
117.  Keep your mind on your business and make your head save your heels.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More Victorian Manners


Victorian Entertaining

Source: The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining, adapted by Autumn Stephens, Bluewood Books, 2005

There was no such thing as casual entertaining in the 19th Century. A minor social blunder could ruin someone's reputation! The essential rules of etiquette were printed in numerous books and followed religiously by anyone who aspired to any sort of social standing.

Calling and Calling Cards:

The social call was an important ritual during the Victorian era. Calling cards evolved in England as a way to screen callers and keep out undesirable visitors. These cards were usually 9cm x 6cm. A lady's card was larger than a gentleman's, who had to fit his in his breast pocket. The card was made of heavy white paper, plain and unruled, "elegantly engraved" -- highly decorated or gaudy cards betrayed ill breeding.

The engraving was in simple type, small and without flourishes, although script became more elaborate as the century went on. A simple 'Mr.' 'Mrs.' or 'Miss' before the name was sufficient, except in the case of acknowledgement of rank (Earl, Viscount, etc.). Early Victorian cards bore only a person's title and name, with the name of their house or district sometimes added. By the end of the century, the address was added to the card, and when applicable, a lady's reception day.
These cards were usually carried in special cases, made of ivory, tortoiseshell, leather, or even paper-mache. The truly wealthy carried cases of silver or gold.
Specific times were allocated for different types of calls. A "morning call" was made in the afternoon. "Ceremonial calls" were made between three and four o'clock, "semi-ceremonial calls" were between four and five o'clock. Calls made between five and six o'clock were deemed "intimate calls." Sundays were always reserved for friends and family only. Visits were always quite short, lasting from ten to thirty minutes, and if another caller arrived during a visit, the first caller was expected to leave within a few minutes of the second caller's arrival.
Occasions which warranted a social call were many. Calls of condolence or congratulations, of course. Yet proper etiquette also required social calls for many occasions which today would be properly resolved with a polite letter; one was not allowed to express thanks, tender regrets, or even accept an invitation with a written message. You must pay a return call within three days of another party's first call upon you. You must also pay a call upon friends prior to departing from town and after returning.
As soon as a family arrived "In Town," the wife and mother was expected to circulate not only her card, but her husband's and those of her sons and daughters as well. She could either deliver the cards herself, waiting within the carriage to see if the mistress of the house was "at home" ("not at home" was a polite rejection of her family), or she could send the cards around by a servant. Upon receiving a card, one should reply with their own card, either delivered by hand or by a servant. A social call was returned with another social call.

Rules for calling:
·      - dress for calling; ladies who are "at home" should wear tasteful clothing, "with a certain amount of lace and jewelry" (but no artificial flowers or glittering gems); callers should wear the sort of clothing they would wear to church or an afternoon reception; a gentleman wears a "morning" suit until six o'clock (gray, striped trousers, black vest and coat, bowler or top hat) and evening attire after that (a black dress suit)
·      - receive visitors at whatever time they should call; if you cannot be interrupted, have the servant say that you are "engaged" rather than telling the falsehood that you are "not at home"
·      - greet the hostess politely as soon as you are shown into the drawing room or parlor
·      - make your conversation bright and witty

·      - take young children or pets when making social calls
·      - look at your watch
·     -  be in haste to seat yourself; stand and converse for a few moments
·    - stare or meddle with the articles in the room; do not seem to be aware of anything but the company present while visiting
·     -  walk around the room staring at the pictures and other objects while waiting for the hostess
·     -  call across the room to address anyone; cross the room and speak quietly
·      - introduce politics, religion, or other weighty topics to the conversation
·     -  scratch your head or use a toothpick, earspoon, or comb
·    -   tell long stories, talk scandal, or spread rumors
·    -   make any remarks about another caller who has left the room

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Americanisms, Part 2

The American Old West produced many a decorative phrase! If you were angry, you could be proddy, wrathy, techy, prickly, or all horns and rattles (angry cows rattle their horns). If you wanted to enjoy a bit of tobacco, you could fill a blanket or build a smoke by shaking a little Bull Durham into a sheet from your prayer book (packet of cigarette papers) and rolling it up. A flannel mouth or four-flusher was a boaster, and you might want to clean his plow or sharpen his hoe (thoroughly defeat him).

They had a lot of terms for leaving in a hurry - evidently this was quite a common occurrence at that time.

Break down timber/ bust down timber - to head out at such a speed that you take down trees that are in your way

Burn the breeze - to ride fast enough to set the wind on fire

Fixing for high-riding - "fixing" was a general-purpose term that basically meant whatever you wanted it to, from your "fixings" as in your belongings to "fixing to" meaning "going to" - in this sense, it means "getting ready"

Flag your kite - putting a flag on your kite means it's ready to fly

Fogging it or Frogging on - "fogging it" is thought to be a corruption of the term "frogging on" which was commonly used at the end of the century; it means to travel rapidly, particularly on horseback

Get up and dust/ dust out of - to leave nothing behind but a trail of dust

High-tail - when a horse starts to gallop, it throws its tail up high

Hit the breeze - also "hit the trail," which can just mean "to leave"

Hump your tail/ hump yourself - an ornery horse humps up its back before it starts bucking

Jump up a lot of dust - to depart so rapidly that you leave a trail of dust behind you

Kite - literally, to fly away

Light a shuck/ light out - when leaving a campfire, it was common at one time to light a corn shuck (husk) and carry that as a torch to find your way home

Make tracks - to leave nothing of yourself behind except the tracks

Raise the dust - leave a trail of dust behind you

Rattle your hocks - hocks are the ankle bones of a horse

Roll your tail - a cow that is ready to run will roll its tail up near the body

Sail away - as a ship departs under sail

Tail out - a variation of "high-tail"

Take it on the run - "it" being yourself and your belongings

There were also a lot of colorful nicknames for items the Westerners would have bought:

Airtights - canned goods

Arbuckle - a brand of coffee, thus any coffee

Arizona Strawberry, also Arkansas Strawberry, Prairie Strawberry, Mexican Strawberry - beans

John B - a cowboy's hat; from John B. Stetson, a famous hatmaker

Love Apples - canned tomatoes

Lucifer - a strike-anywhere match

Meat Biscuit - canned beef

Mexican iron - rawhide

Prairie Coal/ Buffalo or Cow Chips/ Surface Coal - dried dung of buffalo or cow, full of undigested grass and thus useful for burning

Salt Horse - corned beef

Sinkers - biscuits, supposedly to hard that they sank in liquid

Whiskey and other alcohol had practically their own dictionary of nicknames: 40-rod lightning, anti-fogmatic, baldface, blackstrap, brave-maker, nose paint, rookus juice, tangle-leg, Taos lightning, tarantula juice, tongue oil -- and if you consumed too much, you'd have a brick in your hat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The 19th Century Guide to Annoying Behaviors

Source: Manners and Morals of Victorian America, Wayne Erbsen, Native Ground Books, 2009

19th Century etiquette books were filled with things to do -- and things not to do. Here are some behaviors that are deemed entirely too annoying. Mr. Erbsen has taken these verbatim from many sources of the era.

"Many a man would give much to be rid of habits fastened upon him in youth, and which have been clogs and fetters, making every step of progress in certain directions toilsome and painful. He has accomplished only half of what he might have accomplished but for these annoying and irritating shackles."

Children and Pets:  "Never allow a child to pull a visitor's dress, play with the jewelry or ornaments she may wear, take her parasol or satchel for a plaything, or in any way annoy her"

"Callers should never take children or pets with them, as they are apt to be very annoying to some people."

"Never allow a child to play with a visitor's hat or cane."

"No dog, however 'dear or interesting' can be admitted to the drawing room, and it is bad taste to have one follow you from home, if you intend to make calls."

"Do not allow your children to be troublesome to visitors; to climb upon them, soil their dresses with their fingers, handle their jewelry and ornaments, ask annoying questions, nor intrude themselves into their private apartments at unseasonable hours. To permit children to follow company about, never giving them a moment of retirement, standing by while they make their toilet, is not only annoying, but is vulgar."

Civility at a Concert: "If you are at a concert, or a private musical party, do not beat time with your feet or a cane upon the floor. It is mighty vexatious."

Cleanliness: "Bad smelling persons are exceedingly disagreeable companions."

"Cleanliness and neatness are the invariable accompaniments of good breeding. Every gentleman may not be dressed expensively, he may not be able to do so; but water is cheap, and no gentleman will ever go into company unmindful of cleanliness either in his person or apparel."

Devil's Tattoo: "Do not beat 'the devil's tattoo' by drumming with your fingers on a table; it cannot fail to annoy everyone within hearing, and it is an index of a vacant mind."

Eating: "Don't eat fruit, or anything else on the public streets. A gentleman on the promenade, engaged in munching an apple or a pear, presents a more amusing than edifying picture."

Ego: "One should by all possible means avoid egotism, for nothing is more displeasing and disgusting. Never make yourself the hero or heroine of your own story. Do not attempt a find flight of language upon ordinary topics."

"There is no surer sign of vulgarity than the perpetual boating of the fine things you have at home -- if you speak of your silver, of your jewelry, of your costly apparel, it will be taken for a sign that you are either lying

Fidgetiness in Public: "Avoid restlessness in company, lest you make the whole party as fidgety as yourself."

"Do not whistle, loll about, scratch your head, or fidget with any portion of your dress while speaking. 'Tis excessively awkward, and indicative or low breeding."

Grinning: "Don't have the habit of smiling or 'grinning' at nothing. Smile or laugh when there is occasion to do either, but at other times keep your mouth shut and your manner composed."

Interrupting: "To interrupt a person when speaking is the height of ill manners, and may justly cause indignation on the part of one so interrupted."

Looking at Your Watch: "It is in bad taste for a caller to preface his or her departure by consulting a watch, remarking, 'Now I must go,' or insinuating that the hostess is weary of the visitor."

Mimicry: "Mimicry is the lowest and most ill-bred of all buffoonery. Swearing, sneering, private affairs either of yourself or any other, have long ago been banished out of the conversation of well-mannered people."

Misery on a Train: "In a railway coach, it is a distinct misery to sit near a party of people who are eating peanuts and scattering shells upon the floor, and the odor of oranges and bananas on a train is nauseating."

"Passengers should not carry anything on the train that would be offensive to others. They should most rigidly avoid boarding the train with dogs of any kind, whether spaniels, pointers, or poodles."

Nail Biting: Biting the nails is one of the most annoying habits, and yet one which almost any boy will fall into unless his mother 'nips it in the bud.' A habit of tapping the floor with the foot, or the table with the knuckles, comes on gradually, but, once fixed, is exceedingly difficult to overcome. 'Eternal vigilance' should be a mother's watchword, for the true secret of curing bad habits is in never allowing them to be formed. The 'ounce of prevention' is worth more than the 'pound of cure.'

Smoking: "One may never smoke in the company of the fair. One must never smoke in the streets, that is, in daylight. The deadly crime may be committed, like burglary, after dark, but not before. One must never smoke in a closed carriage. Besides being coarse and atrocious, smoking is very bad for the health."

"The tobacco smoker, in public, is the most selfish animal imaginable; he perseveres in contaminating the pure and fragrant air, careless whom he annoys, and is but the fitting inmate of a tavern."

Vulgar Acts: When committed in the presence of others, the following acts were classed as vulgarities.
·      To stand or sit with feet wide apart
·      To hum, whistle, or sing in suppressed tones
·      To use profane language, or stronger expression than the occasion justifies
·      To chew tobacco and spit
·      To correct inaccuracies in the speech of others
·      To stand with arms akimbo
·      To lounge, or yawn, or do anything which shows disrespect or indifference

Whispering. "Do not read the newspaper in an audible whisper, as it disturbs the attention of those near you. Remember, that a carelessness as to what may incommode others is the sure sign of a coarse and ordinary mind."

"It is rude to whisper or talk during a performance. It is discourteous to the performers, and annoying to those of the audience around you, who desire to enjoy the entertainment. To seek to draw attention to yourself at a place of amusement is simply vulgar."

"There cannot be a custom more vulgar or offensive than that of taking a person aside to whisper, in a room with company; yet this rudeness is of too frequent occurrence."