The Anatomy of a Cattle Drive

Posted by on Jun 29, 2013 in cattle drive, road trip | 0 comments

I promised a more informative post. Well, here ya go 🙂

The foreman was the boss of the herd, though not necessarily its owner. He was in charge of expenses and pay, and was responsible should anything happen to the herd. He also had to scout out the trail ahead, test fords and figure out the best places to swim a river, and locate good grazing for the midday break and the bedding grounds at night. The foreman woke the cook up in the morning to prepare breakfast, and was one of the last to hit his bed come night.

The segundo was the second in command. (For those of you who grew up watching Rawhide (as I did), I’ve never found the term “ramrod” used in reference to that role. Which was pretty disappointing.) This was often not a set position; the foreman would pick one of the more experienced hands to be in charge when he had to be gone for longer than just the day.

However, the second most important man in the outfit was the cook. An outfit could face the dangers and difficulties of the trail much easier and in better humor when well-fed. The cook drove the mule-drawn chuck-wagon and stayed at the front of the herd throughout the day.

The others of the outfit were positioned according to experience and seniority. The point men were on either side of the lead cattle, and pointed the herd in the way they should go. Behind the point riders were the swing men and further back were the flank riders. These kept the cattle from straying and moving in the right direction. The newest, greenest hands got stuck in the back of the herd, riding “drag”. They got to eat dust and keep the stragglers from falling too far behind all day long.

The final member of the outfit was the horse wrangler. The wrangler was in charge of the remuda, or horse band. Each cowboy had 5-10 horses on his “string”, whether his own personal mount or owned by the outfit. During the day, the remuda stayed out on the flank of the herd. But three times a day–breakfast, dinner, and supper–the wrangler would drive in the herd and cut out the desired horse for each hand. A hand had specific horses that he preferred for different times of the day, and then there was his night horse, his swimming horse, and his cutting horse.


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