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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Droving Days In Another Time

Dallas Bogan on 6 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Driving cattle and hogs to market in early Ohio was a rather common sight. Driving the two together was considered more feasible in most cases, since the cost of feeding was lessened as the hogs ate the corn, which the cattle wasted along the way.
During the summer and autumn months, so many drovers traversed the Ohio roads that one could identify the great herds simply by the sight of dust clouds arising from their many hoofs; they could be seen for a mile or more away.
The ungraveled roads became almost impassible in the winter and early spring. Cattle, like soldiers, walk abreast putting their feet in the tracks of those in front. Huge trenches across the road would be formed, and when dried great ruts were cast known as "cattle billows." To drive a herd of cattle, a crew consisted of a drover who rode horseback at the head of the herd and the helpers who came on foot at the rear. The phrase "Sook! Sook! Sook," must have been heard by the multitudes.
Essentials for the drover and his helpers were carried in his saddlebags. These consisted of a change of linen, and in his saddle pad was found a roll of extra garments for use of the crew in stormy weather.
A blacksnake whip was the drover's primary weapon, an implement he made with much skill. Its giant cracking sound resembled that of a revolver.
Picking up straggling animals was the function of a wagon that was sometimes used.
While stopping the herd in some shady spot to rest, the drover would promptly ride ahead to make arrangements for pasture and shelter for the night.
Rather than riding, sometimes the drover walked at the head of the drove with a rope tied around the horns of the lead ox. A strap bearing a bell was thus fastened around the neck, the animal being called "the bell weather."
Following the leader was an instinctive trait. Often when a river was to be crossed by toll bridge or ferry, only the lead ox, or perhaps some other independent minded animal, was taken over because of the toll or ferriage being too high in cost. The rest of the drove would spontaneously plunge in and swim across.
Tolls were so unreasonably high that it was no wonder the drover took these chances. The risks were high, but his expertise in the art of droving virtually eliminated any loss of his herd.
Tollgates were located at almost every bridge they crossed, or at every road they traversed. Cost for the bridge toll over the Great Miami River bridge in Hamilton, in February 1820, was for each head of cattle, six months old and upwards, $.02; for each head of sheep or hogs, $.01.
Monetarily, this does not seem like a lot, but rivers were plentiful in Ohio and roads were numerous. Bridge and road tolls must be paid, and droves were often numbered in the hundreds; it is small wonder the drover risked letting most of his stock swim. Turkeys were plentiful in Ohio and many thousands of them were driven to Cincinnati (especially around Thanksgiving or Christmas), and a multitude more to the eastern markets. They would follow the leader just as sheep do. At sundown they would fly into neighboring trees. (An interesting fact was that toll on turkeys was heavier than on vehicles, simply because they scratched the gravel off and damaged the road more.)
Toll rates on geese were minimized compared to turkeys, as they were not as hard on the road. Their webbed feet, moreover, could not stand long journeys, so they were driven at night into a pen covered with tar. The black substance ultimately provided a shoe-like surface to their feet and helped in the long marches.
While passing through a village, incidents sometimes occurred that would startle the herd, such as a dog rushing amongst it and breaking the line. The drover, thoroughly upset, would start hollerin' and hoopin', and pretty soon the whole village was standing by watching the fracas. Aided by the village boys, the herd would at last be brought back into line. A southern Ohio lad, David Gosling, told of an incident of stampeding. He owned a lightning fast horse that was yet unbroken to the shafts. He was a splendid horse famed for knowing how to handle cattle. A drover, during one incident, hired David and his horse to help round up a herd of sixty cattle at the Cincinnati stockyards.
Hardly getting started, a severe storm erupted. The horse suddenly turned and fled toward the stable, the cattle in full flight behind him. Reaching the stable the horse quieted down, along with the herd.
After the passing of the storm they were led out again onto the old Colerain Pike. The horse with his speed had prevented a stampede that was definitely in the making.
Cattle and horses alike often became lame on long marches. A blacksmith shop was always located close to the drover's inn for convenience. The shop was usually furnished with machinery intended to lift the animals off their feet so they could be shod and finish their journey.
All crossroads had an inn and a yard lot attached. Drovers, for obvious reasons, avoided towns and cities. There are still possibly old taverns in the outlying areas even today that survived the reign of time.
At the juncture of the Troy and North Hampton Pike, with the New Carlisle Pike running north, was an inn known as "The Black Horse Tavern." The old sign bore the name "J. Thomas 1834" with a black horse painted on both sides.
This tavern served the drovers and had an enclosed field nearby for the herds. In 1854, Mr. Thomas sold his farm and tavern to a gentleman who was well known as "Squire" Meranda.
Mr. Meranda had bought the property as a home with no intention of operating it as a tavern. At any rate, drovers proceeded to arrive, and if they happened along at nightfall, the old time welcome was challenged to see if the drovers should be turned away.
One night Isaac Van Nostrum appeared at his door with a drove of five hundred sheep that he was driving to Kansas. Mr. Van Nostrum suddenly became ill and, unable to return on foot, returned home by the railroad, which had been built into Springfield a few years before.
The sheep were left in the care of the Squire. The story goes that the bottom had fallen out of the Ohio sheep market at this time. Mr. Van Nostrum had lost his sheep and Squire Meranda, who could not sell them, almost went bankrupt in feeding them.
All professional drovers, who were successful in their venture, were considered a shrewd buyer as well a seller. A story goes that one drover had signed a written contract to deliver a herd of from one to five-hundred good fat hogs of not less than two-hundred weight by a certain date. Before the big day arrived, the price of hogs had risen so high that the drover could not purchase them to fulfill the contract without a great loss to himself.
On the appointed day, he appeared at the door of the buyer with a dray upon which was found a large fat hog. The marketer, apparently unobservant of the circumstances, was ecstatic. His dream of a rich turnover made his heart flutter. Quickly viewing the one item, he demanded, "Where are my hogs?"
"There! On the dray," answered the drover, "is the pork which according to the contract was to be from one to five-hundred. I find it more convenient to deliver you only one hog today." No jury could have found the drover guilty of any crime.
Hold-ups and robberies of drovers, particularly the ones who were homeward bound with great amounts of money in their pockets, happened many times. Despite this, the drover business grew by leaps and bounds.
Cincinnati, in 1850, was receiving sixty thousand head of cattle annually, with an evaluation of two million dollars. Five years earlier Cist's Miscellany reports: "Our pork business is the largest in the world, not even excepting Cork or Belfast in Ireland which puts up and exports immense amounts in that line."
All this stock was not raised in Ohio. Some of it came from Kentucky, Indiana, and from Illinois, where in the middle part of the last century hogs had free range over the prairies.
Good times outweighed bad times if one were to attain wealth and stature in the community. The Ohio drover generally made money simply through his mastery of the craft. Some even accumulated vast fortunes.
The Ohio pioneer made this great State the crossroads of the nation. We have just seen another example in which a group of trailblazing businessmen fought the elements and succeeded in what we of today would call an impossible dream.

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This page created 6 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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