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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Droving Days In Early Ohio

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 8 August 2004
Source:
original article by Dallas Bogan
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Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove afield; and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn
Batt'ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night.

John Milton

What is a drover? Webster's dictionary describes a drover as a person who takes a drove of animals to market, a drove being a number of cattle, sheep, hogs, etc.
Until the middle of the 19th century it was customary to take livestock to market on foot. Livestock taken through Warren County to the Cincinnati market was by way of the main roads such as the Montgomery Pike or the routes through Lebanon.
There were tavern keepers who particularly cared for waggoners and drovers with their stock. A fenced-in enclosure was kept for use of the herd overnight, while the droving crew could rest and shelter within. The innkeeper always kept a good supply of corn, hay, oats and fodder for animal provisions.
The National Pike was at its height a menagerie of animals being driven off to market. Farms along the Pike became quite destitute by continual drain upon the land in the attempt to raise enough corn and feed for the huge droves. Many years were spent after the droving days were over simply to allow the farmer to restore his farm back to normal conditions.
The National Pike was less popular than other roads with the drovers because of its high toll. Another reason was that the hard surface of the road caused considerably more damage to the animal's hoofs than the gravel roads. However, its foremost advantage was the straight path in which it led to the markets.
After much of the land was cleared, early Ohio settlers were found thrusting themselves into personal enterprises such as building houses and barns, setting out orchards, planting grain, raising livestock and organizing local governments.
In just a short time they were raising more than what the market necessitated. The art of bartering and exchange were common among them for a higher living standard.
Cattle and hogs were surprisingly driven from southern Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois to Philadelphia and New York. The distance and time in these drives were astounding compared to the transportation era of today.
Sometimes a distance of one thousand miles and a time period of 10 to 12 weeks was needed for this enormous task. Drives from Iowa and Texas to the eastern cities were not uncommon.
A description of one of the first shipments of cattle to New York by steam cars and steamboats is very interesting. The shipment was made in 1852 and was met with many delays.
One week was spent in driving the cattle, 100 in number, from the area of Lexington, Ky., to Cincinnati. They were then loaded into boxcars and shipped by rail to Cleveland. At this point they were taken from the cars and put on board a steamboat and taken to Buffalo.
After a delay of several days in Buffalo, the herd was driven 90 miles to Canandaigua, N.Y., where they were put in immigrant cars, hauled to Albany and unloaded in the freight house. A period of two days was spent in a feed yard at Albany, where the stock were again put in boats and taken down the Hudson River to New York City.
The freight on this shipment of cattle from Cincinnati to Buffalo was at the rate of $120 per car. The total expense from Kentucky to New York was $14 per head.
The route taken in this excursion was very costly. The continuous building of the railroads allowed the drovers to ship faster and in less time. An increase in cattle being shipped by rail eastward was beneficial for the drovers and the railroad companies.
Hogs were the first animals driven from the Ohio Valley to the eastern markets. Allen Trimble, later to become the seventh Governor of Ohio, when only a young man of twenty, acted as a middleman for his father. He purchased from his neighbors, near Lexington, Ky., about four hundred head of hogs. The animals were to be driven east- ward into central Virginia, a total of six hundred miles over the rugged Alleghenies.
The journey over the unbroken wilderness was a tedious effort on the part of young Trimble. The herd could only make fifteen or twenty miles in a day, it surviving on roots and nuts that could be picked up along the way.
A long and successful trip was accomplished. It was the first speculation of its kind to be conducted in Kentucky and proved to be very profitable. The original cost of the hogs was two dollars each or $800 for the herd. They were sold in Virginia for nine dollars per head for a grand total of $3600. A profit of over $2000 was made.
The cost of driving the herd was minimal since no food for the animals was secured and pay for extra drovers was based on a few dollars per month.
During the War of 1812, cattle were often driven along with the armies to supply fresh meat to the soldiers.
Governor Trimble was an officer in that war and claimed that hogs were better than cattle for supplying troops with meat, one reason being that hogs could live more easily off the land than cattle.
Ross County in Ohio has the prestigious title of driving the first herd of cattle from the State to the eastern markets. The route was a treacherous 350 miles to Baltimore and was made by George Renick in 1804. The venture proved to be a financial success and the driving of cattle was soon extended to Philadelphia and New York.
The cattle of the Scioto Valley were not sheltered but were kept in lots of eight or ten acres and fed twice a day with unhusked corn and fodder, the waste being picked up by the hogs.
Great fortunes were made by the cattle and hog drovers of the Scioto Valley. The business quickly stretched into Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
In about 1806, we find up and coming merchants from Cincinnati and Chillicothe making bids for livestock which they would slaughter and pack for eastern and southern markets. Other localities such as Portland (later to be named Sandusky), Zanesville and markets from some other larger towns.
Many businesses depended on droving for their existence, coopering, wood cutting, stave making, harness making and saddlery being among them.
Chillicothe was centralized and for a time was considered by many to be the leader in attracting the drovers trade simply because it was Ohio's first capital.
Not to be outdone, Cincinnati at this time, in an effort to attract trade, began offering to take at New Orleans market price three-fourths of the amount of the purchase price in produce delivered at that point and the balance in cash.
Hundreds of young soldiers who were involved in Wayne's campaign in the 1790's were more than apt to gaze upon the fertile valley between the two Miami Rivers while traveling through. With easy river accessibility and perfect stock raising conditions, the early part of the Nineteenth Century saw a flurry of settlers migrate to the land of opportunity.
It was much more profitable for the drover to be closer to the market, and soon Cincinnati was established as the nucleus of the West.
With the population growing by leaps and bounds in the Miami country, slaughterhouses and packinghouses arose in every direction to prepare the produce for river shipment to eastern and southern markets.
Flatboats, barges or rafts were being built on all points of the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio.
In 1811 a new revelation was born, the steamboat. It was that year that Nicholas Roosevelt built at Pittsburgh a steamboat that took the river folks and the rest of the world by complete surprise.
This watercraft actually traveled downstream to Louisville, and in utter amazement, turned around and journeyed upstream. Cincinnati from that day became the leader in trade and its fortune was made.
Merchandise shipped to and from Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans made the tiny city between the Miami Rivers the distribution center of the entire country.
Let's not forget in our praise of Cincinnati that other water towns were also in the chase. The drover could not always shepherd his flocks so far a distance when other avenues were opened. Sandusky, Cleveland or Buffalo were towns that were situated near a great body of water, Lake Erie.
In 1818, the first steamboat, the "Walk-in-water," had appeared. Eastward they drove their herds through Wellsville or Steubenville to the markets at Pittsburgh, or to Wheeling and Baltimore by way of Zanesville.
There is no doubt that droving was the dominant method by which the surplus livestock was transferred. Hundreds of drovers' stands sprang up all along the highway and backwoods lanes throughout the State. Many were log cabins, and still others were built of brick or stone.
Just east of Zanesville was built a fine house, and for a long time was occupied by a man named Moore, who owned 1,000 acres of land. It was built in the golden age of the National Road as a drover and waggoner's stand.
Of the eighteen rooms, many were fifteen by twenty feet. Enclosed were two basement kitchens, two dining rooms with an area or hall between.
In addition to tavern keeping in this fine building, were the slaughterhouse, smoke house, dry house and packinghouse.
A dry house was a building constructed especially for drying of the pelts, or for caring for the hair removed from the pelts for use in plaster.
The smoke house was used to cure hams, shoulders and sides of bacon.
As the name implies, the packinghouse was the building where the cured meat or salt meat was packed. The warehouses were storage plants for packed produce ready for shipment when the waggon emerged for its conveyance.
Splendid hogsheads were often used, some of a ten barrel measure. These giant hogsheads became cherished playhouses for children.
A large quantity of hogs, from 100 to 200, were slaughtered and packed here.
"Subboy! Subboy!" was the phrase used in driving hogs. A ghostly voice could possibly still be heard in the quite evening air: "Subboy! Subboy!" "How far is it to Moore's?"
Busy places the inns were. When the supper dishes were cleared away, and the evening chores were finished, the great dining room was converted into a dance hall; the young and old folks made the evening a festive affair.
As the railroads took over, places like Moore's were found vacant and idle. However, the establishments were visited by later generations and the old-time frolic was relived.
The usual time for driving cattle and hogs to market was autumn, winter and early spring. Driving the two together was considered more feasible in most cases, because the cost of feeding was lessened since the hogs ate the corn that the cattle wasted along the way. 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 heard by the multitudes.
Essential 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 stragglers was the function of a wagon, which was sometimes used. 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 fastened around the neck of the horse or steer or sheep that was recognized as the leader. The animal was therefore 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 independent minded animals, were taken over because of the toll or ferriage being to high in cost. The rest of the drove would spontaneously plunge in and swim across.
Tolls were so unreasonably high that its no wonder the drover took these chances. The risks were high to the drover, but his expertise in the art of droving virtually eliminated a loss of his herd.
Tollgates were places at almost every bridge they crossed, or at every road they traversed. The bridge toll over the Great Miami Bridge in Hamilton, in February 1820, was for each head of cattle, six months old and upward, $.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.
An interesting fact was that toll on turkeys was heavier than on vehicles, because they scratched the gravel off and damaged the road more. However, turkeys were plentiful in Ohio and many thousands of them were driven to Cincinnati, and a multitude more to the eastern markets.
The toll on geese was 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.
Flocks of turkeys numbering in the thousands were seen being herded to Cincinnati along the road just before Thanksgiving or Christmas. They would follow the leader just as sheep do. At sundown they would fly into neighboring trees.
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 hollering and hooping 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 lad named David Gosling, who lived in southern Ohio 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 safely 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. The cattle, too, trailed into the barnyard, and all the animals became quiet.
After the passing of the storm they were led out again on to the old Colerain Pike. The horse with his speed had prevented a stampede that was definitely in the making.
Cattle and horses alike often become lame on long marches. The blacksmith shop was always located close-by the drovers inn for convenience. The shop was usually furnished with machinery intended to lift the steer off his feet so he could be shod and finish his journey.
An increase of settlers and farmers, and their monetary means booming, paralleled the prospering of drovers. All crossroads had an inn and a yard lot attached. Drovers, for obvious reasons, avoided towns and cities. There are still old taverns in the outlying areas even today that survived the reign of time.
On one road, which led north from Columbus through Bucyrus to Sandusky, stood a favorite stopping place for drovers and waggoners, "Weaver's Corner." The old stable was built to accommodate at least forty horses.
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.
The tavern served the drovers and had an enclosed lot or field nearby for the herds. In 1854, Mr. Thomas sold his farm and tavern to a gentleman who was well known universally 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 a man appeared at his door named Isaac Van Nostrum with a drove of five hundred sheep, which 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 Squire Meranda. The story goes that the bottom had fallen out of the sheep market in Ohio. 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, must be a shrewd buyer as well a seller. A story goes that one drover had signed a written contract to deliver a herd of 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 fill the contract without a great loss to himself.
On the appointed day, he appeared at the door of the consignee with a dray upon which was found a large fat hog. The marketer was ecstatic. His dream of a rich turnover made his heart flutter.
"Where are my hogs?" he demanded. "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 amount of money in their pockets, happened many times. Despite this, the drover business grew by leaps and bounds.
The Gallipolis Journal, on November 11, 1841, states that: "Within the last two or three weeks upwards of twelve thousand hogs have passed through this place for eastern markets. Some of the drovers numbered as high as three thousand and upwards and generally in good order."
An editorial in the Cleaveland Daily Evening Herald, dated August 27, 1841, writes that "the keeper of the tollgate in the Black Swamp, Ohio, has kept an account of the sheep that have passed over the road since January and says that over six thousand were for Michigan."
Michigan, as a state, was only four years old at this time and the Black Swamp was still challenging to pass because of its conditions.
Cincinnati, in 1850, was acquiring 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, the latter had free range over the prairies.
Good times versus the bad times for the drovers were far outweighed 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.
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, cast great ruts known as "cattle billows."
Whatever the circumstances, whatever the difficulties, Ohio folks withstood these adversities and, more or less, responded in a positive way and proceeded on.


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This page created 8 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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