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The Cattle Ranchmen in Oklahoma Territory

The disappearance of the buffalo herds, the fear of which had caused the last Indian war in western Oklahoma, became a reality within three years after that war had ended. Within a short time after the end of that war, cattlemen from Kansas and Texas began to establish rances in the central part of the Territory, which had not been assigned to any Indian tribe as a reservation, and in the unoccupied portions of the Cherokee Outlet. Within the five years between 1875 and 1880, practically all of the vacant lands in the western half of the Territory were occupied by cattle ranges. These ranges were stocked with herds of half-wild cattle from Texas. This breed, which was of Spanish-Mexican origin, was very different from the cattle which were kept on the farms of Oklahoma then. They were gaunt and thin, had long horns and were of sereral colors, black, white, fawn, brindled and spotted. Today these cattle are known as the Texas Longhorns.

Each ranch had its range, which generally overlapped the borders of the neighboring ranges. The cattle ran at large as none of the ranges were fenced. It naturally followed that those of different herds were scattered and intermingled. In order that each ranchman might be enabled to identify his own stock each animal was branded with a red-hot branding iron, each ranch having its own brand or brands by means of which every animal might be readily recognized and identified. Two or three times each year, all of the ranches in a given district united in what was known as a "round-up", wherein all of the cattle were driven together or "rounded-up", and divided according to brands, each heard being driven to its home range. At such times, the calves were branded, the ownership of each being determined by the brand of its mother.

Each ranch had its ranch buildings, which were generally known as "headquarters". These buildings were built of logs or rough lumber, generally, though some of them had walls of stone and, in the western part of the Territory, occasionally some of them had walls of sod or turf. An example of a sod home can still be seen in Major County today. Many, if not most of them, had earth-covered roofs and most of them had earthen floors. The buildings of each ranch generally included the bunk-house, in which the employees slept, the cookshack, where they ate their food, a stable and possibly several sheds, with a corral, or stock-pen. On some of the larger ranches there might also be rough but comfortable cottages, wherein the superintendent and foreman made their homes, having their families with them.

Each ranch had its foreman and, if the owner was not present, a superintendent also. The number of other employees depended upon the size of the range and the number of cattle belonging to it. There was always a cook, generally a horse-wrangler and, in the case of the larger ranches, one or two other special employees. Most of the men were range riders and were known as cowboys or "cattle punchers". As a class, they were picturesque in dress and appearance. Many of them were from the eastern states not a few of them were men of education and refinement. they were generous to a fault and were free and easy in their treatment of one another. Brave men who hated a coward and despised meanness in any form. The "cowboys" of today are a "tenderfooted" sort by comparison.

In the spring of 1881, the cattle ranchmen of the Cherokee Outlet met just across the border, at Caldwell, Kansas, and organized the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association. this organization became very prominent and weilded great influence in the affairs of the Indian Territory from that time on until the opening of the Oklahoma country to white settlement. The association was generally believed to be opposed to the opening of any part of the territory to homestead settlement. The headquarters and general offices of this association were at Caldwell. During the time that the cattle ranch industry was supreme in Western Oklahoma, Caldwell was the home of many ranch owners and most ot their surplus stock was shipped to market from that point.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.