RANCHING IN THE WEST
In Texas the ranching industry was profitable long before either farming or mining was fully developed. Settlers there had learned cattle ranching from the Mexicans. Much of the romantic view many still have of the West comes from of our vision of cowboys driving cattle on the “long drive” from Texas to either Kansas or Missouri (nearly one-third of the cowboys involved were either Mexicans or blacks).
The long drive was economically inefficient, and with the removal of Native Americans and buffalo from the Great Plains in the 1860s and 1870s (to be discussed in the next section), many cattle ranchers moved their herds northward, allowing them to be closer to the cattle markets of Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis.
However, conflicts between farmers and ranchers soon developed. Farmers often accused ranchers of allowing herds to trample their farmland. The invention of barbed wire by Joseph Glidden in 1873 was the beginning of the end for the cattle industry; as farmers began to contain their farmlands, the open range began to disappear.
A critical blow to the cattle industry occurred during two very harsh winters of 1885 to 1886 and 1886 to 1887, Many cattle froze to death or starved during these years, with some ranchers losing up to 85 percent of their cattle. Those ranchers that survived turned to the same business techniques that had saved many plains farms; scientific methods of breeding, feeding, and fencing were now utilized by those ranchers that survived. In reality, the independent cowboy present in our myths of the West also died during this transformation.