A stampede can be two things…the mad rush to the Thanksgiving table, or a wild run cattle suddenly embark in for no apparent reason.
First, Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for so many things, as I know you all are, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday.
Second, there are several things that can start a cattle stampede, and cowboys tried to prevent them whenever possible. (Many animals beside cattle stampede, horses, sheep, buffalo, elephants, zebras, etc.)
After writing a Roaring Twenties mini-series, a Salem Witch Trial story, a Cheyenne Indian story, and a lumber baron story, I am finally back to my first love—the cowboy!
The hero of my current story is a trail boss. Driving 2,500 head of beef 600 miles from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas was fraught with dangers. And it was said that a stampede was a cowboy’s worst nightmare!
"Stampede," Chromolithograph from painting by Gean Smith, 1895.
For no reason an entire herd could mysteriously take off running. Most of the cattle would run in the same direction, but others would scatter. Although they could happen at any time, for during the cattle drives of the 1800’s, most stampedes happened at night. Pairs of men took turns on night watch, keeping the cows calm and quiet by singing to them or reciting them poetry. When/if a stampede happened, those two men had their hands full. The rest of the cowboys were in camp, usually at least a mile away.
Cattle drives had ‘lead’ cows, those the others naturally followed. During a stampede the cowboys would focus on getting those lead cows stopped and heading in the right directions, but during a long drive, those cows could be thirsty, hungry, or frightened and could be difficult to get under control. A common practice was to shoot a bullet into the ground near the lead cow’s hooves to get their attention. Once cowboys got those cows calmed down, the others followed suit.
In preventing stampedes, if a cow was identified as one wild enough to instigate a stampede, the cowboys would sew its eyelids shut. Unable to see, it wouldn’t stampede, and the thread would rot off their eyes within two weeks. By then the cow was so used to following the others, it was usually not a problem.
Rustlers were common starters of stampedes. They would rile up the cattle, get them running in all directions, and while the night watchmen were trying to get the herd under control, the rustlers would drive off as many cattle as possible.
Water was another cause of stampedes. A thirsty cow can smell water ten miles away. When that was the case, the trail boss would double or triple the number of night watchmen overseeing the cattle at night.
Lightning was another cause. During a lightning storm, the first thing a cowboy would get rid of was his gun. A chunk of metal hanging on his hip was a magnet for lightning.
I’ve never seen a cattle stampede, but I raised three boys, so I’ve most certainly witnessed a stampede to the dinner table.How about you?
Again, I wish you a wonderful holiday!