Study Notes

The American West (c1835-c1895): The Civil War and the Cattle Industry


Last updated 15 Jul 2024

By the 1850s, Texas was the centre of America’s cattle industry. Beef had become a popular food and cattle ranchers were becoming very rich. Most cattle-ranchers rode horses, and were known as cowboys.

In order to sell their cattle, Texan cowboys had to transport their cattle to the markets in the eastern states. Herding cattle over long distances was known as the ‘long drive’, and the route they took was known as a ‘cattle trail’.

One issue on the long drive was disease. Texan cattle spread a disease known as Texas fever to cattle from other states. In 1855, Missouri passed a quarantine law against Texan cattle and Kansas passed a similar law in 1859. This meant if cowboys tried to drive their herds up north, they were often forced to turn back round.

The civil war had a huge impact on the Texan cattle industry. Most of the fighting had taken place in the south, and this left the economy and cattle industry in ruins. Herds had been left un-managed during the war and had become half-wild by the time it had ended.

Furthermore, the ruined economy meant there was little demand for expensive beef. In the Northern cities, like Chicago, a cow was worth $40 compared to just $5 in Texas. More than ever cattle ranchers wanted to transport their herds up north to sell for profit, yet the quarantine laws continued to prevent them from doing so.

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