Friday, July 28, 2017

Cowboys Drive Cattle Across Idaho into Wyoming and Nevada [otd 07/28]

On July 28, 1876, cowboy cook William Emsley Jackson wrote in his diary, "Three emigrant teams passed us while in camp – are being rushed right along now. Five herds of cattle between here and Georgetown."
Working chuckwagon.

Georgetown, Idaho is located about 12 miles north of Montpelier, in the southeast corner of the state. Jackson's diary emphasizes the point that, by the mid-1870s, stockmen were driving large cattle bands east across Idaho. The drive for which William Emsley Jackson cooked was one of two herds belonging to G. W. Lang and a Mr. Shadley. They had purchased about four thousand head in Oregon and split them into two more manageable drives.

Idaho had been an importer of live cattle in the early years of the decade, starting with herds from Oregon and California. They also trailed large bands of cheap Texas cattle into the Territory. That continued even as late as 1873.

Yet as early as 1870, a stockman had driven two thousand surplus sheep from Oregon into Montana. In 1874, Oregon drovers trailed hundreds, if not thousands of cattle across Idaho to ranges and markets in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. By then, or 1875 at the latest, Idaho stockmen also had surpluses. Newspaper reports show they were driving herds to Winnemucca, Nevada for shipment to California.

The Washington and Oregon herds generally followed one of two routes across Idaho. One roughly back-tracked the southern Oregon Trail along that side of the Snake River. The other route crossed the Snake early, veered south of Boise, and turned east towards Fairfield and south of Arco (neither of which existed then). From there, they continued to the ford that crossed the Snake north of Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls).

Jackson joined the drive in May. Unfortunately, he lost the booklet he started with, so his actual day-to-day observations don't resume until the latter part of June. The herd was then 20-25 miles west of today's Twin Falls. On July 8th, the drive reached the Raft River, where they camped.
Cattle on the move, National Park Service.

Six days later, they crossed the Portneuf River. Jackson wrote, "Two emigrant wagons passed us before we got out of camp." He then described the area and concluded, "it is a beautiful country, though I should judge it is too wet and owing to the altitude, too cold for a farming country. I understand this to be the Indian reservation. There are thousands of acres of good hay land in this valley that never saw a sickle."

After passing Georgetown on the 28th, the Lang-Shadley herd went on by Montpelier. Jackson said, "The principal occupation of the people of this region is stock raising."

A later observation confirmed that Idaho cattle were also being trailed east. Out on the Laramie Plain in Wyoming, Jackson wrote, "We pass a herd of about 500 cattle from Marsh Valley, Idaho. Their destination was Laramie."

A few months later, the Idaho Statesman announced (February 24, 1877), that stockman Edward Pinkham was planning a cattle drive from his ranch near the mouth of the Payette River. He intended to "start as early as the grass will permit, and probably drive as far as the Laramie valley."

Late that year, the Statesman (December 11, 1877) noted that, "Mr. Pinkham sold out his band at fair prices." However, Pinkham felt he might have done better had he grazed the herd over the winter so they could regain the weight lost on the drive.
References: William Emsley Jackson, J. Orin Oliphant (ed.), William Emsley Jackson's Diary..., Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).
David L. Shirk, Martin F. Schimdt (ed.), The Cattle Drives of David Shirk, Champoeg Press, Portland, Oregon (1956).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

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