In the pioneer days, cattle owners discovered that cattle was plentiful in Brown County, but scarce in other places of the country where people still wanted beef to eat, but there were no large land owners raising cattle in their area. There would be a good market for cattle in those places that was much better than the price locally. The problem was that the cattle had to be moved to the places were the demand was highest without a good way to get them there.
The men manually drove the cattle in large herds from the ranches to the markets. There were no slaughter houses locally, or refrigeration to ship prepared beef to market. When the railroad came through Kansas, the cattle were manually driven on trails to Kansas, and sold to buyers there.
The trail drive was a long distance and took a long time. The cattle had to be fed and watered everyday. The cattle ranchers and the trail herders were away from home for a long time. There were many hazards on the trail. The cattle had to walk the entire distance. Some died along the way. Some were attacked by coyotes and other varmints. They were not fat after a long trail. They were sold by the pound. That is why the herders grazed them close to the market to get them to weigh better.
The herds were easily frightened by predators, snakes, storms and many other things. If one got frightened, they all started a stampede. It was hard and dangerous to round them up. The cattle started running uncontrollably and were a danger to themselves and the trail herders. Their horns were sharp and sometimes had a span of 6 feet wide. The horns could easily cut or gore a cowboy.
There were two theories of taking the cattle to market. One method was to take most of the summer and slowly proceed, grazing the cattle along the way and hoping to get to market before fall and cold weather came. Another method was to get to the market as fast as possible and hope the cattle did not lose a lot of weight on the way. The price might be higher early in the season before a large number of cattle arrived, but it was more difficult and more risky to try to get the cattle to the market so fast. The cattle would be thin from not having the opportunity to graze well. The buyers paid better for cattle that had been fed better. Some cattlemen rented pens and fed them for several weeks after they got to market. They would make more than the cost of feeding them for cattle that were fatter and in better shape.
Some ranchers used the entire summer as they moved toward a fall market. This way, they had to move slowly and follow the best water and grass to get the cattle to market. Grass fat was the goal.
The ranchers had to use good management, so that the cattle would hold their weight and arrive in good condition. It would be a waste of time to rush the cattle to market and lose a lot of cattle on the way or get them there in a frail condition. They would not sell well if they were in poor shape.
The men left the bedding ground as soon as it was light enough to see. The cowboys on the last watch pointed the cattle in the right direction, and held them from scattering too far while the others were eating. The first men to finish eating were sent out to relieve the herders. Within an hour, all of the cowboys were in position. The trail boss rode ahead in order to check on conditions ahead, like how far to water, proximity to other herds, and making sure they avoided buffalo and wild horses. Sometimes the cowboys had to hold their herd for hours, while a large herd of buffalo passed, and deer, antelope, elk and wild horses that were with them.
Some of the horses and a few head of cattle occasionally drifted into the buffalo herd and were never recovered. Even the odor of a buffalo would often stampede a herd of cattle.
Ahead of the cattle drive, rode two “pointers” whose duty it was to guide the herd. Further back, spaced on each side of the cattle, were six to eight riders. At the rear of the herd were two or three “tailers” who kept the tail end closed in. The chuck-wagon and the supply wagon followed behind. The supply wagon carried the sleeping gear, spare pans, and extra food.
Two or three men usually rode night guard. A rope laid on the ground seemed to work as good as a barb wire fence to keep the cattle in. To provide against an emergency, a horse was kept saddled and bridled for each man. In an instant, they could jump in the saddle and ride. A strange noise or animal could get a few cows excited, and, if the cattle were badly frightened, they would get eth rest of the herd excited. Once a herd started to stampede, it got in their blood, and thereafter, all the cattle bolted upon the slightest grounds. However, if the cattle were properly broken in at the beginning and carefully watched, there was little danger of stampeding. The night guards rode around the herd until they met, then they turned back and rode the other way until they met on the opposite side.
The night guards whistled or talked to themselves, sang songs or hummed, but whatever they did was in a low, monotone voice. This was done to show the cattle that they were near and keep them calm. The singing seemed to have a soothing effect on the cattle (but not on the other men). It also kept away prowling animals which might scare the stock.
A cattle drive trail went through Trickham. It was not the Chisholm Trail, but it was a branch that came from the San Antonio area and joined up with the Chisholm Trail. There is a state historical marker there about the cattle trail at Trickham.