Presentation on theme: "Livestock and the Open Range Chapter 8, Section 1."— Presentation transcript:
Livestock and the Open Range Chapter 8, Section 1
Grassland: The Main Character Montana’s grasslands were superior to most other western states because there were plenty of streams and high wind kept most snow off of the grass. The grass also dried standing up, making it perfect for cattle to eat. Therefore, many ranchers brought their cattle to Montana’s open range in the mid 1800’s. Open range was unfenced land that had not yet been surveyed – a place where cattle could graze free.
Open Range Ranching Cattle first came to Montana in the 1830’s to supply trade posts and missions. In the 1850’s, Richard Grant started driving cattle into western Montana valleys like Deer Lodge. During the gold rush the population boomed, and local game was quickly eaten. The cattle industry grew to feed these miners.
The Longhorns Come North At first, most of Montana’s cattle were Hereford and Angus (shorthorns.) But in 1866 Montana received its first Texas longhorn cattle drive. As word spread that Montana offered vast grazing lands for free, countless other cattle were driven north from Texas. A young cowboy on one of these drives remarked, “I could see seven herds behind us. I knew there were eight herds ahead of us, and I could see the dust from thirteen more of them on the other side of the river.” This meant that he was within sight of 58,000 cattle on his way to Montana.
The Cattle Boom When the Northern Pacific railway reached Montana in the early 1880’s, the cattle industry boomed on the open range. The territory was divided into grazing districts. Whoever ranched there first could claim one. The fenceless open range was so important for grazing in Montana because in Montana’s arid (dry) climate, it took 250 acres to feed a cow for a year. A herd of 10,000 cattle would need 2.5 million acres to survive!
The Roundup Cattle drifted free for months at a time on the open range and were mixed in with other herds, so every spring and fall, ranch hands held a roundup. A roundup is a cooperative effort to round up all the cattle in a region, sort them out and brand the new calves. Roundups lasted weeks, but were necessary because cattle would otherwise be easier to steal or lose.
Sheep on the Range Sheep came to Montana at about the same time as cattle did – Father Ravalli traveled near a herd in 1847. In 1869 there were 1500 sheep in Montana. Ten years later that number had grown to nearly 100,000. In Wyoming there were many fights between the cattle and sheep industries as the two sides competed over land.
Sheep on the Range However, so many Montana ranchers raised both sheep and cattle that there were few conflicts between the sheepmen and cattlemen. Sheep also attracted investors because they survived well in Montana winters and were more affordable than cattle. Also, sheep made wool that could be sold every year.
The Sheep Herder The sheepherder led a different life than the cowboy, often spending months alone with only his dog. He had to be self-reliant; cooking cleaning and providing for himself while watching over thousands of sheep. He had to protect his flocks from grizzlies, wolves and coyotes while living in harsh weather.
Problems of the Open Range The open range was free and wide open, but it also presented problems for ranchers. Predators often killed many sheep and cattle, and cattle rustling (stealing) was far too easy. Rustlers could steal mavericks (unbranded calves) or simply rebrand cows and take them. But the worst problem was overgrazing. There were just too many animals to support in Montana.
The Hard Winter: 1886-7 By the spring of 1885, there over 500,000 head of cattle on the Montana range. By the hard winter of 1886-87, most of them would be dead. The Hard Winter of 1886-87 was preceded by a hot, dry summer with little rain and months of range fires. Also, 100,000 more cattle came at this time. The ranching bubble was about to burst.
The Hard Winter: 1886-7 Winter winds made thick snow hard as cement. Few ranchers had prepared for the winter by storing feed. The snow melted in December, but puddles quickly froze: the cattle were unable to get through the ice to feed themselves. With temperatures dropping to -63°, little could be done for the dying cattle. Starving cows invaded the town of Great Falls, eating young trees and garbage. Yet it was not enough, and most died as they called out haunting shouts of hunger.
The Hard Winter: 1886-7 Experts estimate that 360,000 cattle died that winter, though it is hard to know. Losses were worst in Eastern Montana, where large cattle companies lost up to 90% of their cattle. The winter of 1886-87 was a wake-up call. Never again would Montana ranchers operate so recklessly.
Recovery Came Quickly Losses from the Hard Winter changed the cattle industry – hundreds of outfits went out of business. The outfits that did survive the Hard Winter ran things differently. They began planting food for the winter and raising smaller herds. They also improved the quality of their stock through careful breeding. For example, cattle were bred to grow thicker winter coats.
Recovery Came Quickly Ranchers realized they had to start caring for the water, soil and grasses, and many ranchers fenced grazing ranges to keep cattle from wandering. With the dawn of fences (and later barbed wire) the days of the open range were ending.
Sheep Fared Better Sheep had survived the Hard Winter in much better condition than cattle had. More and more ranchers learned that if they raised both cattle and sheep that they could still sell mutton and wool if the price of beef dropped. By 1900, Montana had 6 million sheep – more than any other state. By 1904, the state produced 38 million pounds of wool.