Sunday, March 17, 2024

Cattle Stampedes

Cattle Stampede by Artist William Henry Dethlef Koerner 

Story by Terry McGahey 

As a working cowboy, I never experienced a true stampede. I once experienced a minor stampede in which we had to ride ahead of the cattle and turn them into a mill before they ran headlong into the fences. Turning cattle into a mill, simply put, means to turn the leaders into a circle until the leaders run into the back of the rest of the herd shutting them down.

We were only moving about one hundred head from one pasture to another when a lightning strike to a tree during the monsoon season caused the cattle to run. Believe me, this small run pales in comparison to what the drovers on the old cattle drives had to deal with. And not only that, it was daylight and not as dark as three feet down a cow's throat which the drovers of that time also had to deal with. A run at night could quickly put you in your grave.

One other time I was pushing about sixty head or so of mostly wild longhorn cattle by myself up to the working pens. When they reached the wing we built to funnel them into the pen they pulled up, turned, and on a dead run was headed directly at me and my horse. 

All I could do was to get my horse behind a tree and let them go. If I would have tried to turn them it could have been the end of me and my horse. Below I have given the quotes by the old-time drovers when it comes to stampedes.

Charles Goodnight of the Goodnight/Loving Trail said it this way, "In the excitement of a stampede a man was not himself, and his horse was not the horse of yesterday. Man and horse were one, and the combination accomplished feats that would be utterly impossible under ordinary circumstances.

A drover by the name of Andy Adams wrote, "A stampede is the natural result of fear, and at night or in uncertain light, this timidity might be imparted to an entire herd by a flash of lightning or a pearl of thunder, while the stumbling of a night horse, or the scent of some wild animal, would in a moment's time, from frightening a few head, so infest a herd as to throw them into the wildest panic.  

Amongst the thousands of herds like ours that were driven over the trail during its brief existence, none ever made the trip without encountering more or less trouble from runs. Frequently a herd became so spoiled in this manner that it grew into a mania with them, so that they would stampede on the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all."

E.C. Abbott (Teddy Blue) wrote, "If a storm and the cattle started running you’d hear that low rumbling noise along the ground and the men on herd wouldn’t need to come in and tell you, you’d know, then you’d jump for your horse and get out there on the lead, trying to head them and get them into a mill before they scattered to hell and gone. 

It was riding at a dead run in the dark, with cut banks and prairie dog holes all around you, not knowing if the next jump would land you in a shallow grave. I helped to bury three of them in very shallow graves."

If you ever get the chance, read Teddy Blue’s book called We Pointed Them North. It’s a very good read that gives the true nature of what it was like to live and be a drover during that time period.

Terry McGahey
Associate Writer/ Old West Historian

Terry has been a working cowboy, writer, and historian. He is best known for his fight against the City of Tombstone and their historic City Ordinance Number 9. 

He was instrumental in getting the famous Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 repealed while at the same time forcing the City of Tombstone to fall in line and comply with the laws of the State of Arizona. 

If you care to read how he fought Tombstone's City Hall and won, check out:

1 comment:

  1. This story beautifully captures the challenges faced by cowboys during the era of Cattle drives in the old west. Tempeds were a constant threat. Visionary Wire


Thank you for your comment.