customary method of studying history by means of a series of events and
dates is not the method which we have chosen to employ in this study of
Speaking generally, our minds are unable to assimilate a condensed mass of
events and dates; and that is precisely what would be required of us if we
should attempt here to follow the ways of conventional history. Dates are
at best no more than milestones on the pathway of time; and in the present
instance it is not the milestones but the road itself with which we are
concerned. Where does the road begin? Why comes it hither? Whither does it
lead? These are the real questions.
Under all the exuberance of the life of the range there lay a steady
business of tremendous size and enormous values. The "uproarious iniquity"
of the West, its picturesqueness, its vividness--these were but froth on
the stream. The stream itself was a steady and somber flood.
picturesqueness of environment very few have cared to go, and
therefore sometimes have had little realization of the vastness of the
cowboys' kingdom, the "magnitude of the interests in his care, or
the fortitude, resolution, and instant readiness essential to his
daily life." The American
is the most modern representative of a human industry that is second
to very few in antiquity.
Julius Caesar struck the note of real history: Quorum pars magna fui--"Of
which I was a great part." If we are to seek the actual truth, we
ought most to value contemporary records, representations made by men
who were themselves a part of the scenes which they describe. In that
way we shall arrive not merely upon lurid events, not alone upon the
stereotyped characters of the "Wild
West," but upon causes which are much more interesting and
immensely more valuable than any merely titillating stories from the
weirdly illustrated Apocrypha of the West. We must go below such
things if we would gain a just and lasting estimate of the times. We
ought to look on the old range neither as a playground of idle men nor
as a scene of hysterical and contorted human activities. We ought to
look upon it from the point of view of its uses to mankind. The
explorers found it a wilderness, the home of the red man and the
buffalo. What were the underlying causes of its settlement and
There is in history no agency so wondrous
in events, no working instrumentality so great as transportation. The
great seeking of all human life is to find its level. Perhaps the
first men traveled by hollowed logs down stream. Then possibly the
idea of a sail was conceived. Early in the story of the United States
men made commercial journeys from the head of the Ohio to the mouth of
Mississippi River by flatboats, and came back by keelboats. The pole,
the cordelle, the paddle, and the sail, in turn helped them to
navigate the great streams which led out into the West. And presently
there was to come that tremendous upheaval wrought by the advent of
the iron trails which, scorning alike waterways and mountain ranges,
flung themselves almost directly westward across the continent.
The iron trails, crossing
the northern range soon after the
Civil War, brought a market to the
cattle country. Inevitably the men of the lower range would seek to reach
the railroads with what they had to sell--their greatest natural product,
cattle on the hoof. This was the primary cause of the great northbound
drives already mentioned, the greatest pastoral phenomena in the story of
The southern herds at that time had no market
at their doors. They had to go to the market, and they had to go on foot.
That meant that they must be driven northward by cattle handlers who had
passed their days in the wild life of the lower range.
These cowmen of course
took their character and their customs northward with them, and so they
were discovered by those enthusiastic observers, newly arrived by rail,
whom the cowmen were wont to call "pilgrims."
Now the trail of the
great cattle drives -- the Long Trail -- was a thing of tremendous importance
of itself and it is still full of interest. As it may not easily be
possible for the author to better a description of it that was written
some twenty years ago, that description is here again set down.