Cattle Trails

From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page: River Crossings, Doan's Store, Old Blue, Lead Steers, Cotulla.

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Table of Contents
About This Site

Swimming the Platte, portion of engraving by E. Boyd Smith.

As indicated on the previous page, the dangers of the trail were not limited to stampedes. Many were killed at the very beginning of the drive at the Red River. There were four crossings: Rock Rock River Crossing, Red River Station, Doan's Crossing, and Ringgold. Rock River Crossing on the Shawnee Trail at the confluence of the Red River and the Washita fell into disuse for cattle as the trails moved westward.

Trail Outfit at Rocky Bluffs Ford of the Red River

Andy Adams described Doan's Crossing:

"Red River, this boundary river on the northern border of Texas, was a terror to trail drivers. The majestic grandeur of the river was apparent on every hand, with its red bluff banks, the sediment of its red waters marking the timber along its course, while the driftwood, lodged in trees and high on the banks, indicated what might be expected when she became sportive or angry. The crossing had been in use only a year or two when we forded, yet five graves, one of which was less than ten days made, attested her disregard for human life. It can safely be asserted that at this and lower trail crossings on Red River, the lives of more trail men were lost by drowning than on all other rivers together."

Doan's Crossing of the Red River

Doan's Crossing was the last site of civilization before heading into Indian Territory. It was the location of a store and post office established by Corwin F. Doan (1848-1929) and his uncle Jonathan Doan. The store was establshed in 1878 and the Post Office in 1879. C. F. Doan later described that the first sign that the trail herds were beginning to arrive, one of Ab Blocker's colored hands brought in mail. In Trail Drivers of Texas, compliled and edited by J. Marvin Hunter, C. F. Doan described his establishment:

The first house at Doan's was made of pickets with a dirt roof and floor of the same material. The first winter we had no door but a buffalo robe did service against the northers. The store which had consisted mainly of ammunition and a few groceries occupied one end and the family lived in the other. A huge fireplace around which Indians, buffalo hunters and the family sat, proved very comforting. The warmest seat was reserved for the one who held the baby and this proved to be a very much coveted job. Furniture made with an ax and a saw adorned the humble dwelling.

Original store at Doan's Crossing.

Doan continued in his description:

Later the store and dwelling were divorced. An adobe store which gave way to a frame building was built. Two log cabins for the families were erected. In 1881 our present home was built, the year the county was organized. This dwelling I still occupy. Governors, English Lords, bankers, lawyers, tramps and people from every walk in life have found sanctuary within its walls. And if these walls could speak many a tale of border warfare would echo from i ts gray shadows.

Doan's Store, 1870's.

Besides being the end of civilization before entering Indian Territory, the crossing was where state inspectors examined the cattle for compliance with Articles 777 and 777 of the 1879 Texas Revised Civil and Criminal Statutes. The statutes made it a criminal offence to drive cattle out of the state without the cattle having a road brand and without having the cattle inspected. On one occasion, about 14 herds were being driven northward by the Butlers. Two of the state inspectors found two bovines which had no brands. They threatened Mr. Butler with fines of $50.00 each. Dollars would be about equal to two months pay for a cowboy. .Butler solved the problem by having the cowboys kidnap the inspectors and take them almost deep into Indian Territory almost to the Kansas border near the Arkansas River. The inspectors then had to walk and swim back to Texas. The Butlers were not bothered again.

As the herds proceeded through Indian Territory they ran a guantlet. Most of the Indians could be placated by the gift of one or two sickly steers. As previously noted, it was customary to pick up strays along the way and retain them. An exception existed when the stray belonged to a trail herd that was up ahead. Under those circumstances there was indeed honor amongst the thieves. The stray joined the herd until the preceeding herd was overtaken. The stray would then be returned to its rightful owner. W. T. "Bill" Jackman (1852-1937) drove herds north for some eleven years. In his first drive as a trail boss for the Adams Brothers, he was told to gather up "everthing you find regardless of brand." He did so and after finding out that another trail boss was in the jail at Bandera for the same thing, kept to "high places" near the herd to avoid keeping his fellow trail boss company. One year, Bill's herd picked up a stray belonging to one of Ike Pryor herd's. Ike (1852-1937) was a well known and respected Texas cattleman. At age 5 Ike had been orphaned and was on his own at age 9 selling newspapers to the Union Army of the Cumberland. After the war, Ike started out as a $15.00 a month cowboy. By 1881, Ike was trailing 45,000 head northward. In 1917 in Cheyenne, Ike was elected as President of the American National Live Stock Association. He was re-elected by acclamation. Bill Jackman took Ike's stray with all good intentions of returning the animal when he caught up with Ike's herd. Red River was crossed. Bill proceeded northward into Indian Territory. One afternoon, a band of about forty Indian warriors including their squaws, rode up to Bill's herd. The chief handed Bill a letter:

" To the trail bosses:

"This man is a good Indian; I know him personally.
Treat him well, give him a beef
and you will have no trouble in driving through
his country."


After reading the letter, Bill rode into the herd, cut out Ike's steer and presented the animial to the chief. The Indians killed the steer and had a big feast. Bill went on North with his herd undisturbed by the Indians, thanking Ike for the good advice.

River Crossing, Alfred R. Waud, Harper's 1867

For information as to Alfred R. Waud, see Yellowstone.

Monument at Doan's Crossing

Today, the crossing at Red River Station is on privately owned land and is not accessible. Instead, the visitor may gaze upon a monument and a wheat field, but the river is not to be seen. At Doan's Crossing there is C. F. Doan's adobe house along with another monument bearing the brands of many of the outfits passing by.

Addison Spaugh, later a foreman for the Converse Cattle Company when it was located on Old Woman Creek north of Manville, later observed:

Outfits had gaily started north, only to reach their destinations months later with half their cattle gone, some of their men laying in shallow graves along the trail, or lost in the waters of angry rushing rivers.

Besides the danger of drowning, the river bottoms were often quicksand. E. E. Smith, "The Passing of the Cattle-Trail," X Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1907-1908, described an 1880 cattle drive undertaken for Robert A. Harper:

When the Canadian river was reached it was bank full and still rising, and constant rains kept it up for several days. Each day while thus kept waiting outfits were constantly arriving, till at last, worn out with the delay, the managers of the several cattle and horse herds held a council, which resulted in a decision to force a passage. This was very dangerous, for the Canadian was full of quicksand, and, like the Cimarron, "buries its dead." Rafts were made, camp-equipage, wagons, etc., were crossed safely over. Following this the herds were rounded up with men in position, and a small bunch of 500 head of cattle was driven into the river, for cattle will take water more readily than horses and swim better. The cattle served to set the quicksands in motion and to lead the horses across. Some of the men swam their horses to guide their cattle and keep them moving to the farther shore. The horses were put into the river immediately behind the cattle, and crossed with the loss of five head. While crossing another bunch of cattle, a few got upon a sand-bar and began "milling" (moving around in a circle). and several head were drowned before the "mill" could be broken up. A number of Indians who were watching at once fell to rescuing carcasses, and succeeded in getting four or five out of the water, when they at once proceeded to have a feast.

W. B. Foster described his efforts at breaking up milling in the middle of the stream. The cattle were jammed together so in Foster's words, "that it was like walking on a raft of logs." He stripped to his underwear, got off his horse and onto the cattle and mounted the only large steer and got him to the shore and then drifted down stream to his horse. He then had to spend the entire day tending to the herd in his underwear without saddle or hat until his mess mates could catch up about sundown.

One method of avoiding drowning on a river crossing was to unsaddle one's horse and to ride across naked. In that manner, one would not be weighed down by clothing, boots, and gear. In crossing the Yellowstone, Teddy Blue Abbott followed that practice. Abbott recalled that one of his messmates asked, "What are you taking your clothes off for? Hell, it's nothing but a crick." Another did not want to take off his boots, but Abbott told him by the time he got to the otherside he would think it was the Atlantic Ocean.

Sometimes riding across naked could cause unforeseen difficulties. Jeremah Milton "Jerry" Nance (1850-1926), an early Texas drover recalled an incident on the Canadian. The herd had reached the river which was on the rise. Other herds were arriving. Fearing that the various herds would nix, it was decided to cross the river. The entire trail crew stripped in peparation.

The cattle were started across and were going fine, when it came up a terrific hailstorm, which interrupted the proceedings. One man was across on the other side of the river, naked, with his horse and saddle and about half of the herd and the balance of us were on this side with the other half of the herd and all the supplies. There was no timber on our side of the river, and when the hail began pelting the boys and myself made a break for the wagon for shelter. We were all naked, and the hail came down so furiously that within a short time it was about two inches deep on the ground. It must have hailed considerably up the river, for the water was so cold we could not get any more of the herd across that day. We were much concerned about getting help to the man across the river. We tried all evening to get one of the boys over, to carry the fellow some clothes and help look after the cattle, but failed in each attempt. We could not see him nor the cattle on account of the heavy timber on the other side, and the whole bottom was covered with water so that it was impossible for him to come near enough to hear us when we called him. The water was so cold that horse nor man could endure it, and in trying to cross over several of them came near drowning and were forced to turn back, so the man on the other side had to stay over there all night alone and naked.

Nance was estimated to have trailed some 200,000 head north. One of his first drives was a three month drive to Cheyenne.

Samuel Dunn Houston, a cowboy who rode for Tom Moore, a contract drover, recalled of an 1879 trail drive:

When we reached Fort Laramie we made ready to cross. I pulled my saddle off and then my clothes. Tom came up and said, "Sam you are doing the right thing." I told him I had crossed the river before and that I had a good friend who once started to cross the river and he was lost in the quicksand. His name was Theodore Luce of Lockhart, Texas. He was lost just above the old Seven Crook Ranch above Ogallala.

And Andy Adams similarly described in his The Log of a Cowboy a young cowboy who drowned crossing the North Platte near Fort Laramie. In his pocket was found a letter from his mother bidding him to take care. His two brothers had drowned on the trail. A minister from a nearby emigrants' train delivered a service. Thus, a young lad far from his home in Texas was laid to rest beside the Platte while the minister's two daughters sang How Firm a Foundation, the same hymn as sung at the funeral of General Lee. The third verse:

When thro' the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

River Crossing, Jean Andre Castaigne, Scribner's Magazine

J. A. Castaigne (1861-1929) was a French artist who provided art work in the 1890's for American periodicals, Scribner's, Century Magazine, Harper's, and McClure's. He is sometimes listed as a Western artist, mainly due to drawings of American Indians. He was a recipient of Legion d' Honneur.

If the drovers were following the Goodnight-Loving Trail across the Llano Estacado, a dificulty after leaving the Middle Branch of the Concho was an 80 to 90 miles "dry drive" until Horsehead Crossing was reached. In 2009, an early cattle drive from the Mexican border to Saskatchewan was replicated, the first such cattle drive in over 100 years. The drive took from April 17 until September 2. In one area of New Mexico, the drovers came across a sight which indicated the perils of a dried up water hole.

Bob Vance on Prince Sagenfurst at a dried up water hole, New Mexico.

On the trail besides the dangers, the cowboys were faced with dust, heat, and boredom. At the rear of the herd the least experienced rode drag. Their job was to prod along the slow, the infirm, or the lazy cattle. Occasionally, a cow would drop out to give birth to a calf. Since new born calves could not keep up with the herd, it was an unpleasant duty of the drag riders to dispatch the calves and drive the cow back into the main herd. At the back of the herd the dust was such that the color of the men's clothes could scarely be discerned. Indeed, as recalled by one cowboy, Ben Kinchlow:

"I went up the Chisholm Trail five or six times. Charley Word, Blocker, George West, W.G.B. Grimes, Abel an' John Pierce was all big trail drivers then. Goin' up the trail you never was out of sight of a herd. The trail was so worn, that the dust would be knee deep to the cattle. You could ride right up to the rear of the cattle an' you couldn't see the cattle for the dust.

"Holding Up the Lead," undated

To the sides of the herd would ride the flankers and ahead of them the swingmen whose jobs were to keep the herd aligned. The dust was hardly less and in some instances they faced the incredible heat given off by the herd. At the front of the herd several of the more experienced rode point, for it was there that the more rambunctious cattle would be found. It was the job of the pointmen to keep the herd aimed correctly. Leading the herd was the lead steer or "bell ox." the most famous of which was Charles Goodnight's "Old Blue." Old Blue, according to J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns, 1941, "was known from the Pecos to the Arkansas, in Colorado as well well as in Texas. He knew the trail to Dodge City bettr than hundreds of cowboys who galloped up its Front Street." Not only did Dobie wrote of Old Blue but accounts of the steer appeared in J. Evetts Haley's 1936 charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman and in an article by Vance Johnson in the Amarillo Daily News January 7, 1938. For eight years Old Blue proved so valuable in guiding the herds, that Goodnight refused to sell him. More than ten thousand head followed the sound of Old Blue's bell north. Old Blue walked right into camp and eat bread, meat died apples and anything that the cook would give him. He would sometimes bed down with the remuda. He understood the slightest motion of the point men. He was, according to Dobie, worth an extra dozen hands.

There were other lead steers belonging to other trail drivers. A lead steer called "Pardner" saved Bill Blocker's life at the Salt Fork of the Arkansas. A lead steer named "John Chisum" led one of Jack Potter's herds to safty in an 1889 blizzard in which thousands of cattle died. Of eleven herds on the trail in the blizzard, only the one led by "John Chisum" got through.

A Blizzard on the Plains, F. W. Schultz, 1907.

Potter was the son of the famed "Fighting Parson" Andrews Jackson Potter, a chaplain in the Confederate Army. Jack Potter named his lead steers after famous people. Potter later explained:

Never in my life have I seen snowflakes as we made into. They were as big as your finger and were driven by a gale blowing sixty miles an hour. We were going up El Muerto Creek, and I kept wondering what traveling would be like when we left it and got out on the naked divide.
By the time we reached the place to top out, the prairie was covered with snow. The red sand-hill grass was a foot high here. I was piloting the herd, following a newly beat-out road. It ;wasn’t graded or anything like that — just some twisting wagon ruts. The only way I could distinguish it was by noting that the snow was smooth in the ruts and uneven in the grass. I had to pull my hat down over my eyes to protect them from the cuutting storm. I could not see ten yards ahead, but I kept to the road. I had never been over it, and knew the country only in a general way. "Then we came to a prong. I figgered one branch led off into the breaks of the Pierdenal — towards shelter. I took it. But old John Chisum, close to my horse's tail, refused to follow. He ducked into the one that seemed to keep on going over the bleak prairie. I was puzzled and commenced to talk to that steer.
'You don't seem to realize I am piloting this herd,' I said to him. 'I know a horse has more sense than a man. If you give a horse with any sense at all his reins on a dark night or in a snowstorm, he will take you to camp; but you've never been where you are headed, so far as I know. What right has an old, cold-blooded, scalawag steer to be making decisions for a trail boss? If we don't find shelter before night, God knows what will become of all of us. Nevertheless, I'm just guessing too, and now I'm going to let you have your way.'
John Chisum was right. In twenty minutes we reached a ridge with canyons covered with big pines running off on each side. The trail led down one of these into the Tremperos. As we entered it, four riders from the ranch came out to help us pen and to welcome us to their shelter. "The storm lulled for a few days, and we floundered on but if Clayton had been a mile farther off I don't believe my horse would ever have got me there or that John Chisum would ever have led the cattle into the shipping pens.* * * * There seemed to be only one John Chisum on the trails that time —_but I do take a little credit to myself for having had sense enough to pay attention to what a good lead steer says." As quoted by J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns, p . 278-279

Potter's story, however, may be taken with a grain of salt. Potter contributed an article, "Coming up the Trail in 1882" for Trail Drivers of Texas." The article has been repeated endlessly by various writers as if it were the Gospel Truth. In the article, Potter recounted his misadventures at age 16 on his return to Texas from Wyoming and the Crow Agency north of Sheridan. He had, he wrote, "never been on a railroad train, had never slept in a hotel, never taken a bath in a bath house." Nevertheless, he was asked, he said, by George W. Saunders to help "Dog Face Smith" and his bunch from Cotulla in changing cars down the line. "Old Dog Face and his bunch were pretty badly frightened and we had considerable difficulty in getting them aboard."

Potter continued:

Old Dog Face' was out of humor, and was the last to bed down. At about 3 o'clock our train was side tracked to. let the west-bound- t^ain pass. This little stop caused the boys to sleetp the sounder. Just then the west-bound train sped by traveling at the rate of about forty miles an hour, and just as it passed our coach the engineer blew the. whistle. Talk about your stampedes! That bunch of sleeping cowboys arose as one man, and started on the run with Old 'Dog Face' Smith in the lead. I was a little slow in getting up, but fell in with the drags. I had not yet woke up, but thinking I was in a genuine cattle stempede, yelled out, "Circle your leaders and keep up the drags." Just then the leaders circled and ran into the drags, knocking some of us down. They circled again and the news butcher crawled out from under foot and jumped through the window like a frog. Before they could circle back the next time, the train crew pushed in the door and caught Old 'Dog Face' and soon the bunch quieted down. The conductor was pretty angry and threatened to have us transferred to the freight department and loaded in a stock car.

The story is no doubt a tweaking of the tail of George Saunders as well as the bunch down at Cotulla, so much so that the editor of Trail Drivers found it necessary to include a disclaimer:

Editor's Note--Theforegoing will be read with much interest by the old cowboys who worked the range and traveled the trail with Jack Potter. Mr. Potter is now a prosperous stockman. owning large ramch interests in Oklahoma and New Mexico. He is the son of Rev. Jack Potter, the "Fighting Parson," who was known to all the early settlers of West Texas. The above artcile is characteristic of the humor and wit of this rip-raring, hell-raising cow-puncher, who, George Saunders says, and other friends concur in the assertion, was considered to the the most cheerful liar on the fact of the earth, But he was always the life of the outfit in camp or on the trail.

Apparently, the point of the story was to make fun of Cotulla and the idea that tough Cotulla cowboys were stampeded by the sound of a train. Hhowever, Cotulla cowboys were rough, so much so that allegedly when a train pulled into the Cotulla station, the conductor would call out "Cotulla! Everybody get your guns ready."There were shooting on Front Street, Sheriff McKinney was murdered which resulted in further gunfights. There were illegal hangings. The governor had to send in a troop of Texas Rangers.

Texas Rangers in Cotulla, Texas, Feb. 1887.

A justice of the peace was killed in a gunfight. The first courthouse was burned down -- arson. Indeed, the cowboys were allegedly fearless. In an 1898 shootout at Pattershon's Saloon in 1898 Henry May was shot and killed by John Guy Smith. Smith was acquitted -- self defense. Smith was not, however, Dog Face. Smith was involved in another shooting in the Burke Hotel and one time was shot in the back but survived. An international incident occured when Mexican nationals. were incarcerated in the local jail, removed, and lynched without going through the normal legal niceties. Smith, who also went under the name J. Guy Reed, left town about 1902 after being convicted several years before of criminal libel for writing in his paper the The LaSalle County Isonomy the following billet doux concerning the town's founder, Joseph Cotulla:

“Scandal is a vulture that dips in dirty pools, by reason of which Joseph Cotulla, Poland’s distinguished son, or at times not improperly denominated ‘La Salle’s Squaw Belligerent,’ talks altogethertoo much with his mouth. It is a task of no inconsiderable magnitudeto convince the very easy-going Polack that his mouth was made as a means of ingress for food, not for empty bombast. The highly-esteemed Joseph’s tongue is a little too scurrilous. He should surprise it with a muzzle. The old fellow seems to be troubled with an aggravated case of flatulency of the face. It often leaks like a lot of verba egesta. Joseph, the atmospherical exponent of the liar’s inexorable decree, has had it in for the editor for, lo, these many moons. (Meaning thereby that the said Joseph Cotulla had been guilty of, and was in the habit of, making scandalous and scurrilous statements concerning others, which, if true, would be disgraceful to him, the said Joseph Cotulla, as a member of society, and the natural consequence of which is to bring him, the said Joseph Cotulla, into contempt among honorable persons; and further meaning thereby that he, the said Joseph Cotulla, had the moral vices of being a scandal monger and common liar, which, if true, would render him, the said Joseph Cotulla, unfit for intercourse with respectable society, and such as would cause him, the said Joseph Cotulla, to be generally avoided),” See Smith vs The State, 39 Texas Criminal Reports 326, 43 S.W. 1013, (1898)

Cotulla early worked for Ben Slaughter and was paid $7.00 a month in Confederate "blue backs." After the Civil War he returned to Texas and built his herd by branding mavericks. Cotulla made two trips up the trail in 1873 and 1874.

Ahead of the pointmen and the lead steer was the trail boss and ahead of him would be the cook who would, among other things gather the occasional fuel, and set up for the evening dinner. The cook was generally recognized as the second most important man in the trail crew and would receive as much as $5.00 a month more than other drovers. He was often experienced in all aspects of trail work and could fill in where needed. Additionally, there were wranglers to tend to the horses. For each cowboy would ride three or more horses in a day, so as to preclude horses from becoming winded.

Music this page:

Red River Valley

From this valley they say you are going.
I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.
For they say you are taking the sunshine.
That has brightened our pathway awhile.


Come and sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
But remember the Red River Valley
and the cowboy that loves you so true.

From this valley they say your are going.
I will miss your sweet face and your smile.
Just because you are weary and tired,
You are changing your range for awhile.

Repeat Chorus

I've been waiting a long time my darling
For the sweet words you never say.
Now at last all my fond hopes have vanished.
For they say you are going away.

Repeat Chorus

O there never could be such a longing
In the heart of a poor cowboy's breast.
That now dwell in the heart you are breaking.
As I wait in my home in the west.

Repeat chorus

Do you think of the valley you're leaving?
O how lonely and drear it will be!
Do you think of the kind heart you're breaking.
And the pain you are causing to me?

Repeat Chorus

As you go to your home by the ocean,
May you never forget those sweet hours
That we spent in the Red River Valley,
And the love we exchanged mid the flowers.

The origins of "Red River Valley" are uncertain. It has been variously traced to the Prairie Provences of Canada and to Iowa. Various valleys have been used in the words, Sherman Valley, Mohawk Valley, as well as the Red River. It is uncertain whether it originally referenced the Red River of the North or the Red River that the cowboys crossed on the way to the north along the cattle trails to Wyoming and Montana. It has even found its way across the Pond where the melody is used in the traditional Liverpudlian song by those that wear a red and white liver bird upon their chests, Poor Scouser Tommy [Use browser "back" button to return]:

Let me tell you the story of a poor boy
Who was sent far away from his home
To fight for his king and his country
And also the old folks back home

Now they put him in a Highland division
Sent him off to a far foreign land
Where the flies flew around in their thousands
And there's nothing to see but the sand

Well the battle started next morning
Under the Libyan sun
I remember that poor Scouser Tommy
Who was shot by an old nazi gun

As he lay on the battle field dying (dying dying)
With blood gushing out of his head
As he lay on the battle field dying (dying dying)
These were the last words he said...

[Remaining verses sung to the tune of "The Sash My Father Wore."]

Ohhhhhh... I am a Liverpudlian
I come from the Spion Kop
I love to sing, I love to shout
I go there quite a lot (Every Week)

We support the team thats dressed in Red
A team that you all know
A team that we call Liverpool
And to glory we will go

We've won the League, we've won the Cup
And we've been to Europe too
We played the toffees for a laugh
And we left them feeling blue - Five Nil!

Writer's note: "Spion Kop" refers to the steep stands behind the goal occupied by the most vociferous Liverpudlians. They are so called because of the stands supposed resemblance to a hill which was the site of a Boer victory near Ladysmith, Natal, South Africa, during the Boer Wars. The Toffees, Everton Football Club, a main rival of Liverpool F.C. There is a pun in the last line, Everton are the "Blues." The liver bird, pronounced "Ly-ver," a bird that perches high on top of the Liver Building and is the symbol of the Liverpool Football Club.

Next Page, Cattle drives continued.