Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pam Crooks on The Cattle Drive

There are few things that smack of the Old West as much as a cattle drive and all that one entailed--cowboys, drovers, rowdy cowtowns. Remudas of horses and thousands of head of longhorn cattle. Dust and sweat--and fortunes made at the end of the line.
But one lesser known facet of the era is the cattle queen, that rare and intriguing breed of woman who owned her own ranch and herd. A hard life made harder without a man at her side.
I had long wanted to build a story combining those parts of America’s history, and UNTAMED COWBOY was born.
But once I had the plot in mind, my creativity stalled. What did I know about cattle drives--besides almost nothing? So I hit the Internet and found some lovely rare book sites. Along the way, I uncovered some intriguing tidbits of information. I’ll share a few with you:

1. The horns on longhorn cattle had a spread of up to seven feet wide and were strong enough to rip bark off a tree.

2. The average size herd during the peak of the cattle drive era was 3,000 head. It took a remuda of 75 horses and 7 - 10 cowboys to drive the herds. Trail bosses were paid $100/month, the cook $50/month and each cowboy, $30/month. Minimal expenses for herds that when sold netted their owners $100,000 for a trip that took anywhere from several weeks to several months. Do the math. That’s a hefty profit for the time.

3. The usual fare for cowboys was beans, bacon, hard biscuits and strong coffee. Ironically, though they were surrounded by beef, the outfits rarely killed a beef on the trail because only a smart part of the meat could be eaten before it spoiled.

4. In dry country, thirsty cattle could smell water ten miles away.

5. Lightning was the most common cause of death on the trail. During a storm, the cowboys would hide their silver (metal spurs, knives, even six-shooters) to avoid being struck.

For those rare times when beef was available, the camp cook would make his own version of “Sonofabitch Stew.” Here’s one yummy-sounding recipe:
2 lbs. lean beef
Half a calf heart
1 ½ pounds calf liver
1 set sweetbreads (thymus gland)
1 set brains
1 set marrow gut
Salt, Pepper
Louisiana hot sauce

Kill off a young steer and cut up beef, liver and heart into 1 inch cubes. Slice the marrow gut into small rings. Place in a Dutch oven or deep casserole. Cover meat with water and simmer 2 - 3 hours.

Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Take sweetbreads and brains and cut in small pieces. Add to stew. Simmer another hour, never boiling.

I’m writing the sequel to UNTAMED COWBOY now, and it should be out next spring. Stop by my website to learn about my upcoming book, a Christmas anthology, out in October. While you’re there, sign up for my newsletter, too. It’s free!


CherylStJ said...

Thanks for the fun facts! Can't wait to read it.

Charlene Sands said...


Funny - I'd always used the term son-of-a-gun stew! But it's the same. Great facts. Love the pic.