Feb 8th 2019

Remembering the Old West

by David Galenson

David W. Galenson is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago; Academic Director of the Center for Creativity Economics at Universidad del CEMA, Buenos Aires; and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His publications include Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton University Press, 2006) and Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press and NBER, 2009).


 

Few modern cities can boast that a herd of Longhorn cattle has been driven along its main streets. But San Antonio can: each February, in a tribute to the past, the city plays host to a cattle drive.

Cattle 1

Longhorn cattle being driven through downtown San Antonio.
Image courtesy San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

 

Between 1866 and 1885, nearly 6 million Longhorns were driven from south Texas, north along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Dodge City, and other Kansas cattle towns. Northern beef prices had risen sharply during the Civil War, while neglect of Texas’ ranches had left great herds of cattle roaming free on the plains. So in the early years of the drives, most of the cattle were shipped by rail from Kansas to Chicago’s slaughterhouses. Over time, however, increasing numbers of Texas cattle were shipped to stock newly opened northern ranges in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. A ranching boom in these states eventually resulted in falling northern beef prices. Texas ranchers ceased to find it profitable to drive cattle north, and the Chisholm Trail came to an end.

Cattle 2

Longhorn cattle being driven through downtown San Antonio.
Image courtesy San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

 

On the morning of Saturday, February 2, in honor of the opening of the San Antonio rodeo, a dozen cowboys herded 75 Longhorn cattle, beginning near Market Square through downtown San Antonio, past the Alamo to La Villita. In a nod to historical authenticity, the cattle on the drive were genetically identical to their 19th-century predecessors: they are owned by the Kimble Cattle Company, which raises Longhorns on 1300 acres in Karnes City, 60 miles south of San Antonio, according to the motto “Raising Walking History.” In one respect, however, the cattle that walked through San Antonio last week are very different from their 19th-century ancestors. Whereas in the 1880s a mature steer might sell for $20 on the range in Texas – less than a cowboy’s monthly wage – the Longhorns that paraded through San Antonio this year are worth up to $20,000 apiece.

Cattle 3

Map of the Old Chisholm Cattle Trail, ca. 1873.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

Walking at a brisk pace, the Longhorns in this year’s cattle drive reached their destination in 30 minutes. In the 1870s, this would have been just the beginning of two long months on the dry and dusty plains of Texas and Oklahoma. Today’s cattle were more fortunate, for barely an hour after their walk through San Antonio they were back on their home pastures. For a brief time, however, the sight of Longhorn cattle passing in front of the Alamo provided a vivid reminder of one of the most colorful chapters in the history of the Old West.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Apr 27th 2017

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel

Apr 24th 2017



Left: Henry Taylor, “The Times Thay Aint a Changing Fast Enough!” (2016);
Apr 22nd 2017

April 22 is Earth Day, one of the world’s largest environmental movements against climate change. It’s a time when people around the world come together to defend the environment against the impact of humans.

Apr 14th 2017

In the run-up to Easter, it is customary for Egypt’s Coptic Christians to go to church every evening.

Apr 14th 2017

Google could lose as much as $750 million because of a boycott by advertisers, according to Nomura Research.

Apr 14th 2017

Image 20170329 8593 13p35fo Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Apr 12th 2017

A record-breaking 8m students will graduate from Chinese universities in 2017.

Apr 7th 2017

The idea of a life lived modestly is gaining traction. Ten years ago, Samantha Weinberg, a mother of two young children, spent a year not shopping.

Apr 6th 2017

What if every citizen had a guaranteed income, regardless of whether they are at work? In an age of austerity and the rolling back of social policies, this idea may sound radical – but it is gaining momentum.

Apr 5th 2017

This February, more than 100 gravestones were vandalized at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society Cemetery outside of St.

Apr 3rd 2017

Martin Rees is Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, at the University of Cambridge, the Astronomer Royal, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and a former President of the Royal Society.

Apr 1st 2017

The international media – particularly U.S. print and broadcast outlets -- are accustomed to high tension with the governments they cover in Washington. The press has always relished its adversarial, intrusive and disruptive role, and presidents have never liked it. In the 1930s H.L.

Mar 25th 2017

Touch underpins our social world and, evidence suggests, it may even help to reduce anxiety and provide pain relief. But can touch shape the actual organisation of our brains?

Mar 24th 2017

More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from type 2 diabetes. The condition is already rampant in several Western countries and numbers are now rising fast in emerging economies, such as India and China.

Mar 24th 2017

Children are manifesting increased rates of adult diseases like hypertension or high triglycerides.

Mar 22nd 2017

Academic psychologists have promulgated the myth that wisdom hinders creativity.

Mar 18th 2017

MADISON – A Dutch demagogue stirs up his followers in a campaign against immigrants.

Mar 18th 2017

Weight gain happens when we consume more food than we can burn, and weight loss happens when we burn more energy than we consume. But why do some people seem to eat whatever they want and not gain weight, and others appear to gain weight even if they eat reasonable amounts of food?