The Cattle Trains

When I was a young boy living in Osage County, Oklahoma, I was very impressed by the cattle trains.  Seeing them made me daydream of growing up to become a cowboy.

In the days before feedlots, anthrax, paved roads, and monster eighteen-wheel trucks, cattle were shipped by train into the mineral-rich Flint Hills of Oklahoma and Kansas to be fattened on the good grass over the spring and summer, before being sent to the packing houses in Kansas City.

The cattle trains began arriving in the early spring, bringing cattle up from South Texas and Old Mexico.  Depending on the size of the ranch the cattle were headed to, those trains could be forty or more cattle cars long.  I am not sure how many cows and other critters were in each car.

The trains came into locations called holding pens at towns such as Suldina, Blackburn, and Foracker, Oklahoma.  The ranchers had cowboys on horses waiting at the pens to move the cattle out to their pastures.  Some of those herds leaving the holding pens were up to a half-mile long and 200 yards wide.  As an interesting sidelight, at the unloading of the cars I would sometimes see wild burros and deer come out of the cars along with the cattle; they would get caught up in the drive from the south and be shipped with the cattle.

In August and September, roundups would start on the ranches and the cowboys would drive the huge herds of cattle back to the holding pens to be loaded on trains bound for Kansas City.

Come to think about this, I still wish to be a cowboy even though I am now an old man.

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