Hot Best Seller

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West

Availability: Ready to download

 A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired  A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades. Cattle Kingdom reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players—from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousand, and much more. Cattle Kingdom is a revelatory new view of the Old West.


Compare

 A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired  A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades. Cattle Kingdom reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players—from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousand, and much more. Cattle Kingdom is a revelatory new view of the Old West.

30 review for Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    This is one heck of a good book, so full of interesting historical facts and vignettes that you will be driving everyone around you crazy as you read by calling out repeatedly, “Listen to THIS!” It tells the story of the open-range cattle era and the rise of the cowboy from the perspective of its economic origins. But if that sounds dry, don’t be deceived. Knowlton, a former magazine writer, understands how to hold your interest. As far as the story he wants to tell, it is one with contemporary r This is one heck of a good book, so full of interesting historical facts and vignettes that you will be driving everyone around you crazy as you read by calling out repeatedly, “Listen to THIS!” It tells the story of the open-range cattle era and the rise of the cowboy from the perspective of its economic origins. But if that sounds dry, don’t be deceived. Knowlton, a former magazine writer, understands how to hold your interest. As far as the story he wants to tell, it is one with contemporary relevance. He writes: “One goal here is to shine light on the psychology and greed that drive an investment mania, and on the financial and human catastrophes that result from the bursting of a commodity bubble.” He sees this history not only as a morality tale about those who devote all their dreams (not to mention money) on speculative financial bubbles, but as an opportunity to study the environmental disasters that were both caused by the cattle boom, and which contributed to its demise. He also wants you to know the real story of the American cowboy, and how different the reality was from the iconic and heroic myth that has grown up around cowboys and that is portrayed in books and movies. He explains: “The work was hard, dirty, and monotonous - hardly the exciting version depicted in the dime novels and the eastern press. . . ." As one cowboy noted in his memoirs, it was “a continual round of drudgery, exposure and hard work which beggar description.” In addition, “the job of a cowboy entailed an astonishing number of ways to get hurt or killed: “You could fall from your horse, you could be kicked in the head while roping a steer; you could be gored by a horn, you could drown while crossing a river, you could be caught in quicksand,” etc. And there were many less-than-fatal perils of the job, such as the torment of insects, sunstroke, sun blindness, infections, lack of medical care, grueling hours, and the long winters with no work at all. Furthermore, the stories about “cowboys and Indians” were exaggerated as well. Relatively few skirmishes took place between these two groups. In fact, by the time the cowboy movement began out West after the Civil War, the numbers of Native Americans had been drastically reduced by disease and starvation, and in any event most had been moved to reservations. How and why did it get portrayed otherwise? As it happens, the story of the cattle era is also a story of fake news; news manufactured to spur immigration to aspiring new states, to drive profits, to justify killing Native Americans and lynching rivals, and to build up the careers of those wanting to capitalize on this particular definition of the American character. Knowlton argues that the cowboy myth, so appealing to Americans, has even influenced America’s foreign policy. Finally, this book focuses on three young men in particular who were drawn to participate in the cattle boom: a rich Englishman, a rich Frenchman, and a rich American, Theodore Roosevelt, who of course went on not only to become the U.S. President, but also to be one of the leading conservationists in American history. When the Civil War was over, the Confederate economy was devastated, and the impoverished young men of the South had no way to make a living. It was in Texas, the author reports, that the era of the Cattle Kingdom was born. Thus, as the author reports, at the peak of the cattle boom a majority of cowboys were white southerners, many former Confederate cavalrymen. In Texas, there was an abundance of cattle, although before the Civil War, cattle were not valued for meat, but rather for their hides and tallow. Americans ate more pork than beef, because pork was easier to preserve. But that was about to change, thanks to the incentives and innovations of the cattle ranchers. At the peak of the migration, “the largest forced migration of animals in human history,” some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.” (Knowlton also devotes space to the rise of prostitution out West. It was in fact in Dodge City, one of the cowboy towns that sprang up, that the term “red-light district” was first coined, derived from the name of the red glass panels in one of the brothels.) And here’s a question for "Outlander" fans: What did the Highland Clearances after the Battle of Culloden have to do with developments of the American cowboy movement? The answer is surprisingly relevant, because the British were very big investors in the American West. But I’ll let readers discover the answer to that one by reading the book. Some of the most interesting information in the book has to do with all the innovations and changes that the cowboy era brought, such as the rise of the meatpacking industry, and the influence of its automation innovations. In fact, as the author reports, meatpackers developed the first assembly lines, and it was from studying the process at Chicago slaughterhouses that Henry Ford came up with the idea of using a similar method to produce cars. The meatpackers also radically changed the American system of business procedures and management practices. Even the story about how Chicago got to be the epicenter of the meat business is fascinating. And as refrigeration was developed to get all this beef to eastern markets, Americans began to switch their eating habits. A trio of restaurants in New York known as Delmonico’s helped popularize eating steak. Delmonico's is also credited with being the first American restaurant to allow patrons to order from a menu à la carte, as opposed to featuring fixed menus. Who knew? Then there was barbed wire, which, invented to help solve the problem of wandering cattle, totally changed the husbandry of cattle. And, as the author points out, it would also come to play a significant role in the incarceration of people as well as livestock. As for environmental disasters, perhaps the biggest one was the killing off of the bison. As Knowlton stated, “if the cattle were to come, the competing buffalo would have to go.” He declared: “. . . nothing could match in numbers, poundage, and sheer waste the slaughter of the bison, or the speed with which this animal approached extinction. …in a stunningly short period of time, less than twenty years, the bison were forced to the edge of extinction, with no more than 325 surviving south of Canada.” There were a number of contributing factors to the bison slaughter, not unrelated to the cattle boom. One was the expansion of railroads and telegraph lines, especially in response to the needs of the cattle business. Advances in firearms made killing these generally docile animals “the big-game equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.” The U.S. military also abetted the slaughter in their efforts to deprive Native Americans of food so as to facilitate their “herding” into reservations. Even the fact that female bison hides were preferred by hunters led to the animals’ rapid extinction. And what about the demise of the cattle era and the bursting of its economic bubble? Overgrazing, drought, corruption, greed, incompetence, growing conflicts between cattle barons and cowboys, and absentee management all played a role. But the nail in the coffin came from the brutal winter of 1886-1887, later known as “the Big Die-up.” Temperatures in the Great Plains went as low as sixty degrees below zero in places, accompanied by high winds and deep snows. It was the coldest winter on record. When it was over, nearly a million head of cattle were dead, some 50 to 80 percent of the herds across the northernmost ranges. Knowlton describes it as “the greatest loss of animal life in pastoral history” - at least, from environmental, rather than human causes. Evaluation: I can’t begin to tell you all the fascinating things you will learn in this book. It’s a book I never thought would interest me, and yet it is one of the most absorbing and even exciting books on history I have ever encountered. I can’t sing its praises enough. Highly recommended! Rating: 4.5/5

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Foster

    The subtitle of Christopher Knowlton's excellent "Cattle Kingdom" is "The Hidden History of the Cowboy West". This is a first rate work of scholarship, describing the massive cattle drives from Texas to the massive western ranches. This is an origin story. How did the drives begin? Where did the ranches come from? What was it like to be a cowboy or a cattle baron? And how is this history "hidden"? I didn't realize how important the late 1800s cattle trade was to the future of American industry. I The subtitle of Christopher Knowlton's excellent "Cattle Kingdom" is "The Hidden History of the Cowboy West". This is a first rate work of scholarship, describing the massive cattle drives from Texas to the massive western ranches. This is an origin story. How did the drives begin? Where did the ranches come from? What was it like to be a cowboy or a cattle baron? And how is this history "hidden"? I didn't realize how important the late 1800s cattle trade was to the future of American industry. In fact, beef was king until the rise of the automobile. This was the beginning of massive scale animal husbandry, which drove and was driven by a new American taste for marbled beef--overturning the dominance of pork. For this to work, butcheries moved closer to the range, creating immense stockyards such as those in Chicago and Kansas City. This is one reason why Chicago overtook Saint Lewis as a major urban center. Meat packing, in fact, became one of the largest professions in the US. For THAT to work, refrigerated train cars were developed, changing how food was shipped from the range to the consumer. Driving cattle led indirectly to the "settlement" of the west, since homesteaders fenced off their property from cattle carrying Texas Fever, using the newly invented barbed wire. Texas Fever, in turn, led Theobald Smith to pioneer modern microbiology in the US, at nearly the same time it was being created by Koch and Pasteur in Europe. Even the cattle changed, from lean, mean longhorns to crosses with more palatable and controllable British breeds. The cattle industry was capital intense. Large herds created economies of scale. To raise that kind of capital required new ways to join investors with entrepreneurs. This was the origin of joint stock companies and the modern corporation. So, much of the history of the American West has been largely untold. But how was it "hidden"? The cattle barons who owned those herds, and who owned much of the West, were British and Scottish nobility. Those that weren't were Harvard educated American "nobility". Foreign ownership was so dominant that there was serious concern that the British were buying back the colonies they lost in the American Revolution. But commodity booms always bust eventually. Overgrazing and poor management pushed the cattle Kingdom toward collapse. The "big kill off", a particularly brutal winter that killed millions of cattle, was the final nail in the coffin. The British cattle barons brought their upper class attitudes with them. They assumed the world was theirs to colonize and exploit. So they ignored the risk that nature might not cooperate. They also assumed that the people who lived on "their" land, which was more than just the land they owned, could be treated like tenants in the old country. This included small ranchers, homesteaders, local politicians, and lawmen. This arrogance lead to the Johnson County Wars. The barons led individual lynching parties and eventually hired 25 gunmen from Texas to kill an entire town. But the plot failed (read the book for details). When it was exposed, the cattle barons buried it. They bought politicians and newspapers and literally rewrote history. Hence the "hidden" part. There is so much more. I have not mentioned the fascinating history of Moreton Frewen (aka "mortal ruin"), a larger than life marquise who killed a grizzly by hand because it was more "sporting". Nor have I described the amazing history of Teddy Blue, a cowboy lived through it all. Nor have I mentioned one of the smaller ranchers who later went on to create the conservation movement, one Teddy Roosevelt. I suspect other reviews will highlight those biographies. "Cattle Kingdom: the Hidden History of the Cowboy West" is a scholarly work (complete with detailed footnotes). This book is also a reflection on greed and hubris, innovation, and perseverance. It is also a gripping web of stories. This is the best and worst of American "rugged individualism" and exceptionalism.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Not as much about cowboys as the cattle business, mostly in Wyoming and Montana, during the open range period that ended around 1887. Tedious at times and concentrating on historical figures who were just not that interesting.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This book starts out a little earlier than you'd expect. It begins with the destruction of the bison. In the period from 1872 to 1875, the "southern herd" below the Union Pacific Railroad was hunted to extinction, largely to make leather belts out of their hides. The "northern herd" above the railroad sputtered along until 1883. Sporadic attempts to protect them, like a congressional act pocket vetoed by President Grant in 1874, came to nothing. The end of the bison opened up the range for cattl This book starts out a little earlier than you'd expect. It begins with the destruction of the bison. In the period from 1872 to 1875, the "southern herd" below the Union Pacific Railroad was hunted to extinction, largely to make leather belts out of their hides. The "northern herd" above the railroad sputtered along until 1883. Sporadic attempts to protect them, like a congressional act pocket vetoed by President Grant in 1874, came to nothing. The end of the bison opened up the range for cattle. The real "cattle kingdom" began in 1866, when Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving drove 2,000 head of cattle from San Antonio to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. The Texas herds had swollen during the Civil War and the northern market and western army bases hungered for them. Goodnight pocketed $12,000 for his trip, Loving kept going north to Denver, where he was killed by Indians. As the author shows, Loving's luck was more common on the range than Goodnight's. Most often, European second-son aristocrats like Moreton Frewen of Britain, or the Marquis de Mores of France came to America to feed their homelands. A rinderpest epidemic in Britain had led to the Cattle Disease Prevention Act of 1866, which led to slaughtering thousands of cows, and a Contagious Animals Act three years later prevented people from importing American cattle to restock their herd, so they just needed the beef. John I. Bate created a cooled system to transport the beef in ships in 1875 and the boom began. The beef traveled East, the money, usually created in joint-stock companies, traveled West. The Scottish adventurer John Adair's JA Ranch in Texas totaled hundreds of thousands of acres and made him a rich man. Both Frewen and de Mores went West with the European money, found wealthy American brides to support their plans (Frewen's, Clara, was a sister of Jennie Churchill), and started over-ambitious cooling and slaughter-houses out in Wyoming and Montana to monetize their herds. Wyoming, in particular, and Cheyenne especially, became dominated by these aristocrats. American equivalents kept the tone high-falutin. The Porcellin club at Harvard provided ranchers from Herbert Teschemacher (son of a San Francisco real estate fortune and early vigilante, who himself went vigilante in 1892 to drive settlers from Wyoming in the Johnson County War) to Owen Wister (soon the most famous Western novelist) to Theodore Roosevelt. Others made their fortunes out there and became aristocratic. F.E. Warren, who started a dry goods store, became governor and then senator. The whole system ended in the "Big Die-Up" in the winter of 1886-7, when a bitter drought and then bitter cold culled about at third of the herds. The over-expanded and over-leveraged aristocrats almost all went under. Many spent years escaping their creditors. The problem is that the book is hardly a "hidden" history. It takes very well known facts and repeats them, sometimes a little circuitously. This might be a good place to begin on the cattle West, but don't expect any big surprises.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    A comprehensive study of the cattle barons, Theodore Roosevelt, the cowboy, demise of the bison population, conservation , natural resources and the mistakes that the wealthy cattle barons made by underestimating the weather conditions, getting stock to market , refrigeration and a general loose with cash attitude that did not bode well for anyone. He concentrates on two key areas - Wyoming - Cheyenne and Powder River and the North Platte River and Medora area with some info about Texas. I have A comprehensive study of the cattle barons, Theodore Roosevelt, the cowboy, demise of the bison population, conservation , natural resources and the mistakes that the wealthy cattle barons made by underestimating the weather conditions, getting stock to market , refrigeration and a general loose with cash attitude that did not bode well for anyone. He concentrates on two key areas - Wyoming - Cheyenne and Powder River and the North Platte River and Medora area with some info about Texas. I have been to Cheyenne and the Medora, North Dakota areas and was glad to read about his take on the history. I had wished for more Texas Cattle Drive and ranches info. An excellent book in exploring so many aspects of this history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John Walker

    The history of the cattle industry in west along with cowboys, gunfighters, the good, the bad, the ugly and an American President throw in for good measure. You also get interesting facts like the Big-Die Up, new information on the Johnson County War and what started it (and just maybe the real reason why-hint it ain't human). What is really interesting is the influence of the English and Scots, who managed to own thousands of acres of cattle landing create their own companies. How does one send The history of the cattle industry in west along with cowboys, gunfighters, the good, the bad, the ugly and an American President throw in for good measure. You also get interesting facts like the Big-Die Up, new information on the Johnson County War and what started it (and just maybe the real reason why-hint it ain't human). What is really interesting is the influence of the English and Scots, who managed to own thousands of acres of cattle landing create their own companies. How does one send American beef to England? On the hoof or slaughter them and then ship them over? How does one refrigerated the meat so it won't spoil in transit. Plus the success and failure rate of their ventures. Just what the book, The Big Rich did for Texas oilmen, this book does for the cattlemen, and don't worry there are enough Texans involved with the longhorns to make it interesting. A fine book . If you think you know the American West, you just might be surprised.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bill C

    A view of the settlement of the ranges that opens one's eyes. I have been reading a lot of history recently as one needs to look back to help understand today and consider the future. This book helps understand the shaping of the national narrative. Reading about cattle as an industry and tying that to presidents in the last 50 years was at first a surprise, but helps put context to those personalities. The next surprise was the tie to many boom and bust cycles in our economy. Finally, Hollywood A view of the settlement of the ranges that opens one's eyes. I have been reading a lot of history recently as one needs to look back to help understand today and consider the future. This book helps understand the shaping of the national narrative. Reading about cattle as an industry and tying that to presidents in the last 50 years was at first a surprise, but helps put context to those personalities. The next surprise was the tie to many boom and bust cycles in our economy. Finally, Hollywood has yet to tell the real story of the west and the people who settled there.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    A realistic history of the cowboy and the industry they worked in. In the 1870's and 1880's there was a rush to invest in the cattle business. Huge fortunes were invested, and lost. The destruction of the buffalo herds meant the herds of Texas cattle could be driven north to railroads and to Northern cities. But over grazing, drought and terrible winters killed off cattle and drove the investors into bankruptcy. Well written, with interesting stories of the people who were caught up in this catt A realistic history of the cowboy and the industry they worked in. In the 1870's and 1880's there was a rush to invest in the cattle business. Huge fortunes were invested, and lost. The destruction of the buffalo herds meant the herds of Texas cattle could be driven north to railroads and to Northern cities. But over grazing, drought and terrible winters killed off cattle and drove the investors into bankruptcy. Well written, with interesting stories of the people who were caught up in this cattle bubble."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Our town, Ellsworth, Ks., just celebrated our 150th birthday and I enjoyed reading about the cowtowns in Kansas. Also enjoyed the growth of the cattle industry and the difference it made in the settlement and development of the west. Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    First off, as I suspected even before I began reading the book, the subtitle "The Hidden History of the Cowboy West" is a bit hyperbolic. Perhaps a more accurate subtitle would have been "An Economic History of the Cowboy West," but of course that wouldn't have sounded nearly as sensational. The history here is not "hidden" in the sense that the author makes any startling new discoveries or revelations, but rather turns the spotlight on aspects of Old West history that few Americans have read or First off, as I suspected even before I began reading the book, the subtitle "The Hidden History of the Cowboy West" is a bit hyperbolic. Perhaps a more accurate subtitle would have been "An Economic History of the Cowboy West," but of course that wouldn't have sounded nearly as sensational. The history here is not "hidden" in the sense that the author makes any startling new discoveries or revelations, but rather turns the spotlight on aspects of Old West history that few Americans have read or heard much about. The book opens with a few chapters on how the open-range era began—the post-Civil War demand for beef, the development of the big Texas drives to move the cattle to market, and the subsequent growth of the boom towns and railroads in consequence. But the book's main thrust is a fascinating look at the massive investments of capital (on the level of millions) in cattle ranches by wealthy stockholders from the East and across the Atlantic, with a particular focus on the investments made by English and Scottish aristocracy and nobility. And how a combination of too-rosy sales pitches, financial mismanagement, ignorance about ranching, and sheer overgrowth of the industry led to an ultimate collapse of the cattle boom, with the devastating winter of 1887 providing the death-blow. I found one theory of Knowlton's particularly interesting: that one reason for the eventual collapse may have been the industrialization of a livelihood that was in essence agricultural. The emphasis on mass-production, faster delivery, higher profits and so forth went along with overlooking the variables of weather, disease, natural predators, and what would happen if the projected herd growth didn't materialize—and in the end, the top-heavy cattle companies reaped the consequences. It puts a thought-provoking new complexion on the concept of the range war that we're familiar with from fiction and film when you realize that the "big ranchers" fighting the small rancher or homesteader were not necessarily just tough individual men trying to strong-arm their way to prosperity, but rather multi-million-dollar corporations with millionaire industrialists and foreign aristocracy for its investors, trying to keep their profits from being cut in on. I am glad that I came to this book already pretty well grounded in the history of the American West, because I do feel that Knowlton sometimes makes some sweeping generalizations when dealing with the era and the region as a whole. To take just one instance, on page 115 when discussing the types of ranching done in different parts of the country, he dismisses Arizona and New Mexico in half a sentence as "too hot and arid to provide suitable forage for cattle"—yet I've personally read a good deal of fiction and nonfiction set in those states that described cattle ranching being carried on there. Overall, though, it's an intelligently-written, readable look at an area of American history that could very much use more serious treatment, with expected streaks of more modernist thinking—e.g. Darwinism, contemporary views on environmentalism and so forth—showing through on occasion. (I had to snort at the suggestion that the eventual criminal behavior of wealthy Wyoming cattleman came about because the Cheyenne Club was a microcosm of an all-male society.) The chapters on the Johnson County War were the most jaw-dropping for me, because I'd never really read up on that event in detail. If it's true that only recent scholarship has sifted out an accurate assessment of the facts, then I'm rather glad I came to it late and received my impressions fresh. Without being an expert on the subject, I can only say that the version of events presented by Knowlton has a strong ring of plausibility based on the character of the people and entities involved. (What? State and federal government officials helping Big Money frame and assassinate innocent people and escape punishment afterward? Why, whatever gave you that idea? #sarcasm) One thought I had: if the Johnson County War did indeed tarnish the reputations of the "big ranchers" ever afterwards, could it be that the PR campaign at the time trying to portray them as "honest Americans" helped, however inadvertently, to obscure the role of Eastern and foreign investors in the biggest ranches? I did disagree significantly with one argument in the concluding chapters. Knowlton, like so many others, follows the standard path of crediting Owen Wister with being the first author to write serious fiction set in the West. The statement on page 335 that in 1891 "no one" had yet made use of the West as a setting is ingenuous, as a number of writers not so well known today had been publishing novels and short fiction set in the American West since at least the early 1880s. (For a more in-depth look at this subject I recommend the first volume of Ron Scheer's How the West Was Written: Frontier Fiction, 1880-1906.) Wister's The Virginian was to Western fiction what John Ford's Stagecoach was to Western film: its commercial success helped elevate the genre from sensational kiddie fare to something worthy of serious adult notice. But within a few years of its publication there were numerous writers in print, many of them born or at least raised in the West, who were actively engaged in myth-busting with their stories and trying to present a more authentic view of Western life to the public. Yet Wister is still afforded more credit and authority than any of them in the literary world. It begs the question: did his lasting success owe anything to his own connections among the wealthy and influential? In conclusion, I think perhaps the best aspect of Cattle Kingdom is the way it connects the story of the cattle boom to American life and history as a whole—its influence on things ranging from the invention of barbed wire to the development of refrigerated railroad cars and the introduction of the famous Delmonico steak. I've long wanted to see the Old West treated as an era of American history, and by and large Cattle Kingdom does that. I'd like to see others take it even further. There seems to be a good amount of material out there on the common people, the cowboys and the homesteaders; this book deals with the wealthy and powerful players involved—now I’d like to see someone turn their attention to the smaller ranchers, the men who started from the ground up and carved out a self-sustaining livelihood by ranching, without having empire as their goal. That’s another story I would like to read. ------------------- A footnote: the "ranch near Lame Deer Creek" in Montana where the minor Indian uprising described on page 181 occurred was the Alderson ranch, and the cowboy named "Sawney Tolliver" who shot off the Indian's hat was actually Alderson ranch hand Hal Taliaferro, whose nickname was Old Sawney. The incident is described in Chapter 8 of Nannie Tiffany Alderson's memoir A Bride Goes West. (If the name Hal Taliaferro sounds familiar, Nannie's nephew Floyd Taliaferro Alderson later appeared in many Western movies under that screen name.) Interestingly, historian Helena Huntingdon Smith was the as-told-to collaborator on both Nannie Alderson's and Teddy Blue Abbott's memoirs, and Teddy Blue is Knowlton's source here—it's rather surprising nobody made the connection.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Spectacular. Loved every minute of this history of the cattle boom, involving much of my home state of Wyoming. I especially loved the way Knowlton followed specific individuals through the times. Great detail and texture. An incredible story.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Walt

    An interesting read that is easily digestible to mass audiences even though it is 350-pages. Knowlton writes clearly with section breaks and layman's terms. The main fault that I have with the book is that he tries to cover everything - the sock yards, the cattle barons, British aristocrats, Teddy Roosevelt, the conservation movement, the Johnson County War, and more. The book reads like one wild string of tangents. However, it is very informative. Knowlton begins the book with the eradication o An interesting read that is easily digestible to mass audiences even though it is 350-pages. Knowlton writes clearly with section breaks and layman's terms. The main fault that I have with the book is that he tries to cover everything - the sock yards, the cattle barons, British aristocrats, Teddy Roosevelt, the conservation movement, the Johnson County War, and more. The book reads like one wild string of tangents. However, it is very informative. Knowlton begins the book with the eradication of the Buffalo herds in the Great Plains. Then moves into the Texas cattle drives, the cow towns, the cattle bubble, the range wars, and finally an moving conclusion for the anti-heroes of the book - a failed British aristocrat and an individual cowboy. The time span is roughly 1860 - 1890. Knowlton begins the book with clear references to dates, times, and locations; but by the end, he has lost himself in the goings-on in Wyoming. Although I learned a lot, and feel overwhelmed by the scale of his research, I also feel that parts of it are inadequate. The only knowledge I have of the Old West before reading this book was on the lawmen and gunfighters. In the brief chapters on the cowtowns, Knowlton glosses over everything with a wave of the hand saying 'they were really peaceful, now back to the British aristocrat...' Similarly, the chapter on the meat packers also appeared to be too superficial. It appears that Knowlton wants to write another book about the Johnson County Invasion; but expanded the material to make it more appealing to a broader audience. I knew nothing about the Johnson County Invasion. After reading the book, I am just as astounded by the idea of Harvard men leading a collection of Texas gunfighters into rural Wyoming with the intent of killing 40-ish people for vague reasons. On the other hand, I am familiar with other cases where crimes were exaggerated to the point of absurdity. This is where other commentators focus on Knowlton's credentials as a banker and investor rather than a historian who analyzes their sources. Overall, it is an interesting compendium tallied by an enthusiastic hobbyist. The writing is clear and crisp, if a bit repetitive. Readers will probably get bored with the focus on Moreton Frewen, Teddy Blue Abbott, and Wyoming.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dalton Duhon

    This book while not bad, was not at all what I expected, and as such, I was a little disappointed. There are interesting parts such as the story of the Johnson county war, or the disappearance of buffalo from the plains, but for the most part, it read like a textbook; not a history textbook either. More like an economics or business textbook. If you're more interested in the business side of the cattle industry in the nineteenth century, or you want to learn more about how already filthy rich Br This book while not bad, was not at all what I expected, and as such, I was a little disappointed. There are interesting parts such as the story of the Johnson county war, or the disappearance of buffalo from the plains, but for the most part, it read like a textbook; not a history textbook either. More like an economics or business textbook. If you're more interested in the business side of the cattle industry in the nineteenth century, or you want to learn more about how already filthy rich British, Irish, and Scottish businessmen failed at getting richer in an industry none of them knew anything about this is the book for you. If you'd rather read about real cowboys or life on the trail I'd suggest Cow People by J. Frank Dobie or Wild Cow Tales by Ben K. Green.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I don't like economic books. Yet I seem to keep finding economic books disguised as other books. This is an Econ book disguised as a book on the American west. Now that that is out of the way this is an outstanding overview of how the west became what it was. It gives you an overview of the conditions that established the period and how it was ended. This is a great place to start on understanding the American West in the 1800s. Its a high level overview that is almost always lost compared to th I don't like economic books. Yet I seem to keep finding economic books disguised as other books. This is an Econ book disguised as a book on the American west. Now that that is out of the way this is an outstanding overview of how the west became what it was. It gives you an overview of the conditions that established the period and how it was ended. This is a great place to start on understanding the American West in the 1800s. Its a high level overview that is almost always lost compared to the exciting stories of gamblers, outlaws, and sheriffs that usually make up tales from this period. Highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    RoadVersion

    An interesting look at the boom and the bust of the open range cattle business and the origin of the American cowboy, during the period from the end of the Civil War through the crash of the beef market in the mid 1880s, and the aftermath. . To read my complete book review, download the pdf file from my online folder at FilesAnywhere.com using this link: . https://personal.FilesAnywhere.com/fs... An interesting look at the boom and the bust of the open range cattle business and the origin of the American cowboy, during the period from the end of the Civil War through the crash of the beef market in the mid 1880s, and the aftermath. . To read my complete book review, download the pdf file from my online folder at FilesAnywhere.com using this link: . https://personal.FilesAnywhere.com/fs...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Excellent book. I'd heard of the Cheyenne Club, but not its details. I'd heard of TR, gentleman cowboy, but had not read the full picture on his fellow Harvard swells going out west, besides Wister. I'd read of British investments in Texas cattle, but not in Wyoming or Montana. Had not heard of John Clay. Had definitely not heard of Moreton Frewen or the Marquis de Mores. Had heard of cowboy strikes, but read the first details on two main ones here. An epilogue traces the "cowboy president" from TR t Excellent book. I'd heard of the Cheyenne Club, but not its details. I'd heard of TR, gentleman cowboy, but had not read the full picture on his fellow Harvard swells going out west, besides Wister. I'd read of British investments in Texas cattle, but not in Wyoming or Montana. Had not heard of John Clay. Had definitely not heard of Moreton Frewen or the Marquis de Mores. Had heard of cowboy strikes, but read the first details on two main ones here. An epilogue traces the "cowboy president" from TR through Reagan and Shrub Bush.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Breza

    The cowboy plays an outsized role in American culture. Knowlton offers a history of the open range cowboy era. He touches on topics from the mania of financial bubbles to environmentalism to what it means to be American in a book that still manages to be breezy and engaging.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Valerie Bailey

    I chose this book as a quick read while driving on a trip not expecting a lot. However, I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to learn about the cattle business and especially the development of the West. There was much more history of this era that I wasn't expecting. I may even read it again! I chose this book as a quick read while driving on a trip not expecting a lot. However, I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to learn about the cattle business and especially the development of the West. There was much more history of this era that I wasn't expecting. I may even read it again!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Randolph Breschini

    Interesting...I had NOT realized how the cattle industry in the west is equivalent to the big business revolutions in the USA...Oil, banking, railroads, steel-making, and now high tech. The cattle industry changed the landscape of America...many innovations in the meat industry were invented... Refrigeration and rail transportation were improved immensely to cater to the growing cattle industry. So much of the wild west was funded by and lived by the British, French, and other Europeans. The BIG Interesting...I had NOT realized how the cattle industry in the west is equivalent to the big business revolutions in the USA...Oil, banking, railroads, steel-making, and now high tech. The cattle industry changed the landscape of America...many innovations in the meat industry were invented... Refrigeration and rail transportation were improved immensely to cater to the growing cattle industry. So much of the wild west was funded by and lived by the British, French, and other Europeans. The BIG DIE OFF caused so many to go broke...The large cattle ranches evolved into DUDE RANCHES. The cowboy culture...it was a very tough life. Like many big industries in development, the cattle barons did whatever it took to control, monopolize, and grow their cattle businesses including killing many cowboys, ranchers, Indians, buffalo, etc. ANYONE who got in their way, were summarily killed off! All very, very, very interesting reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    Entertaining and Eclectic This is an entertaining book, full of colorful anecdotes, but author Christopher Knowlton gallops off in a number of directions, as though he is a cowboy trying to keep a herd together. He mines a number of sources for the most colorful stories, of which there are many, but yields to the temptation to let no cow chip lay unturned. The “cattle kingdom” was an economic bubble that lasted but 20 years, from the 1870s as profits from cattle soared and beef replaced pork in th Entertaining and Eclectic This is an entertaining book, full of colorful anecdotes, but author Christopher Knowlton gallops off in a number of directions, as though he is a cowboy trying to keep a herd together. He mines a number of sources for the most colorful stories, of which there are many, but yields to the temptation to let no cow chip lay unturned. The “cattle kingdom” was an economic bubble that lasted but 20 years, from the 1870s as profits from cattle soared and beef replaced pork in the American and European diet, to the decline in beef prices in 1884 and the fierce winter in the northern plains in 1886-1887 known as the “Big Die Up” in which many of the huge cattle operations went bust. Knowlton is at his best describing what it was like to be a cowboy driving cattle from Texas to the railheads in Kansas or later managing huge herds in the open range country of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. “The job of cowboy entailed an astonishing number of ways to get hurt or killed,” the author observes, chronicling the risks. “To be a cowboy was an adventure; to be a ranchman was to be king,” said Walter Prescott Webb who wrote a classic history of the period. Among the aspiring cattle barons, Knowlton profiles three aristocrats who got caught up in the frenzy of speculation, confidently expecting a 33% annual return on their investment. The first of these is Teddy Roosevelt, who sought solace in the West after losing his mother and his wife on the same day. TR took a financial drubbing and emerged from the experience poorer, but the experience made him stronger in character and positioned him for the presidency. Not so lucky were two European aristocrats, one English and one French. They were among the second sons losing out in the system of primogeniture and therefore sought to establish an independent fortune in the cattle industry. One of these, Moreton Frewen, had the uncanny ability to tap the resources of wealthy aristocrats and then fail financially at every turn. He earned the nickname, “Mortal Ruin”. Not the most practical or studious of men, Frewen wrote his Cambridge thesis on the best cures for a hangover. As Frewen’s empire collapsed, the author says, “He couldn’t bear to cede control, nor could he stand to have his judgment questioned. He was terrible at compromise and his letters and circulars were inflammatory, contradictory, polemical and even libelous — but rarely helpful.” It is reminiscent of a certain New Jersey casino operator experiencing bankruptcy in the 1990s who is now in the White House. The other European aristocrat, a Frenchman, the Marquis de Mores, saw the cattle business as an opportunity to become the richest financier in the world. Not only did he invest in cattle but also in a western meat packing plant — a concept ahead of its time but putting him in direct competition with the Chicago meat packers such as Swift and Armour who conspired with the railroads to guarantee his failure. Leaving America behind after his failure in the cattle business, the Marquis also failed at an attempt to build a railroad through the jungle in Vietnam, then returned to France to head a political movement that combined socialism with rabid anti-Semitism. Incongruously, party members wore ten gallon cowboy hats! Seeking fame and glory, the Marquis ended up being killed by tribesmen in the desert of Tunisia. Knowlton explores a number of other stories of the period, including the Johnson County Wars, in which wealthy ranchers hired gunman to hang or otherwise kill farmers and other opponents of the open range upon which their huge cattle ranches depended. One interesting observation: the effort by the Western cattle barons may have been inspired by the clearances of tenant farmers by the aristocracy in Scotland and Ireland, which led to major social discord and even widespread starvation in the 19th Century. The author deals with a variety of subjects, including the invention of barbed wire, plains ecology, and the role of Owen Wister, whose western fiction, including “The Virginian” established in the American psyche the romantic western cowboy. This is not the most tightly organized book, succumbing to digressions, but many of the descriptions give pleasure and put in context major forces shaping the American West to this day.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    Factual and interesting Hard to put down once you start reading! Would recommend it to anyone wanting an exciting read an wishing to learn something.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joelle

    Very interesting Very interesting read on a topic I never truly knew about before! Great writing that engaged me from when I picked up the book to when I ended it. You learn a lot about factors that affect us even in society today. Really enjoyed it and learning about this hidden history. I would recommend to young adults up for reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa-Michele

    An expansive, insightful look at the brief thirty years near the end of the 19th century when cattle roamed America’s Wild West. “Perhaps no boom-bust cycle has had as lasting an impact on American society as the rise and fall of the cattle kingdom…here, then, is the story of the open-range cattle era, the tale of how ranching emerged as an industry across a land once dismissed as the Great American Desert.” This is my kind of book, weaving all manner of history, business and Americana themes in An expansive, insightful look at the brief thirty years near the end of the 19th century when cattle roamed America’s Wild West. “Perhaps no boom-bust cycle has had as lasting an impact on American society as the rise and fall of the cattle kingdom…here, then, is the story of the open-range cattle era, the tale of how ranching emerged as an industry across a land once dismissed as the Great American Desert.” This is my kind of book, weaving all manner of history, business and Americana themes into a powerful story of the land. It is a good story about the business end of the cattle industry, how wealthy Easterners and Europeans rushed to the west to throw money into ranches before anyone studied the economics. The story includes some fun descriptions of the bigger cattle towns that sprung up, from Cheyenne to Abilene. And the author does a good job of including some smaller themes, such as the bison hunts, the meat-packing industry, and the Johnson County War. Maybe one of the best surprises was the chapter devoted to “Barbed Wire: The Devil’s Rope.” It illuminated the importance of developing a simple fence that could quickly divvy up the west into ranches and homesteads and corrals. Barbed wire was born by accident in 1874 at a county fair and immediately patented by three different men, making all of them rich. It was all too easy. And cowboys became a little more obsolete as a result. In the end, the author concludes that the cattle kingdom history is, at best, a cautionary tale – “It is a case history of the calamities that befall those who ignore economic or ecological realities in a single-minded pursuit.” I have to agree with him in the sense that the viability of the open range cattle model was doomed, and those who pursued it seemed almost simple-minded in their haste. But I was still left with questions about how the myths of the cowboy west survive all that, persisting even today and still shaping the background of almost every western town and landscape.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I was surprised by this book. I thought it would be dry and dated, but it turned out to be deeply engaging. The narrative was crisp and lively, and it was more of a page-turner than I expected. I would recommend this book as a starting point and foundation for anyone wanting a better understanding of the West.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    The "real" story of the cowboy. Between the late 1860s and late 1880s, open range cattle breeding transformed the West. Young men looking for work as the Civil War ended drifted west and became cowboys. For awhile they were in demand as the cattle herds were growing and labor was scarce. As the cattle business grew it became more corporate. Homesteaders could not abide open range practices. Power shifted to the meat packers in Chicago and points east. A major blizzard in the late 1880s decimated The "real" story of the cowboy. Between the late 1860s and late 1880s, open range cattle breeding transformed the West. Young men looking for work as the Civil War ended drifted west and became cowboys. For awhile they were in demand as the cattle herds were growing and labor was scarce. As the cattle business grew it became more corporate. Homesteaders could not abide open range practices. Power shifted to the meat packers in Chicago and points east. A major blizzard in the late 1880s decimated the herds. The era of the open range cattle business was over. But the myth of the cowboy lives on: the average American somehow spliced to the Victorian-era values of the English and Scottish adventurers and investors who got the whole thing to start. The real cowboy was an entry level laborer who got eaten up by changes in the industry and the popping of the cattle bubble. What else is new?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    Knowlton does an admirable job of relating the region-warping dramas by which the great Western U.S. cattle range was cleared of the buffalo, seized by cattlemen, transformed under the pressure of rapid technical and market changes, and then crashed and burned after little more twenty years. He vividly paints the actual lives made and wrecked, the fortunes made and blown, and the environments almost ruined in a brief period later enshrined as the classic cowboy West. In describing how the cattle Knowlton does an admirable job of relating the region-warping dramas by which the great Western U.S. cattle range was cleared of the buffalo, seized by cattlemen, transformed under the pressure of rapid technical and market changes, and then crashed and burned after little more twenty years. He vividly paints the actual lives made and wrecked, the fortunes made and blown, and the environments almost ruined in a brief period later enshrined as the classic cowboy West. In describing how the cattle business changed into modern fence-bound, somewhat more sustainable ranching (with some allowance for biodiversity on the land), Knowlton reflects on the mindset that drove the cattle kingdom. Those adventurers and financiers simply assumed that Old World cattle “functioned better than the wild bison as a machine for converting grass into hide and meat.” That, as modern bison ranchers demonstrate, was never the case.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nolan

    Quick: Name a 20-year post-Civil-War point in history that still significantly impacts your life. If you’re thinking of the vast cattle drives of the 1860s through the 1880s, you’ve either read this book or you are far more perceptive than I was. Until I read this, I had no idea that a relatively small swath of history could have such a large and lasting impact. If you read this, you’ll likely see it as a truly significant work of nonfiction that will give you added appreciation for products and Quick: Name a 20-year post-Civil-War point in history that still significantly impacts your life. If you’re thinking of the vast cattle drives of the 1860s through the 1880s, you’ve either read this book or you are far more perceptive than I was. Until I read this, I had no idea that a relatively small swath of history could have such a large and lasting impact. If you read this, you’ll likely see it as a truly significant work of nonfiction that will give you added appreciation for products and things in your life you take for granted. The story begins as the Civil War has ended, leaving Texas essentially broke with no infrastructure and no government to speak of. As the war had progressed, so the eating habits of those in more populous areas had begun to change. Long-horn cattle was something Texas had a lot of; there just wasn’t an easy way to get that beef to slaughterhouses where it could be sold. Concurrent with the pent-up need to move cattle north was a pernicious desire on the part of some politicians to starve the native American into submission. Doing that meant killing tens of thousand of bison, thereby denying the native Americans vital sources of food. Add to that the insatiable demand for female buffalo hides, and you have a recipe for mass extinction of these large, placid animals. But with the buffalo dead, the vast grasslands of United States had room to support scores of thousands of cattle. So was born a turbulent time in our history both in terms of natural resources misused and investments that went horribly awry all too often. By now, you’re yawning and wondering how on earth a book about the birth and death of vast cattle empires could have anything to do with you. So you love that adorable iPhone you use? Lots of people do. That phone was assembled on assembly lines. Henry Ford is the long-recognized father of assembly production, but the idea wasn’t originally his. As cattle became big business in the U.S., so did meat packing. Indeed, it was while watching the operation of a meat-packing plant in Chicago that Ford got the idea for building things in assembly lines. So even now, more than a century after the last cattle drive ended, you and I are effected by that history. You’ll read about unscrupulous men who took advantage of cowboy labor in horrific ways. The vast bulk of America’s cowboys were southern white men who were mustered out of the defeated Confederate army with no prospects for employment. It is the story of vast land holdings in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana, Texas and adjacent places. I was astounded by the vast amount of British investments that flooded into the cattle empires. These men invested sometimes their last royal pence in a land they knew little of. One Brit frequently publicly expressed his conviction that weather patterns in the American west were never all that severe. And that’s the kind of uninformed reasoning that allows you to invest heavily and essentially lose your shorts. It was a particularly harsh winter that ultimately ended the vast cattle economy. But so significant were the investments of the brits in western U.S. lands that Congress ultimately passed laws prohibiting Brits from buying up large tracts of land. Interestingly enough, I recall voices in the American west of the late 1970s and early 1980s who decried the significant investment of Japanese investors in western real estate. It feels a bit like the same song, different verse. Finally, you’ll read about the horror of the Johnson County War, a nasty business that still gets told differently in Wyoming, depending on who wrote the history. The cattle barrens insisted battles had to be fought because small ranchers were steeling cattle from the big guys. The small rancher denied that, insisting that other forces were at fault. This is one of those books that will have you tapping the rewind button so you can replay a sentence rather frequently just to ensure you heard what you thought you heard. While it’s true that I was not required to learn Wyoming history as a kid, I’m astounded by how little of it I knew when I think of how much time I spent in the state during the summers. I suppose eating wild raspberries from a forest service-owned field near Afton doesn’t automatically make me an expert on the state’s history. But I’ve never had better raspberries. I read this with sheer amazement at the vast amount of British investment that propped up the economy in and around Cheyenne for two decades more than a century ago. But the cattle drives and cattle baron economies were crucial in other ways, too. Theodore Roosevelt who would become president and would be a lifelong champion of wilderness conservation was one of those original cattle kings. He quite literally labored as a cowboy and owned land in the Dakotas. Those experiences made him a lifelong cowboy in his mind, and many of the policies he espoused as president reflected on his cattle-owning past. Famous for “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Roosevelt almost surely developed that idea and others like it while working cattle. Although he was a legendary game hunter, even killing a rare white rhino sadly enough, he also understood the importance of land and game preservation. If America ever had a cowboy-based foreign policy, it did so under George Bush Junior. The mystique of the American cowboy is alive and well in lots of circles these days. If you read this, and you should, you’ll be intrigued by the lasting impact of a relatively brief period of history.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Great read and interesting history of cattle drives.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    Why were they were driving all of those cattle? This excellent history of the rise and fall of the cowboys answers the question. The laconic, independent, tough as old leather, cowboy is the great American stereotype. Knowles shows that the cowboys' heyday began around 1866 and was over by 1886. The original problem was to get wild longhorn cattle from Texas to the markets in the East and in Europe. There were no railroads connecting Texas to the East. The solution was to drive the cattle up fro Why were they were driving all of those cattle? This excellent history of the rise and fall of the cowboys answers the question. The laconic, independent, tough as old leather, cowboy is the great American stereotype. Knowles shows that the cowboys' heyday began around 1866 and was over by 1886. The original problem was to get wild longhorn cattle from Texas to the markets in the East and in Europe. There were no railroads connecting Texas to the East. The solution was to drive the cattle up from Texas to Kansas, which was the closest rail link to the East. The cow drives could not really take off until the buffalos were killed. They occupied almost all of the Western Plains. By 1875 about five million of them in the southern herd were killed by white hunters. The slightly smaller northern herd was killed off by 1883. The other problem was the Indians who lived on the plains. They were almost all put into reservations in the 1870s. The final necessary ingredient was money. It took cash to build and manage cow towns, meat packing plants and ranches and to buy, feed and handle hundreds of thousands of cattle. Knowlton argues that the economic bubble which funded the rise of the American cattle industry was the 19th century equivalent of the dot-com bubble. Knowlton has a background in finance. His original contribution is to show how the financial markets of England, Scotland and France where convinced that American cattle was the hot new thing. He describes the "steady drumbeat of hype" that convinced Europeans that they could make an easy 30% return in the American West. Millions of dollars were invested. He tracks the Europeans who moved to the west to make their fortunes. For several years, things went great. They brought the grand society with them. "It comes as something of a shock to historians of the era to discover that, in the territory of Wyoming in the 1880s, a group of cattlemen in Cheyenne were dressing in black tie, smoking Cuban cigars and quaffing French champagne and grand cru vintages." The industry created markets. They learned how to refrigerate meat so it could be delivered fresh across the Atlantic without the problems of shipping cows. In America, the lower prices for beef allowed it to replace replaced pork as the most popular meat. Of course, as always happens, the bubble burst. In 1886 the prices collapsed because of over supply. The west then had the worst winter on record. About half of the cattle died over the winter. At the same time farmers were moving into the prairies and restricting access to the feeding grounds. There was a run of bankruptcies and again, as always happens, the railroads, a few large ranchers and the packing companies ended up in control of the market. By 1886, cattle were raised on ranches not in the wild. Railroads were everywhere so cowboys were out of a job. They became glorified farmhands. Cowboy pay was cut to the point that there were organized labor strikes by cowboys. Cowboys on strike! We are a long way from John Wayne. Knowlton has a great section on what it was like in the cow-towns in their heyday. What liquor did the saloons serve? How many shootouts really took place? How much did the whores cost? What did the stores in the town sell? He also outlines the history of the meat packing industry. They were bastards who didn't miss a penny. Violin strings were made from the lining of cattle's small intestine. "Catgut" is short for cattle gut. "Entire factories grew up around the processing of glue and hair." The story of the cattle boom ends with "The Johnson County War". An organization of big cattle owners organized a army of killers to wipe out the political and economic leaders of Johnson County in Texas. It was the last gasp of big cattle fighting to have free access to all of the open land for cattle grazing. It was essentially a military invasion of a town. It turned into a disaster for the cattle men. Knowlton ends the book with the English and French entrepreneurs/conmen slinking back to Europe, broke and disillusioned. They left behind the massive corporations which organized monopolies and made millions from the railroads, the cattle ranches and the meat packing firms.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vic Lauterbach

    This study of the short period of the Western cattle drives and the nationalization of the meat-packing industry is generally well-written and interesting, but doesn't quite live up to Mr. Knowlton's revelatory promise. In fact, as I read it, much of the information seemed oddly familiar and I realized I'd read an earlier account of the period. That turned out to be The Cattle Kings by Lewis Atherton (1961) which I read in late 1986 after watching the six-part PBS documentary The West of the Ima This study of the short period of the Western cattle drives and the nationalization of the meat-packing industry is generally well-written and interesting, but doesn't quite live up to Mr. Knowlton's revelatory promise. In fact, as I read it, much of the information seemed oddly familiar and I realized I'd read an earlier account of the period. That turned out to be The Cattle Kings by Lewis Atherton (1961) which I read in late 1986 after watching the six-part PBS documentary The West of the Imagination (broadcast in six parts during September and October). Knowlton's book is more detailed than Atherton's and much more politically correct. Whether the latter is an improvement is a matter of opinion. The story of the industrialization of beef production in America is fascinating and worth reading, but Mr. Knowlton's attendant social commentary is less compelling. Business cycles are like weather. They dominate popular conversion at the time, but are quickly forgotten when conditions improve. This leads to a tendency to accept the present as volatile but perceive the past as calm and stable. Knowlton is at his best when he addresses all the varying factors that drove growth in the meat industry including concerns about safety and health that culminated in the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) but he struggles to balance his desire to condemn the meat industry for 'destroying' the West with its unquestioned positive impact on the diet and health of eighteenth-century America. Even more problematic is a constant effort to minimize or dismiss the influence of ranchers in the nascent conservation movement. The strongest point of this book is its exploration of the American love-affair with steak. Its weakest point is an unstated theme that the Federal Government can somehow 'save' the West from businessmen in spite of the actual record of its efforts-major missteps by a succession of agencies created for the task. That sad story continues to this day. All in all, this is a good book for anyone interested in the subject.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...