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The American West through British Eyes, 1865 - 1900: Part 6

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


During the latter part of the nineteenth century, thousands of ranches sprang up on the Rio Grande as urbanisation assured an expanding meat market in the industrial centres of the northeast and the railroads provided a means to transport the cattle.

In the 1870s and early 1880s, a significant number of Britons either bought a ranch of their own or invested in the cattle-raising ventures of others. For a few years, until the bitter winters of 1885 and 1886, it seemed that large profits were inevitable.

Building Up a Herd

Ranch Notes in Kansas, Colorado, the Indian Territory and Northern Texas, etc - cover (4kb)

Reginald Aldridge, Ranch Notes in Kansas, Colorado, the Indian Territory and Northern Texas, etc. London, 1884. (10413.bbb.9)
Copyright © The British Library

In the summer of 1877, finding himself, 'like many a better man in England', out of a job, Reginald Aldridge decided to cross the Atlantic to try his hand at cattle-raising. By the time he wrote this book, seven years later, he owned two ranches and more than twenty thousand head of cattle. In advising newcomers to the business, however, he admits: 'It is not at all likely that the profits will ever again be so large as they have been in the last few years. The "boom" which occurred in the ranching business began about the year 1878, and terminated in 1882. During the past year prices have remained nearly stationary…In these days, when so much capital is seeking investment, no business can long continue to pay annual interest of forty or fifty per cent.' It is not known how the author's business fared during the following two harsh winters.


'A Rude and Tiresome Business'

Major W. Shepherd's account of his visit to the West focused on his impressions of 'the cattle, cowboys, round-ups, sheep-driving, herders and life on the prairie.' To those considering trying such a life, he wrote: 'Wherever it is followed the business of [cattle] driving or looking after sheep is rude and tiresome. The daily companionship of less educated men is wearisome…[yet] the outdoor life is healthy and exhilarating…young men who are fitted out with good spirits and manliness have nothing to dread. America is a land of hope…it is well to go and see it for yourself.'

Prairie Experiences in Handling Cattle and Sheep (7kb)
Major W. Shepherd, Prairie Experiences in Handling Cattle and Sheep.
London, 1884. (10413.h.17)
Copyright © The British Library


Cattle on the Arkansas River

Cattle on the Arkansas River (6kb)

The Illustrated London News, 15 August 1885. (P.P.7611)
Copyright © The British Library

This sketch by the Rev. Brooke Herford, of Boston, Massachusetts, is part of series commissioned by The Illustrated London News to depict the railroad route over the western prairies from Missouri, through Kansas, to Colorado. In its commentary, the News explains that the cattle depicted here, '…are being pastured for the season, before being sent northward or eastward to their market. The American livemeat trade is of enormous and increasing importance.'


'You Don't Keep a Ranch for Fun'

Saddle and Mocassin - cover (3kb)

Francis Francis, Jr., Saddle and Mocassin. London, 1887. (10411.df.25)
Copyright © The British Library

To Englishmen considering purchasing a western ranch, Francis Francis Jr writes: 'Naturally the society of ranch hands and their kind is not very refined or attractive. But the man in search of cultivated society should not engage in the cattle business. He who does so will find it most profitable, and in the aggregate most comfortable, to live amongst his men…The cow-punchers know and like a gentleman.' However, he is keen to pass on the advice of one old-timer who warned him to: '…look at everything in a business-way. You don't keep a ranch for fun…and don't you never have one of them hell-raising hustlers from Texas on your ranch…it don't pay to have fellows blazing off their revolvers, and stampeding the cattle, and spurring their horses on the shoulders…'

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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