Current Edition

current edition

Part two of Wyoming’s livestock industry, as portrayed in the 1897 publication “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society,” is the topic of this week’s column.

The discovery of the capabilities of Wyoming for grazing purposes is said to have been accidental, and is thus described, “Early in December 1864, a government trader with a wagon train of supplies drawn by oxen was on his way west to Camp Douglas, in the Territory of Utah, but on being overtaken on the Laramie Plains, WY by an unusually severe snowstorm, he was compelled at once to go into winter quarters. He turned his cattle adrift expecting, as a matter, of course, that they would soon perish from exposure and starvation, but they remained about the camp, and as the snow was blown off the highlands, the dried grass afforded them an abundance of forage. When the spring opened, they were found to be even in better condition than when turned out to die four months previously.”

In 1869, a similar experience happened at Fort Russell, near Cheyenne, when some Texas cattle were driven there in the fall to supply beef for the garrison. They were scattered by a violent snowstorm, but in the following spring the cattle were all gathered in excellent condition. These discoveries led to the purchase of stock cattle in Texas to be matured and fattened in the northern ranges, and the trade has steadily grown to its present enormous proportions, accelerated greatly during the past 25 years by the building of railroads.

The range cattle business of the western states and territories is carried on chiefly upon the public lands. With the exception of a small percentage of lands, the title of which has been secured under the provisions of the homestead and preemption laws and desert land acts of the United States or the timber culture acts, the cattle upon the northern ranges feed upon the public lands of the United States their owners being simply tenants by sufferance upon such lands.

The managers of the transcontinental lines appear from the beginning to have regarded the cattle traffic as one of great possibilities and have pursued towards it a liberal and far sighted policy of imposing such rates as would tend to develop it.

The increase in cattle has been most rapid in the newer western states and territories. There was much dissatisfaction in recent years with the low price of cattle, which tended to a reduction in numbers in some places and in others holding for better prices has tended to increase the numbers. There is much local complaint of the combination of dealers and butchers to control prices and of the discrimination of railroad companies in freight rates. In many localities, there is a marked
improvement in the quality of the cattle, and increased interest in raising the grades. The low price of cattle for a time directed more attention to horse raising, and a marked improvement in quality was apparent. Enlarged demand for draught horses was caused by activity in railroad building a few years ago, and the heavy traffic carried on in cities, but during recent years the demand for horses has greatly fallen off, owing to the use of electric cars and other causes. This has had the effect of making the business of horse raising unprofitable for some years.

The low price of wool has kept the sheep industry under a cloud, but at the same time there has been a steady expansion of the business, the number of sheep having increased from 308,997 in 1886, to 1,3088,063 in 1896.

Wyoming’s livestock industry, as portrayed in the 1897 publication “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society,” is the topic of this week’s column. Robert C. Morris writes:

The people of Wyoming having been made secure form the depredations of wild Indians, the development of the Territory in the direction of stock raising was very rapid. The railroad running through the southern border of Wyoming, afforded quick transportation of cattle to the east. It had been demonstrated that herds of Texas cattle driven into Wyoming not only lived through the winter but showed a hardiness and increase of weight in the spring greater than would have been looked for if they had remained in the ranges from which they were taken. As the knowledge of the advantages possessed by Wyoming for conducting the business, such as exemption from cattle diseases, security from hostile Indians, the certainty of grass at all seasons of the year and the low rates to market, became known, capital was largely attracted for investment. Previous to 1882, for several years, the price of beef advanced steadily in the eastern markers, and as a consequence, the business of that year was characterized by numerous sales of herds on the range at prices never before known in Wyoming. The men who had ventured in the business were richly rewarded for their enterprise.

Changes in the methods of conducting the business have gradually taken place. The first herds driven into the Territory were composed almost entirely of young steers, and the profit in grazing them accrued simply from the increase in flesh. Later a large proportion of cows were brought in with the increasing herds, and calves were raised on the range. Next the introduction of bulls of high grade prompted owners, desirous of preventing them from roaming with cows other than those in their own herd, to erect fences, usually of barbed wire, on that part of the range near the location of their ranches.

Finally stockmen have taken up land under the United States land laws, fenced it in and are raising cattle precisely on the plan adopted east of the Missouri River, excepting that instead of feeding their cattle corn they are fed hay. Large numbers of Wyoming cattle are now annually feed corn in Nebraska before they are sent to market. The greater part of the cattle, however, are still raised on what is termed the range system. Under it a herd of bulls, steers, cows and calves are permitted by their owner to roam at will over the plains.

The portion of the United States now extensively devoted to grazing, and commonly known as the range and ranch cattle area, is estimated by the government reports to embrace 1,365,000 square miles and over 40 percent of the total area of the United States, exclusive of Alaska. The country situated between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast and elevated more than 3,000 feet above the level of the sea, is known as the great dry area of the interior and corresponds with the range and cattle area above described. By virtue of its characteristics of soil, rainfall, elevation and natural food supply, this comparatively dry area is especially adapted to pastoral pursuits. The mean annual rainfall of this area is, however, much greater than was supposed before scientific record was kept of the total amount of precipitation. The term “range and ranch cattle” applies to cattle that, from the time they are dropped, seek their own food, water and shelter, as did the buffalo and antelope and which are subject only to the restraints of being gathered for branding or shipment for beef.

The discovery of the capabilities of Wyoming for grazing purpose is said to have been accidental and is thus described: ... but then that’s something for us to chew on next time.

Physical features of Wyoming are described in detail in the rare book, “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society” by Robert C. Morris.

In Volume I of the illustrated publication, the state’s terrain is portrayed as thus:

The physical features of Wyoming may be described as mountainous with valleys, bold bluffs, foothills and broad, rolling plains. The mountains have a general direction from the northwest to the southeast and often present the appearance of numerous rivers, including the Missouri, Columbia and Colorado, have their headwaters within the state of Wyoming. Among the largest rivers are the North Platte, which flows for a distance of several hundred miles through central and southeastern Wyoming, the Green River in the southwest, the Snake and Yellowstone in the northwest and the Big Horn and Powder Rivers in the northeast.

Wyoming abounds in grand and beautiful scenery, great natural parks encircled by lofty and majestic mountains, whose forests and meadows teem with game and its waters with fish.

The Yellowstone National Park, set apart by act of Congress as a public pleasure ground, has an area of 3,575 square miles, with an altitude from 6,000 to 12,000 feet above the sea level. This park lies mainly in Wyoming but includes a small part of Montana. The wonderful geysers and thermal springs of this region outnumber those of all the rest of the world together. The former are estimated at about 50, whose waters spout up for a height of from 50 to 200 feet, while of the hot springs. Impregnated chiefly with lime and silica, there are many thousands. Over 10,000 tourists annually visit the park.

There are numerous hot springs in Wyoming reputed to possess rare medicinal virtues, especially those in Fremont, Big Horn and Carbon counties. Baths in these springs, which contain chloride of sodium, sulfur, iron, magnesia and other ingredients in strong solution, are remarkably invigorating and efficacious in the cure of rheumatism and kindred chronic troubles. There are no navigable rivers in Wyoming, and the lack of these natural transportation facilities make it necessary to depend on the development of railway systems. The rivers and their tributaries, however, must always play an important part in the growth of internal commerce, as they afford a natural grade for the approach of railways into the mountains, and the means for watering the country.

The book continues, “Of the total area of Wyoming, 62,645,120 acres, 10,000,000 are capable of being successfully cultivated by . . .” but, then, that’s a thought for our next Wyoming history lesson.

Portrayed in the previous “Postcard” were many of the physical features of Wyoming as outlined in volume one of the rare book, “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society” by Robert C. Norris. 

This week our Wyoming history lesson continues with the rest of the chapter on the state’s many features. Enjoy.

Of the total area of Wyoming, 62,645,120 acres, 10,000,000 are capable of being successfully cultivated by means of irrigation, nearly 10,000,000 acres are covered with timber, but the greater portion is adapted to grazing. The mean or average elevation is about 6,000 feet above the sea, the lowest altitude being 3,000 and the highest nearly 14,000 feet.

The following table contains the hypsometric areas, or elevations, of land in Wyoming: between 3,000 and 4,000 feet – 3,000 square miles (sqms.); 4-5,000 ft. – 19,000 sqms.; 5-6,000 ft. – 20,000 sqms.; 6-7,000 ft. – 24,000 sqms.; 7-8,000 ft. – 17,000 sqms.; 8-9,000 ft. – 7,200 sqms.; 9-10,000 ft. – 4,300 sqms.; 10-11,000 ft. – 2,300 sqms.; 11-12,000 ft. – 900 sqms.; and 12-13,000 ft. – 100 sqms., for a total of 97,800 square miles.

The altitude of the Rocky Mountain region, inclusive of the valleys, plains and plateaus, vary from 680 feet above the sea level at Lewiston, Idaho, to an extreme height of 14.460 feet in the mountains of Colorado. The average or mean elevation of the several political divisions is given as follows: Montana, 3,000 feet; Idaho, 4,700 feet; Wyoming, 6,000; Colorado, 7,000. In and New Mexico, 5,600 feet; Wyoming, 15 of the principal peaks vary in height from 9,273 to 13,790 feet.

The Great Plains, which bound the mountains on the east for almost their entire length, are only second in importance to the mountains. Their surface is usually gently rolling, and, in some localities buttes, headlands or detached masses of rock, vary its otherwise monotonous aspect. In their natural condition the plains, mesas and foothills are generally covered with a short but succulent grass. The great plateaus upon the western flank of the mountain system have a mean elevation of about 7,000 feet above the level of the sea.

In addition to physical features, other “Sketches of Wyoming” listed in the illustrated book are “Early History – Explorations – Development – Live Stock Industry – Mineral Wealth – Timber – Rainfall and Climate – Agriculture and Irrigation – Reservoirs – Wealth and Population,” all of which are good subjects for when we write again.

Last week we related information found in a rare book entitled “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society” by Robert C. Morris. This week we offer our readers more about the creation of the:


Entire sets of works are specially solicited or collections of books on any subject, but single volumes and copies of pamphlets will be gratefully received. The library of the Society, it is hoped, will grow into a library of reference on all subjects, hence books, pamphlets and other publications on all subjects are solicited.

Especially do we desire everything relating to Wyoming.

1. Every book or pamphlet on any subject relating to Wyoming or any part of it; also every book or pamphlet written by a Wyoming citizen, whether published in Wyoming or elsewhere; materials for Wyoming history; old letters, journals and manuscript narratives of the pioneers of Wyoming; original papers on the early history and settlement of the territory; adventures and conflicts during the early settlement, the Indian troubles or the late rebellion; biographies of the pioneers, prominent citizens and public men of every county, either living or deceased, together with their portraits and autographs; a sketch of the settlement of every township, village and neighborhood in the state, with the names of the first settlers. We solicit articles on every subject connected with Wyoming history, including fossils, geological specimens, ores and minerals.

2. City ordinances, proceedings of mayor and council; reports of committees of council; pamphlets or papers of any kind printed by authority of the city; reports of boards of trade; maps of cities and plats of town sites or additions thereto.

3. Pamphlets of all kinds; annual reports of societies; sermons and addresses delivered in the state; minutes of church conventions, synods or other ecclesiastical bodies of Wyoming; political addresses; railroad reports; all such, whether published in pamphlet form or newspapers.

4. Catalogues and reports of colleges and other institutions of learning; annual or other reports of school boards, school superintendents and school committees; educational pamphlets, programmes and papers of every kind, no matter how small or apparently unimportant.

5. Copies of the earlier laws, journals and reports of our territorial and state legislatures; earlier Governors’ messages and reports of state officers; reports of state charitable and other institutions.

6. Files of Wyoming newspapers and magazines, especially complete volumes of past years or single numbers, even. Publishers are earnestly requested to contribute their publications regularly, all of which will be carefully preserved and bound.

Items also wanted by the society are “Maps of . . .” but, then, we have to preserve something for the next “Postcard.”