Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
FREE GRASS, THE CATTLEMAN'S PARADISE

THE VAST INCREASE in the size of the ranching area in the United States, with its phenomenal jump from a narrow belt at the close of the Civil War to an area of thousands of square miles a decade later, was an episode in the closing scenes of the frontier history of America.

The span of the range country's blossoming in all its splendor covered the period between the coming of the trunkline railroads and the closing of the range by the homesteader. It was made possible by free grass, railroads to carry the product to market, and a great cattle supply in Texas which made stocking of the Plains comparatively simple and inexpensive.

When the first cattle drives from Texas began in 1866, the drovers in delivering their herds to Indian reservations or forts learned that there was a vast area ideal for grazing purposes. Even before that date, however, the little thin line of Indian-harried road ranchers along the Overland Trail had begun ranching in a small way. Some travelers on the way to the Pacific Coast stopped en route and took up stock-raising. Others, discouraged or tired of the mines, turned back to select an inviting site they had seen on their way to the gold-fields. A notable example of the latter was the great cattle king J. W. Iliff. While many of his friends found graves at the diggings or vainly sought the fleeting mountain treasure, he operated a road ranch and in time accumulated riches in cattle-grazing on the then all but unoccupied Plains. In less than twenty years he became possessor of twenty-six thousand head and controlled a range a hundred and fifty miles long ex

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