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Old fashioned cattle drive in Western South Dakota

1890s meets 2004 … Cattle drives are not at all uncommon on modern ranches, but using a chuckwagon rather than a semi-truck is. This wagon, loaded for a three-day drive, leads 220 cattle and nine neighborly cow hands.

Even in 2004, a roundup and cattle drive is sometimes best done exclusively on horseback and even with a chuckwagon.

In the old fashioned way, cattle owned by Mike Trapp and Barry Jones were gathered and drove to their respective ranches near Midland for winter pasture. The 220 head of cows began the drive from the Hudson Flat area near Cedar Breaks, near the Deep Creek School about 45 miles north of Midland.

The venture began the evening of Wednesday, November 3. Seven men, 14 saddle horses, two Suffolk work horses and the chuckwagon all were readied for the next three days’ work. Winter weather had been threatening western South Dakota, but held off, making the work and conditions a bit easier. To help decrease any hardship, the cattle owners had already weaned the calves and had sold them at the sale barn in Philip.

Early Thursday morning, the ranchers drank their black coffee and saddled their first set of horses. Gathering the various breeds of cattle didn’t take that long for experienced cattle hands. The drive then began.

The slightly cooler weather for the first two days was easier on the cattle. Taking several days of shorter, daily drives was also easier for the herd. Trucking the cattle was an option, but the estimated cost of over $2,100 was not. Hauling portable corrals to the summer pasture to help with loading the cattle was also not a desirable option over herding the cattle to the winter pasture.

Somewhat different from the open-range days, permission was acquired in advance from landowners to cross their pastures and to set up camp overnight. Gravel roads were used when possible, and the country neighbors matter-of-factly accepted that they would travel round-about ways until the drive was over.

Modern times met the old when a blacktop road, Highway 34, had to be crossed. There were no problems. On Saturday, the two herds were separated. The Jones’ cattle had to cross the busier Highway 14 before going their eight remaining miles.

No rifles in scabbards; no six-shooters at the ready; and the only Indians were friends and neighbors in their pickups wishing them well. Cowboys and cattle, yes; old fashioned, no.

The ranchers helping out were Cody Jones, Baxter Badure, Paul Schief, Charlie Williams, Shorty Jones, Lyle O’Bryan, and Jean Laughton. The last two joined the team during the daytime.