The grass of the Great Plains upon which the buffaloes had grazed for thousands of years proved to be equally good for cattle. Government land purchased from the Indians was without fences until 1875 when barbed wire first came into use. Most private land was without fences. The tall grasses of the plains extended across northern Missouri, Illinois and into Indiana.
Cattle raisers took advantage of the open range to graze their livestock. Since all the animals were feeding on free grass, the owners prospered greatly if markets could be found. Oxen and mules for the westward movement were in demand into the 1860s. As settlers went West, so did surplus lumber. But beef went East on foot or by boat until 1870.
The great Texas cattle drives from 1867 to 1884 of a million head per year is a familiar story. The driving of livestock to market is at least a 5000-year-old story. Texans didn’t invent or discover the cowboy or the cattle drive; livestock was moved from place to place by driving them before there were cattle trucks or railroads. Daviess County also had its cattle drives.
The earliest reported cattle drive in Daviess County occurred in the fall of 1819. Lt. Gabriel Field of the U.S. 6th Infantry left Glasgow, MO, in Chariton County with 127 milk cows and 700 stock hogs. He was the first local trail boss and had 30 drovers and a 6-horse chuck wagon. The stock went northwest through what was to become Daviess County land, on the east side of the Grand River, on a trail Lt. Field had prepared during September and early October.
This effort was part of the Yellowstone Expedition, to supply Camp Missouri some 10 miles above Omaha in Iowa territory. There was no map made of this trail, and in our 1833 maps, no note was made in regards to its location. Lt. Field was from Jefferson City, under the command of Col. Henry Atkinson.
The last reported large cattle drive from Daviess County was conducted by Matthew L. Harbord in 1849. This herd of beef from the northern part of Daviess County went east to the Mississippi River, then north to Chicago. Harbord, 36, died from cholera in July, 1849, on the return trip. He is bured in McLean County, IL.
Harbord'[s son-in-law, N.B. (Pole) Brown, became operator of that business and a great cattle shipper when the railroads came. Brown is reported to have shipped 2000 carloads of cattle during 1870-1880. In 1880 he shipped 400 carloads of cattle from Daviess, Harrison, Gentry and Nodaway counties. Since one carload held 40 head of cattle, Brown would have shipped 16,000 head of cattle during this one year.
The last good government land in Daviess County was pre-empted in 1857, and much swamp land was left unsold into the 1870s. Very little land in northern and northeastern Daviess County was purchased by private owners before 1850. Most of the better land in the county was sold under the Pre-emption Act of 1841 for $1.25 per acre, or donated to help develop the railroads. The National Homestead Act (1862-1891), where up to 160 acres of land could be obtained free, was not used in Daviess County.
Cattle marks and brands were started in this county in 1875. By May, 1886, there were 34 brands recorded in the courthouse. Our first brand was the number “2” (size 2-1/2″ x 2″) on the left shoulder of horses and mules and left hip of cattle. The brand was registered by William and David Koger in 1875.
Open range in Daviess County seems rather strange in today’s world. The study of history lets us know a seemingly foreign land right here at home.
Written by David Stark, Gallatin; October, 1997.