Lee Pitts: Cattle Barons
Being a son of a proud member of the Daughter of the American Revolution it pains me to say this but the British played a big role in the founding of the range cattle industry in this country. Because the number one son in England inherited everything, the “bastard” sons occasionally got shipped here. I think it was kinda like being the middle child, of which I am one.
The Brits wasted no time in trying to take back America by running their animals on free public rangelands. Being without money of their own they were often subsidized by an allowance or a remittance from home, thus the name “remittance men.” Soon they were selling stock in cattle companies to stupid first-born sons back in England. As one Brit said, “Americans sent us all their worthless securities and we sent them all our high class criminals.”
So much British money flowed into the U.S. cattle business that on a per-person basis Cheyenne was one of the wealthiest cities in the world! Many of these English and Scottish cattle companies had names still recognizable today like The Matador, Spur, XIT, and Rocking Chair Ranch. Initially the companies reported 33 percent yearly returns even after factoring in a 10 percent annual death loss to wolves and a 15 percent loss to old man winter. They may not have been born Barons in England but they sure enough became cattle barons in this country.
When the book count didn’t equal the actual number of cattle on the range the sons of Britain were “saved” by terrible storms in 1886 to 1887 which killed off about 75 percent of the mother cows.
The British cattle barons went home with their tails tucked between their legs just like the Redcoats in 1776, but I often wonder how different the cattle business would be today if the English still ran things.
We’d all be riding flat saddles and instead of rodeo fans we’d be cricket enthusiasts and soccer hooligans. On top of our heads would be bowler hats instead of Stetsons and we’d wear tall rubber boots with ugly tweed sweaters.
At the Royal Cattle Show in Denver steer jocks would wear white lab coats. Truck drivers would drive on the other side of the road even more than they do now. We’d take a break every day at three to have a “cuppa” and eat tasteless biscuits; a poor excuse for a cookie if there ever was one. We’d play tennis on Sunday or get gussied up and hunt with foxhounds. Although, due to a lack of fox we’d probably have to settle for coyotes and government sponsored wolves. At our brandings we’d serve fish and chips or bland British food. Nothing a jar of Maalox® or an emergency room couldn’t cure though.
We’d frequent the Cheyenne Club or the Corkscrew Club in Denver where we’d listen to violin solos, eat oysters and partake of fine English culture while we conducted ourselves as gentlemen without our wives present. Kind of like a county cattleman’s meeting, the NCBA convention or a video sale these days.
Of course we’d all be very snobbish, get disgusted over the slightest thing and enjoy immensely other blue blooded ranchers’ misfortunes. We’d call each other The Honorable This or That, or Duke, Baron, Baronet or Viscount. An auctioneer at a Torrington auction market might announce the winning bidder as Sir Tweedmouth, or the 12th Earl of Aberdeen… South Dakota that is. Cooper and Holden would be knighted Sirs, and Minnie Lou would be Dame Bradley. I’m almost positive my wife would insist I use the phrase “Her Majesty” when referring to her.
Of course, we’d have to familiarize ourselves with a language known as English. The Proud Breed would be known as Hair-a-ferds and if a cowboy chap fell on hard times he’d be urged to “keep a stiff upper lip,” or “get off your arse and quit chin wagging.” If a cowboy “pulled a clanger” or was “a bit wonky” the English boss man would tell him to shove off, quit his whinging, or get stuffed. The first time a Duke or Baron called a cowboy “love,” a “twit” or a “dodgy shufflebutt” he’d follow his 19th century relatives back home to England in a crudely made box.
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