The End of the Open Range By: Rachel Lewis, Jonathan Points, and Samantha Shoalmire
Ranching in the West As Native Americans were pushed out of West Texas, ranchers moved in. The 1st West Texas ranchers generally owned little or no land. Most of their livestock grazed on the open range. This was a vast area of undeveloped land held by the state government for future sale.
Ranching Methods In the 1870s there was so much public land in west Texas that most of the early ranchers found no need to buy any land. Ranching on the open range worked fairly well in those days. Not even thousands of cattle could crowd the vast west Texas.
Land Policies In the 1850s the Texas state government offered free public land to encourage internal improvements. These changes would help increase the regions economy and population. Texas offered public land near railroad lines for $1.50 per acre. In a few years it was lowered to one $1.00 near the track an $0.50 per acre for all of the land.
Land & Cattle Companies Many who had once shared land now felt they had to own land. Some ranchers received financial partners who shared the profits. Huge privately owned ranches soon developed including the J.A. ranch. The growth of these privately owned ranches pushed out most of the open range ranches.
Range wars As ranchers began fencing in their land in the 1880s, conflicts worsened. Some fences cut off public roads and water supplies. Angry farmers fought back by cutting fences. By 1883 a “range war” had developed over the issues of fences and fence cutting. People who fenced across public roads now had to provide gates and keep them in good repair.
The End andBeginning The expansion of the railroads in Texas also made the cattle drives unnecessary since most ranchers used the railroad to transport the animals to market. Armed ranchers patrolled the cattle trails to prevent sick cattle carrying Texas fever from infecting their cattle. Texas ranchers also had competition with superior breeds of stock for beef being raised in Montana and Wyoming.
Changes for Cowboys The end of the open range & cattle drives also meant the end for cowboys. Fewer long trails existed for cowboys. The cowboys who still had their jobs spent their time setting fence posts and stringing barbed wire. In 1883, some Panhandle cowboys went on strike. The Texas Rangers were called in to stop the cowboys and the strike failed.
The Big Die-Up The final blow to the old way of ranching occurred in 1885 and 1886. Ranchers built drift fences that went from New Mexico to Indian Territory. These fences prevented cattle with Texas fever from going into another region and infecting healthy herds. In 1885, a huge blizzard struck the plains. This was called the Big Die-Up.
Modern Ranching Begins The Big Die-Up marked the start of the modern ranching industry in Texas. The cattlemen who still had jobs determined how much pasture each group of cattle required.