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Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West

Tekijä: Christopher Knowlton

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
1574171,785 (3.88)8
The open-range cattle era lasted barely a quarter century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades. [This book] reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players-- from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousands, and much more.… (lisätietoja)
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» Katso myös 8 mainintaa

näyttää 4/4
In as much as the author's book about the Florida real-estate boom of the 1920s really impressed me, I was expecting rather a lot from this book, and Knowlton delivered quite handsomely. The sub-title of this work is a bit of a misnomer, as Knowlton's topic is really the great cattle-ranching boom that basically stretched from the close of the American Civil War, until the mid-1880s, when the whole ranching industry had a catastrophic bust. Before that though, the investment money poured in and men with aristocratic antecedents, such Moreton Frewen (from a very-well-to-do English gentry family), the Marquis de Mores (from a French military family), and eminent Harvard man Hubert Teschemacher (who sold Teddy Roosevelt on the notion of coming west), sought to carve out personal empires, only to see their dreams collapse in a very ugly fashion.

The ugliness of it all culminated in the so-called Johnson County War, wherein the most important men in the state tried to run the "little" men in the Powder River Region off their land, after first killing the local political leadership. The self-supposed great men saw their hired-gun mercenaries suppressed by the proverbial county posse and the surviving leadership of the Cheyenne Club were lucky to obfuscate matters enough that no one was ever actually prosecuted; though reputations were destroyed. That a lot of the facts about this incident have only come out rather recently is what justifies the word "Hidden" in the title.

And what of Teddy Roosevelt, who is the exemplar of this book. Unlike his friend Teschemacher, he handled his financial reverses in a responsible fashion, and came out of ranching experience a better man. Though maybe he was just lucky not to be a close crony of the gang in Cheyenne; let's just say that there was a lot of "performative masculinity" taking place. It probably also didn't hurt that Roosevelt was mostly just looking to run a business and engage in some self-therapy; not build a personal empire.

Apart from that, Knowlton considers numerous other issues, up to and including how the meat-packing industry wound up being the dominant players in cattle industry. Highly recommended. ( )
  Shrike58 | Apr 28, 2023 |
While interesting, I didn't really learn anything new about cowboys or cattle. Some parts seemed superfluous and others glossed over too quickly. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
5571 Cattle Kingdom The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, by Christopher Knowlton (read 26 Jul 2018) This book, published in 2017,is by an amatuer but assiduous historian and tells the history of cattle and cowboys in western United States. It is kind of journalistic rather than academic history. It starts out telling of cattle being brought up from Texas and those of us who have read or know of the Pulitzer prize winning novel Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry (read by me 17 Jan 1987) will conclude that that novel was solidly based on historical fact. The book tells of the tough life of underpaid cowboys and spends a lot of time on high rolling but ultimately unsuccessful cattle men like Moreton Frewen and Marquis de Mores. He also tells of Teddy Roosevelt's valiant but also unsuccessful effort to be a cattleman in the West. There is an account of the coming of barbed wire and the end of open grazing, and a detailed account of the Johnson County War which shows Willis Van Devanter (later on the Supreme Court where he tried to block the New Deal) abetting big cattle barons trying to enforce their dominance in Wyoming. The book tells of many interesting things but I did not find it always exciting reading. But it is probably the best history of the cowboy West there is. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 26, 2018 |
This is one heck of a good book, so full of interesting historical facts and vignettes that you will be driving everyone around you crazy as you read by calling out repeatedly, “Listen to THIS!”

It tells the story of the open-range cattle era and the rise of the cowboy from the perspective of its economic origins. But if that sounds dry, don’t be deceived. Knowlton, a former magazine writer, understands how to hold your interest. As far as the story he wants to tell, it is one with contemporary relevance. He writes:

“One goal here is to shine light on the psychology and greed that drive an investment mania, and on the financial and human catastrophes that result from the bursting of a commodity bubble.”

He sees this history not only as a morality tale about those who devote all their dreams (not to mention money) on speculative financial bubbles, but as an opportunity to study the environmental disasters that were both caused by the cattle boom, and which contributed to its demise.

He also wants you to know the real story of the American cowboy, and how different the reality was from the iconic and heroic myth that has grown up around cowboys and that is portrayed in books and movies. He explains:

“The work was hard, dirty, and monotonous - hardly the exciting version depicted in the dime novels and the eastern press. . . .”

As one cowboy noted in his memoirs, it was “a continual round of drudgery, exposure and hard work which beggar description.” In addition, “the job of a cowboy entailed an astonishing number of ways to get hurt or killed: “You could fall from your horse, you could be kicked in the head while roping a steer; you could be gored by a horn, you could drown while crossing a river, you could be caught in quicksand,” etc. And there were many less-than-fatal perils of the job, such as the torment of insects, sunstroke, sun blindness, infections, lack of medical care, grueling hours, and the long winters with no work at all.

Furthermore, the stories about “cowboys and Indians” were exaggerated as well. Relatively few skirmishes took place between these two groups. In fact, by the time the cowboy movement began out West after the Civil War, the numbers of Native Americans had been drastically reduced by disease and starvation, and in any event most had been moved to reservations.

How and why did it get portrayed otherwise?

As it happens, the story of the cattle era is also a story of fake news; news manufactured to spur immigration to aspiring new states, to drive profits, to justify killing Native Americans and lynching rivals, and to build up the careers of those wanting to capitalize on this particular definition of the American character. Knowlton argues that the cowboy myth, so appealing to Americans, has even influenced America’s foreign policy.

Finally, this book focuses on three young men in particular who were drawn to participate in the cattle boom: a rich Englishman, a rich Frenchman, and a rich American, Theodore Roosevelt, who of course went on not only to become the U.S. President, but also to be one of the leading conservationists in American history.

When the Civil War was over, the Confederate economy was devastated, and the impoverished young men of the South had no way to make a living. It was in Texas, the author reports, that the era of the Cattle Kingdom was born. Thus, as the author reports, at the peak of the cattle boom a majority of cowboys were white southerners, many former Confederate cavalrymen.

In Texas, there was an abundance of cattle, although before the Civil War, cattle were not valued for meat, but rather for their hides and tallow. Americans ate more pork than beef, because pork was easier to preserve. But that was about to change, thanks to the incentives and innovations of the cattle ranchers.

At the peak of the migration, “the largest forced migration of animals in human history,” some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.” (Knowlton also devotes space to the rise of prostitution out West. It was in fact in Dodge City, one of the cowboy towns that sprang up, that the term “red-light district” was first coined, derived from the name of the red glass panels in one of the brothels.)

And here’s a question for "Outlander" fans: What did the Highland Clearances after the Battle of Culloden have to do with developments of the American cowboy movement? The answer is surprisingly relevant, because the British were very big investors in the American West. But I’ll let readers discover the answer to that one by reading the book.

Some of the most interesting information in the book has to do with all the innovations and changes that the cowboy era brought, such as the rise of the meatpacking industry, and the influence of its automation innovations. In fact, as the author reports, meatpackers developed the first assembly lines, and it was from studying the process at Chicago slaughterhouses that Henry Ford came up with the idea of using a similar method to produce cars. The meatpackers also radically changed the American system of business procedures and management practices. Even the story about how Chicago got to be the epicenter of the meat business is fascinating.

And as refrigeration was developed to get all this beef to eastern markets, Americans began to switch their eating habits. A trio of restaurants in New York known as Delmonico’s helped popularize eating steak. Delmonico's is also credited with being the first American restaurant to allow patrons to order from a menu à la carte, as opposed to featuring fixed menus. Who knew?

Then there was barbed wire, which, invented to help solve the problem of wandering cattle, totally changed the husbandry of cattle. And, as the author points out, it would also come to play a significant role in the incarceration of people as well as livestock.

As for environmental disasters, perhaps the biggest one was the killing off of the bison. As Knowlton stated, “if the cattle were to come, the competing buffalo would have to go.” He declared:

“. . . nothing could match in numbers, poundage, and sheer waste the slaughter of the bison, or the speed with which this animal approached extinction. …in a stunningly short period of time, less than twenty years, the bison were forced to the edge of extinction, with no more than 325 surviving south of Canada.”

There were a number of contributing factors to the bison slaughter, not unrelated to the cattle boom. One was the expansion of railroads and telegraph lines, especially in response to the needs of the cattle business. Advances in firearms made killing these generally docile animals “the big-game equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.” The U.S. military also abetted the slaughter in their efforts to deprive Native Americans of food so as to facilitate their “herding” into reservations. Even the fact that female bison hides were preferred by hunters led to the animals’ rapid extinction.

And what about the demise of the cattle era and the bursting of its economic bubble? Overgrazing, drought, corruption, greed, incompetence, growing conflicts between cattle barons and cowboys, and absentee management all played a role. But the nail in the coffin came from the brutal winter of 1886-1887, later known as “the Big Die-up.” Temperatures in the Great Plains went as low as sixty degrees below zero in places, accompanied by high winds and deep snows. It was the coldest winter on record. When it was over, nearly a million head of cattle were dead, some 50 to 80 percent of the herds across the northernmost ranges. Knowlton describes it as “the greatest loss of animal life in pastoral history” - at least, from environmental, rather than human causes.

Evaluation: I can’t begin to tell you all the fascinating things you will learn in this book. It’s a book I never thought would interest me, and yet it is one of the most absorbing and even exciting books on history I have ever encountered. I can’t sing its praises enough. Highly recommended! ( )
3 ääni nbmars | Jul 24, 2017 |
näyttää 4/4
"Cattle Kingdom" is a cautionary tale of boom and bust. Despite the gunslingers and cowpokes, this lively history evokes the headiest days of the housing bubble of the early 2000s or the tulip mania that hypnotized Holland in the 1600s. The analysis does not bog down the storytelling. Knowlton deftly balances close-ups and bird's-eye views. We learn countless details - how to make rotgut liquor (don't forget the tobacco and red peppers) or what to do if the horses pulling the stagecoach in which you are a passenger run wild (don't jump out - sit still and hope for the best).
lisäsi jburlinson | muokkaaNew York Times, Edward Dolnick
 
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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The open-range cattle era lasted barely a quarter century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades. [This book] reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players-- from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousands, and much more.

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