- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 30, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544369963
- ISBN-13: 978-0544369962
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West Hardcover – May 30, 2017
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“Cattle Kingdom is the best all-around study of the American Cowboy ever written. Every page crackles with keen analysis and vivid prose about the Old West. A must read!” – Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America and The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
"A fresh look at the U.S. cattle industry...this vastly informative volume will be of interest to general readers and a welcome addition for all library collections." – Library Journal
"Quality book...Knowlton’s absorbing work demonstrates that the years of lucrative cattle driving may have been short, but meatpacking and transportation innovations and the rugged individualist ideology of the West maintain their place of importance in American life. – Publishers Weekly
"An informative and well-written examination of a key area." – Booklist
“Cattle Kingdom accomplishes the rare feat of capturing the worlds of cattlemen and cowboys in all their color, while also covering well the global economic and environmental tides that made the cattle kingdom rise and fall." – Stephen Aron, 2017 President of the Western History Association and Robert N. Burr Department Chair, UCLA Department of History
"A pleasing contribution to the history of the post-Civil War frontier." – Kirkus Reviews
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Top Customer Reviews
The book begins with the idea of taking Texas longhorns and driving them up trails to rail heads to sell in Eastern markets. It describes the misery of the trail drive and the downfalls associated with them…loss of weight, difficulty keeping the herd alive, etc. The idea then begins to start crossing the longhorns with other breeds that will produce better, fitter cattle that will withstand the problems better and gain more weight. Weight on the hoof is everything to the rancher…the fatter the better.
He moves into various areas of the open range. What was it like to be an actual cowboy on the range (clue: it was nothing like Hollywood portrayed it), the invention of barbed wire, the government giving grants to homesteaders and how that caused problems on the open range. He also discusses the railroads and how they were gouging the cattle owners, the meat packers in Chicago who figured out a form of mass production for butchering cattle and saving money on shipping east of Chicago.
Interspersed throughout are the tales of the three individuals I mentioned previously. How their ranches were run, their ideas to try to make more money, how they bought herds and whether they used the best methods, and most importantly, how they made out financially.
The author goes into the famous Johnson County Wars, which from his perspective proves to be rather comical, rather than the slaughter you may have heard about. And he finally finishes with the Great Die Off, when the winter became so cold and the snow so deep that cattle literally died standing against fence posts trying to move out of the way. It basically was the end of the open range era and what we think of as cattle ranching. IT also is a cautionary tale about bubbles in the economy. So many people were making so much money at ranching, that it became a huge investment vehicle overseas. Like most bubbles, however, this one burst and felled a number of people financially along the way.
The book is very well written, contains an amazing amount of information that has been misconstrued over the years by factionalists and Hollywood and provides the biggest, broadest overview of open range cattle ranching I have ever seen. It also provides a look at how we ranch today and how ranching has become what it is. The book is an excellent read…almost novel like in it's ability to keep you spellbound and I would recommend it highly to anyone!
This nonfiction study of America’s “Cattle Kingdom” documents the facts behind the legend. The author sets out to define the open range period and the characters who dominated the scene, while showing us how history and Hollywood have created falsehoods about the Old West. First startling fact – only 25 years define the golden age of the cowboy driving cattle across open country. The period began shortly after the Civil War ended. The European newcomers had already wiped out the American buffalo (more correctly named bison) that once thundered in their millions across the continent. The immigrants began to replace these with domesticated cattle.
Enter the cowboy. Experts with horse and lariat, and life in the open, were needed. They were the ones to round up the herds and drive them north to the slaughterhouses. This cowboy and his cattle drives define the period of the “Cattle Kingdom.” This went on until a number of things conspired to end the age. One contributor was the newfangled American invention – “devil’s rope,” better known as barbed wire. Eventually this would cut off the range, stop the drives, and change the character of the nation. Marking the end of the period was the great “die-off” of 1887 – a disastrously frigid winter that caused “the greatest loss of animal life in pastoral history.” A million head of cattle perished in the ice and snow. This led to the ruin of numerous ranches, and a massive loss of the industry-wide investment. The bust affected everyone from the venture capitalists of England and Scotland, to home-grown ranchers like Teddy Roosevelt.
Of course, cowboys were around a lot longer than that, and still exist. But the cowboy's golden age occurred during those few short years. It was an action-packed quarter century, though, and the book promises you “the truth of how the West rose and fell…from the dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boom-towns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.” We're along for the ride on the drives of longhorns from the Texas Panhandle, through the Dakota Badlands, to the vast slaughterhouses of cities including Chicago.
The cowboy, generally a humble but principled working man, who sometimes had to be the only law in a hostile territory, has come to define the American character. However, the author shows us how fiction and movies created the cowboy as we imagine him today. Cowboy movies often depict men with six-shooters on their hips and itchy trigger fingers. In reality, there were violent towns and deadly confrontations, but sudden death in the street in a shootout was uncommon. In fact, many a cowboy couldn’t even afford a pistol. It was a $100 item at a time when a cowpoke might make $40 a month. So the book is equally good at telling us what really went on, while puncturing a few myths floated by Hollywood.
Christopher Knowlton, the author, has done his homework. That’s what you’d expect from the erstwhile bureau chief for Fortune Magazine. His notes and bibliography alone fill 50 pages. But Knowlton is more than an historian. He is a storyteller who reveals his nuggets with the skill of a good novelist. His book is ambitious in scope. Not only does he define the cowboy and his lifestyle, but he digs deeply into the industry that boomed as a result – the big business of beef.
It took a staggering amount of effort took to get the “beeves” (horned cattle) from Texas, all the way to the butchers and fabled restaurants of the great eastern cities, and even onto Europe. As the period roars to life, unforgettable characters emerge. They include Teddy Roosevelt, a failed rancher who became the “Cowboy President.” He lost a fortune, but life on the American plains made him a man, and his love of the West inspired him to become the great conservationist. He created most of the national parks and monuments that stun us to this very day. He is just one of the cattle barons who people these pages.
You also get to know real cowboys including Teddy Blue, a veteran of the legendary cattle drives of wild longhorns from Texas to their northern markets. During these months-long drives, the cowboys confronted native warriors, cattle rustlers, angry farmers, and a formidable landscape that could kill a man a dozen ways, including floods and stampedes. You’ll come to see beef as a complicated and risky industry with a lot of spokes in the wheel.
The American Civil War lasted only 4 years but left up to 750,000 soldiers in the grave. The men who survived had to make a living. The buffalo were gone, and domestic cattle were coming by ship from Great Britain and Europe. In Texas, the new stock bred with the wild herds descended from Spanish cattle. These feral herds became the “Texas longhorns.” They were free to any cowboy with the courage and skill to round ‘em up and drive ‘em north.
This was the age of vast ranches and cattle barons. The author devotes significant time to exploring how these men and their holdings were financed. Some were those who, in classic American style, pulled themselves into riches by their own bootstraps. Many sent to try their luck were the lesser sons of prominent families from the old world. History proves that most lost their investment. Other men were inventors and promoters of new technologies and ideas, from the establishment of cattle towns along the newly constructed national railways, to rail cars and ships refrigerated with ice. In the vast slaughterhouses of Chicago, the process of deconstructing a steer became mechanized, like a factory. This inspired new industries including Henry Ford’s way of making automobiles -- the assembly line. Eventually, in cities like New York, the product was delivered to table at renowned restaurants: “the original authentic Delmonico steak…is the first boneless top loin steak…served with Delmonico potatoes…whipped, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and then browned." Yes please!
Knowlton describes more than the cowboys and cattle barons. In the newly created railroad siding cow-towns where cowpokes like Teddy Blue concluded their drives, we find the others who populated the American West -- many of whom made their living servicing the cattle men. These were the lawmen, shop owners, saloon-keepers, gamblers and whores. The author breathes life into these dusty towns and denizens of yesteryear.
In the end, we gain a broader and more accurate view of America in the late 19th Century. “Cattle Kingdom” presents the cowboy as a blend of fact and fiction that shaped the character of the nation: “…what we admire about the iconic and heroic cowboy of books, television and film…is this curious blend of American everyman and chivalrous Victorian nobleman… this potent mixture explains how the mythical cowboy remains popular across the developed world. The USA, to many across the world, is the cowboy nation. This impacts everything from international relations to pop culture: "In...Germany and Japan, cowboy clothing and the cowboy lifestyle are revered.”
“Cattle Kingdom” is a fascinating read. Recommended.