Historical information and materials reveal that the records and information on the open range spring cattle roundups is incomplete and in some cases nonexistent. To a greater extent, available records and information on the horse roundups which were conducted on the northern plains are even more limited.
In May of 1888, the Northwestern Livestock Journal, a weekly newspaper published in Cheyenne, Wyoming, had this advice for the open range ranchers: “More attention should be given to the horse round-ups of the country. Most of the large herds are badly scattered, and in consequence there are many losses.”
It went on to suggest: “Some uniform action should be taken in regards to strays. These should be gathered, held in pasture and advertised so that the owners could recover them.”
From all indications, this article did not have any significant influence on the ranchers in Dakota Territory at that time. It was three years before the first organized horse roundup would be conducted in Dakota Territory. Before that time, individual ranchers may have organized their own local roundup of stray horses.
The May 26, 1891, issue of The Madison Daily Leader reported that “The first horse round-up ever made in the state started on the 10th, and is meeting with great success.”
It began at Minnesella, S. D. which was the first settlement in Butte County. Now a ghost town, it was located three miles southeast of the present-day Belle Fourche.
That same article reported on the cattle roundup which was conducted at that time: “The great cattle round-ups have just started from Minnesella, S. D. Over 100 cattle companies are represented. Cattle are fat and healthy.”
No mention was made of the number of different companies (ranches) participating in the horse roundup. Whatever the case, 100 ranches involved in the cattle roundup had to cover a vast area of the northern plains. The number of chuck wagons who were a part of this roundup could easily have been near 80 or 90 or more.
Some of the ranches provided their own chuck wagon and other required wagons, horses, and cowboys. Other ranches, especially those more distant, combined their resources and each chuck wagon worked as a team. They all needed the support which the chuck wagon provided in getting their cattle back to their home range when the roundup was completed.
Later, in June of 1891, The Hot Springs Star reported: “Those in charge of the Black Hills horse round-up state that they have run across an unpleasantly large number of cases where horses brand have been obliterated, changed or defaced, and the society intends to make trouble about it. They say the number of colts that disappear each year would indicate an industrious crowd of ‘rustlers’ somewhere, and the work of the round-up has shown many queer things. In all probably the organization will be the means of putting a stop to the trouble.”
By 1899, the Black Hills Horsemen’s Association had organized the spring roundup of horses in three different sections at a meeting in Sturgis. The area to the west of the Missouri River and into eastern Wyoming were to be searched. That roundup was postponed until June 1 because of the shortage of grass.
Because of heavy rains in early June, they finally abandoned their activities because of the gumbo. The teams pulling the chuck wagons had difficulty making any progress and a number of the draft horses died. The four hundred horses which they had collected escaped back onto the open range.
In 1902, after strenuous efforts lasting more than two months, all stray horses in the vast region embracing the ceded Sioux lands between the Missouri river and the Black Hills, in Western South Dakota, were rounded up. This was the first thorough horse roundup for several years and required the services of several hundred cowboys.
During the next several years the horse roundups were continued west of the Missouri. In 1904, the entire Cheyenne Indian Reservation was searched for stray horses. All horses not belonging to residents of the reservation or were not there by legal authority were sold. The proceeds went into the reservation school fund.
The 1904 roundup was the last organized effort to locate stray horses west of the river. The country west of Pierre was filling up so fast with settlers that the range was closed.
The Matador Land and Cattle Co. started their horse roundup on the Cheyenne River Reservation in early May of 1908. At the time, they leased 500,000 acres on the reservation from 1904 to 1914. Between 1921 and 1926, they leased 300,000 acres on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, Matador cattle in carload lots and individually, won scores of blue ribbons at livestock shows in Chicago, Kansas City, and Denver.
For comparison in size, the land which Matador leased on the Cheyenne would be a pasture just over three-fourths the size of Gregory County. Their pasture on the Pine Ridge Reservation would have covered 45% of Gregory County.
Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on September 28, 2022