A Note from Cottonwood Corners

Cattle roundups, during the time of the open prairie, generally occurred twice a year.  In the spring herds were rounded up for counting and determining winter losses and branding.  They were also moved back to their home range if they had drifted during the winter.    In the fall the fattened cattle were rounded up and driven to market.  Several outfits would join forces and separate out the cattle at the end of the round up.

The official census of 1860 for “Dakota” revealed that there were more people than cows in the territory.  This was probably the last year that people outnumbered cattle in the region.

In 1886 the “Gregory County Protective Association” was organized to protect against the trespassing of cattle from adjoining counties, rustlers, and range fires.  It is not known how long the association existed.

One of the most serious problems was the insufficient number of good saddle horses.  According to the 1900 census, Gregory County had 2,131 horses two years or older.

The 1902 roundup was the largest roundup west of the Missouri River; however, it was not the last.  Annual roundups followed for several years.  The 1910 convention of the Western Stockgrowers Association was the last to organize the annual spring roundup.

It would normally take four to five weeks, sometimes more, to complete the roundup in their area.  If it rained, because of the dreaded “gumbo,” it could take much longer.  That was the case in the Belle Fourche and Rapid City ranges in 1902.

The Hot Springs Weekly Star of June 27, 1902, reported that heavy rains had made completing the roundup difficult in the region.  The paper went on to say:  “The big cattle roundup of the Belle Fourche and Rapid City ranges is well on its way.  It started near Belle Fourche on May 15 and is working this way, it being the plan to reach the Cheyenne River in about three weeks.  The heavy rains for the past few weeks have made the roundup one of the most difficult in the history of the cattle industry of the Black Hills.”

The article concluded: “Gumbo is everywhere and all of the streams are running full of water.  Cattlemen out with the roundup state that the loss on account of the heavy, cold rains of last March is not nearly as large as feared.”

When the 1902 roundup began in Gregory County, the area east of the Rocky Mountains to the Missouri River experienced highly favorable temperatures with abundant and heavy rainfall east of the Dakotas and Nebraska.

The main goal of the roundup was to remove the cattle that were on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations illegally.  Officials from both reservations realized that the trespassing cattle were eating their grass for free.  Government officials realized that the Lakota were more likely to become ranchers than farmers.  In fact, there already were a lot of Lakota and mixed-race ranchers.  But first, they had to get control of their grass.

To do that, officials from both reservations organized their own outfits under the direction of Henry Hudson who was also the foreman of Wagon No. 1 which started in Gregory County.  They worked independently as they searched the creek banks and brushy draws of the reservations. Accounts vary; however, it is thought that there were thirteen wagons on the Rosebud and five on the Pine Ridge.  Each wagon consisted of a chuck wagon and bed wagon which served as a mobile headquarters for about thirty cowboys.  Each cowboy had a string of about ten horses.

Finally, they gathered 45,000 to 60,000 head of cattle in the flats along the confluence of the White and Little White rivers.   About 450 cowboys were responsible for these herds which stretched for miles north of the present site of the town of White River.

A 1902 June 17th news story out of Pierre indicated that: “The Indians on Rosebud reservation will reap a rich harvest of tolls this year from the cattle which drifted onto the reservation last winter.  All the roundup wagons were called into requisition to handle the stock which had crossed the White River and gone on the Indian lands . . . they are at present holding fully 40,000 head of cattle which they have gathered.  They will all be crossed over at Westover in about ten days.  As the cattlemen are paying fifty cents per head for all cattle rounded up south of the White River, this will give the Indians $20,000.”

The 1900 federal census report indicated that the raising of stock on the Pine Ridge Reservation was their principal occupation and many had already become competent cattlemen.  They had recently formed an association to protect their brands, exterminate wolves, and other mutual benefits.  Those on the Rosebud Reservation were making considerable progress in the raising of cattle.  Most of their families had a small herd of range cattle in addition to their horses and ponies while some also possessed dairy cows.

When was the spring 1902 roundup finished?  That is difficult to determine since there were so many different wagons covering everything west of the Missouri River and also a portion of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana.

The Omaha Daily Bee in their July 25, 1902, edition contained a story from Sturgis that indicated “The general roundup of cattle has been finished.”

Those who were a part of the wagon which started just west of Fort Randall reported that they were all home by July 4th.

Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on May 27, 2020.

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